I have just come back from one of the most AWESOME trips I have ever taken. I had the pleasure of attending alternative spring break with the Newman Center. It was a service trip to the Appalachian region in Kentucky. Each day was different from the other in every aspect.
We left on Sunday at dawn, we had morning mass and then headed out. The drive to Kentucky seemed longer than the drive back. We made a quick stop at Arby’s for lunch and then continued on our journey. The Kentucky roads were very curvy, I was surprised that I did not get car sick. Although they were curvy, they were spectacular with a lot of rock formations, colorful trees and streams. When we finally arrived at the campsite (Camp Andrew Jackson) we had a wonderful dinner followed by orientation. We were also broken down into crews (mine was the Green Crew). After an eventful day we headed to bed or to the lunchroom where we spent some time with our new friends from school.
The days started early, almost everyone was up by about 6:15 AM. On Monday, we started with breakfast and a quick orientation followed by a trip to our worksite. I had the pleasure of working with very motivated peers (Mayra, Danielle, Megan, Jake, Steven, and Zhou) and inspiring crew leaders (Larry, Tom, and Dorothy). On the first day we concentrated on getting the house ready for our siding by taking out some boards and picking up nails from the ground. After we came back from the worksite we had the opportunity to take a bath and have supper before the musical entertainment started. We were entertained by Mitch, who sings folk music from the Appalachia region, every one of his songs was meaningful and told a different story. After the performance, we had our individual college reflection time (in which we talked about our experience and reflected on it) and then headed to the cafeteria to play an almost never ending UNO game.
Our Never Ending UNO Game
On Tuesday, the day started almost the same as Monday without the orientation portion. We headed to our campsite a bit earlier. Larry, one of our crew leaders, brought his trailer to the worksite. It contained anything and everything that could be needed to work. I was surprised by the confidence that everyone had in us I used a lot of different power tools even though I had never even used a drill before. We worked on the siding by setting down some pink insulation to make it a bit easier for when we put up the actual vinyl siding. I also had the opportunity to help put two new windows on the house. After our workday ended we came back, had supper, and showered before our presentation. We had a very interesting presentation by Father Rausch. He talked to us about a new way of obtaining coal (Mountain Top Removal) that has been devastating the ecosystem and the health of the Appalachian residents. This system consists of blowing up portions of Coal Mountains and then excavating and removing the coal. Because of this way of mining, a lot of hazardous materials run off to the water ways and they have been inflicting on the health of the residents for years. I was extremely surprised to find out about this. If you would like to know more about mountain top removal, you should check out this website: http://mountainkeeper.blogspot.com/.Father Rausch talking to us about MTR.
On Wednesday, the workday was filled with good chaos. I call it good chaos because we were joined by another crew (the black crew) and by ladies who were working with another portion of the Christian Appalachian Project (called Healing Rain). With their help, our worksite worked on a deck, vinyl siding, and drywall. I love working with a lot of people it really makes me feel at home. I grew up in a big family; chaos is almost my middle name. On Wednesday we also had the most delicious donuts and soft drinks (Ale-8-One). After we came back from our worksite on Wednesday we had free time. Our school group decided to go hiking. Our route started off rough with a large upward hike. After the route evened out a bit, we took pictures on rock formations and continued our journey. We came upon more rock formations. I tried to climb it but my foot slipped and I ended up with a small temporary souvenir from our hike. Our hiked had started around 7:00 PM and almost halfway in, the sunset and our trip back was in the dark. We were very lucky to have Alex, a UIC Alumni and experienced volunteer, guide us back to camp. The way back was a bit scary because sometimes the ground wasn’t as visible and the way down was steep.
On Thursday, our last day of actual work, we finished the siding and helped with some of the other smaller tasks. On Thursday we also had our Family/Student Appreciation we invited our family (the family whose house we were working on) and we had the opportunity to share our experience with everyone else who attended the trip. After the dinner, we came back to our camp and had reflection time with our college. Almost no one went to sleep early on Thursday night. Everyone was busy saying good bye and finishing their affirmations (notes to our CAP community in which we write something positive to everyone who worked with us).
The Green Team
On Friday, we ended our service time with CAP by filling out some paperwork and saying goodbye to our spectacular crew leaders and members. After we packed our bags, we headed back to Chicago. We made a short stop in Berea, a little town in Kentucky with a lot of old time shops and centers. We also stopped in Louisville for lunch as a group.
Our Quick Stop in Louisville for Lunch.
Ending the trip was not easy, everyone that is part of the Christian Appalachian Project made the experience enjoyable. The cooks, made delicious meals and always greeted us early in the morning and after our workday with big smiles and positive attitudes. I even considered them my temporary mother figures, I broke out and asked them for help with the getting rid of some itchy hives in my arms. The staff all had their own way of motivating us with their morning devotions and instructions. The students were all passionate and very hard working. Our crew leaders all had so much experience and patience for our inexperience. I can definitely say that I could not have spent my Spring Break doing anything better.
When I came back from my trip I was anxious to see my family. My sister planned “brothers and sisters night” It was fun, all of my nephews were there. My youngest nephew, Fabian even helped me read my affirmations by setting them out all over the table top and floor. It was nice to come back to my amazing family after a whole week without them.
Thanks for reading this week!
*Photos generously shared by the Christian Appalachian Project, Andrea Hernandez, Anna Slota and Mark Ayala. Mark also made a YouTube video about the experience, check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJTJhoy92d0&context=C4d77713ADvjVQa1PpcFNuWwK62dfdkHGV-4ha7wNP_VYB97L2y5w=.