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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

Building something timeless

Building+something+timeless

Service for a week lasts a lifetime in my heart

If someone came up to me a year ago and told me that the best week of my life would be spent with 36 strangers digging holes and extracting rocks from the frozen ground, all of which happened 12 hours away in the small town of Jonesville, Virginia, I would have laughed. When we left for our journey on March 10, I did not know what to expect; how could I spend my vacation week with these people I don’t even know? It was intimidating, but the time I spent in Jonesville definitely changed my whole outlook on life.

The Appalachian Experience, commonly known as APEX, is a service trip that spans the week of spring break. Groups go to 17 different work sites in the Appalachian region to serve and learn about the individuals who live in the community. Going in, my group wasn’t informed of the kind of work we would be doing once we got to our sites, so when we were told to build a wheelchair ramp from scratch, with very little instruction, our jaws dropped. However, right away we literally began to dig right into the project.

For the entirety of the first work day, we dug two-foot holes into the ground. Let me tell you, it is much harder than you’d expect, especially if you’re digging straight into solid rock and clay. Despite the harsh weather conditions, challenges and many setbacks we faced, there was never a negative comment on the work site, which was something that was very new to me.

I have never met so many people who have the same values as I do, with the desire and drive to serve others, that are passionate about Saint Joseph’s University’s mission of creating “men and women with and for others.” Maybe my spring break wouldn’t be considered an actual “break,” but embracing these new experiences and opening up to new people was very refreshing.

I am a very small person, so I couldn’t really do any of the heavy lifting in building this ramp, especially since we were working in snow and freezing rain for the majority of the work days. I’ll admit, this made me feel completely useless; I came here to work, not to sit around because I was physically incapable of helping. In reflection, however, we discussed the equal importance of doing physical labor but also building new friendships. It was comforting to know that despite the fact that I was not always doing the physical labor, I was making connections and sharing stories with my group members as well as the owner of the home we worked at.

We didn’t come to Jonesville to “fix” a broken home; we came to learn about the people who lived there while providing something they needed. Although it was rewarding to see a tangible result come from our hard work, the relationships we built were much more valuable. I didn’t realize this until the end of the week, but we did so much more for this man and his family than we will ever realize.

I’m not going to preach about how I “discovered myself” or “found God” during my trip, but what I gained from my first APEX experience was equally valuable. I exceeded the limits of my comfort zone, learned to truly see people for who they are and developed true faith in myself. I found love, hope and gratitude. The work I did, friends I made, and conversations I had allowed me to realize things about myself more clearly and in depth than ever before. I will allow this new insight to help me to become a better neighbor, friend, lover and human being. I can’t say I have all the answers yet, but I am now closer to truly becoming a person who is with and for others.

Yes, learning how to use a hand saw and power drill may be more useful in a practical sense, but the lessons and new perspectives I have gained from the 36 new friends I have will allow me to build better relationships, communities and humanity. A piece of my heart was left in Jonesville and I will forever be grateful for what that beautiful town has given me.

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