Archive for the Alternative Spring Breaks Category

Appalachia, Kentucky

Posted in Alternative Spring Breaks, student projects with tags , , , on February 16, 2011 by JennaBrager

I went on my first real community service trip to Appalachia, KY as a freshman last year through the Alternative Spring Breaks program. In high school, I worked with my church, was in National Honor Society, volunteered at hospitals and worked in soup kitchens-all that boring stuff meant for resumes-so of course I knew what service was all about.  I expected that, as usual, I would put my time in, make people smile, and leave happier than I came because I did someone some good.

All this came true, just as it had before and just as it will again. But I left this trip with something extra, something I hadn’t ever gained from service. And it was from one of the smaller projects: planting grass and painting shutters for an older resident of Boring, KY.

Shutters? Lawn seed? Service was supposed to be more than yard work, so I went in with a less-than-enthusiastic disposition. We got to the property, a typical western Kentucky rancher with old lawn furniture and rusty child playthings strewn on a dry, brown dirt patch of a lawn.

The trip leader went to the front door and a very solemn elder lady came to answer in her pajamas, her eyes red and glassy. We began working in the early morning sun. Later, I entered the house to go to the bathroom and noticed the nice lady crying over the phone at the kitchen table. I went over to her and asked if she was alright and heard a story for which I was not prepared.

Jaquita’s grandson had just committed suicide a few days prior. He was found in his room, gun in hand, facedown in his bed. Jaquita was devastated. I stayed and comforted her for a while until she looked at me and began to smile. Tears left her eyes as she declared how happy she was to have all of us there helping her with such menial tasks that she couldn’t possibly do herself.

She looked at me and told me that I reminded her of her grandson. It brought her relief and comfort to know that I was there; almost as if it were her grandson telling her he was in a better place. She was adamant that our crew were messengers from God coming to comfort her at such a turbulent time in her life.

Now this could have been total B.S. I didn’t have to believe that I looked like her grandson or any of that (though I saw a picture and kind of did). I didn’t have to think that our service trip was part of mission from God to relieve this lady from grief. For once, it didn’t matter what I believed. This wasn’t about me. The point was that this lady gained some serious relief and comfort from our visit. We left her happier and feeling better after a huge family tragedy.

That was the biggest success of the trip. It wasn’t the house that we built or the ramp we constructed or any of the meaningless yard work. It was making a huge impact in the life of this nice lady, who couldn’t have been further removed from my life here in busy DC.

I still mail Jaquita today, almost one year later. We keep in touch and talk about what’s going on in our lives. She will always be a part of my life and her story will always be close to me. This trip showed me what service was truly about. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

–Andrew C. Morreale, UMD sophomore