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Seminar students spend fall break in Appalachia

| Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Over fall break, 245 Notre Dame students traveled to the Appalachia region of the United States as a part of the Appalachia Fall Seminar through the Center for Social Concerns (CSC). These students participated in service immersions across 19 different locations in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, Greg White, the lead coordinator for CSC seminars, said in an email.

Tina Bryson, manager of public relations for the Christian Appalachian Project (CAP), said students are vital to meeting the high demand for housing projects in Appalachia.

Notre Dame students help with home repairs while working for the Christian Appalachia Project. The students spent their fall break in Kentucky as part of the Center for Social Concerns seminar.Photo courtesy of Tina Bryson
A Notre Dame group helps with home repairs while working for the Christian Appalachia Project. The students spent their fall break in Kentucky as part of the Center for Social Concerns seminar.

“We have a backlog of about 500 substandard housing projects that need to be accomplished, and we just can’t do that without volunteers, without students,” she said. “We could never do that with just staffing alone.”

Bryson said Notre Dame has a long history of helping out in Appalachia, particularly with CAP, which hosted two groups of Notre Dame students last week.

“CAP has been around for a while,” Bryson said. “This is our 51st year. I believe Notre Dame students have been coming for about 40 years.”

Bryson said one goal of the program was to eliminate the stereotype that those in need are lazy and rely solely on others for help.

“Each family that CAP serves is part of that building process, whether they help in the building of the house, or they prepare food for the crew,” she said. “They are part of helping themselves. I think the goal is to show poverty, but also to show that these are just real people at the end of the day, to break down any stereotypes and barriers. Any of us could be in that situation where we need some help.”

Ryan Hergenrother, a sophomore who did his immersion in War, West Virginia with Big Creek People in Action, Inc., said students had to research their region before the group departed in order to fully prepare themselves for the trip.

“We did different readings and watched documentaries on the politics of the region, focusing on the changing demographics over time and the importance of coal there,” he said. “These factors affect their society and have shaped where they are right now.”

Hergenrother said this research allowed his group to keep in mind the region’s larger issues while working on their service project.

“During the day it was all about home repair, so we did sealing, siding and painting,” he said. “At night, we did reflections, saying our highs and lows of the day, what we thought about the different problems in the region and how solutions could be thought of.”

Sophomore Brittany Margritz — who went to Bethlehem Farms in Talcott, West Virginia for her immersion — said she did everything from farm chores to home repair. One of the highlights of the trip was her group, even though she didn’t know any of the members prior to the seminar, she said.

“It was just a reminder that a lot of the best things in life are about community and the people you’re with,” she said.

Margritz said this feeling of community was bolstered by the lack of access to any kind of modern technology or social media.

“One of the best parts of it was that we couldn’t use our phones, so everybody was just with each other, and there were no screens,” she said. “It was like the outside world didn’t exist.”

Hergenrother said his biggest takeaway from the experience was the impact of even the smallest efforts to help.

“Even if you can’t make the biggest or most widespread difference, your drops in a bucket could still add up,” he said. “Just because you can’t change everything doesn’t mean you can’t change some little things.”

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