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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

'A voice for the voiceless'
Kiley O’Brien ’25, Assistant Features Editor • July 18, 2024
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Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

From Ivanhoe to Zoom


 How students form a bond through APEX despite coronavirus

When I decided to go on the Appalachian Experience (APEX) two years ago as a first-year student, I expected to have a great spring break where I would make friendships within my group and learn from the community I served, then return to the normalcy of campus. 

It wasn’t until I was on the trip that I realized the second half of the spring semester would be so much more fulfilling than the first, as I would continue to spend time with my group and become more involved in service and Campus Ministry. 

Naturally, I expected the same experience when I got in a big white van to head to Ivanhoe, Virginia last semester. As much as I wanted to make the most of our incredible week, I was also eager to get back on campus where I could have beautiful little moments, like grabbing Starbucks with my new friends. 

I was heartbroken when COVID-19 hit. While in Virginia, we were not only notified of St. Joe’s move to virtual instruction, but we were also sent home a day and a half early from our trip. While sitting in melancholic silence on the unexpected van ride home, I thought about all I would be missing on campus. However, it turns out that I did not miss out on as much of the post-APEX experience as I feared.

My first of many Zoom calls amidst the pandemic was with my APEX group. After the shock of coming home from the trip early and learning more about COVID-19, it was extremely helpful to check in with the group about how we were feeling, just like we would have check-ins on our trip. It was helpful to know we were not alone. This openness was not new to us because we established an environment in Virginia where we could talk about our spirituality and service experiences without fear of judgement. I felt the same level of comfort while looking at my Zoom screen. 

Along with this intentionality came fun. We figured out ways to play our favorite card games over the internet. We ended up having Zoom chats frequently by making sure to schedule meetings whenever there was a birthday in the group so that we could sing horrible renditions of “Happy Birthday.” We then ended up chatting until we ran out of things to talk about, which took a long time.

The sweetest moment shared with my APEX group in quarantine was the exchange of affirmation letters. This is somewhat of a tradition for all APEX groups. Of course, this year, the logistics of mailing dozens of handwritten letters were too complicated, so instead, everyone received a Google Doc filled with pages and pages of affirmations. 

After two months of sitting in quarantine, often feeling unproductive and lonely, the affirmation letters I received improved my mood like nothing else could. Writing a letter to everyone in my group reminded me of how lucky I am to know them and how excited I am to be able to hug them again one day. 

Just like the people of Ivanhoe inspired me, my APEX group inspires me to become a better person. Our love for each other did not end when we got off of our vans on campus at 1:00 a.m. in March, but rather, it remains so strong that it can be felt through a computer screen. 


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