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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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APEX 2023 prepares groups for their 30th immersion experience 

APEX student peer minister Kevin Villec ’23 presents reflection questions to participants. PHOTO: CHEYENNE FRANCE ’25/THE HAWK

The Appalachian Experience (APEX), St. Joe’s Spring Break service immersion program, will host its 30th immersion this year. 

From March 10-18, 160 students and 24 facilitators will travel to 12 locations in Appalachia, according to APEX campus minister Tricia Riodian, who is responsible for much of the program’s behind-the-scenes logistics and coordination. APEX invites participants to assimilate into their designated community and perform service throughout the week, ranging from manual labor to after-school tutoring. 

“The best part of my job is connecting with the site in Appalachia and building those relationships so that we can go back to the sites that we have been to and loved and just continue those connections,” Riodian said.

Matthew Clifford ’23, an APEX leader who will travel to Wheeling, West Virginia, this year, said he has been preparing for the immersion by educating his group during their weekly Tuesday night meetings. 

“We want to bring up as much information as we can for them to learn about the region,” Clifford said. “Even though we have had people participate in the program before, it’s always important to set the boundaries and expectations we have for our group.” 

APEX integrates participants into an unfamiliar region, so groups spend time beforehand learning about their immersion location and their purpose for visiting. 

“The people of Appalachia don’t need us,” Clifford said. “That’s why we’re talking about APEX in terms of an immersion, because it’s an opportunity to just encounter the community and create that connection with each other.” 

Kevin Villec ’23, an APEX student peer minister, said APEX teaches participants about the value of community building. Last year, Villec led  a group in Wheeling, West Virginia, and will be visiting Alleghany Highlands, Virginia for this year’s immersion.  

“I like to think of our program as immersing through service,” Villec said. “It’s not necessarily about the service we’re doing. It’s about community interaction, the learning, the education, trying to encounter and get a deeper understanding of why some of these structural injustices are occurring and the history behind those, while building that community connection.”

APEX participant Keara Klein ’24 said the program has positively shaped her college experience. Klein was in Bluefield, West Virginia, last year and will be going to Hazard, Kentucky, this year. 

“It’s really cool to get to learn a little bit more about people in such a unique way,” Klein said. “It’s a group of people that we might not ever cross paths around campus in any other way. But we’re all bonded by this experience.”

Klein said APEX also encouraged her to question if there are communities closer to home where she can establish similar connections. 

“Are there more things I could be doing in my own backyard?” Klein asks. “Even at my home in Connecticut, I felt motivated to try to reach out to my local community centers and see if they need help. It opened my eyes to things that I think are important.” 

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