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Students spend fall break serving in Appalachia

| Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Around 250 students made the trip to Appalachia during fall break this year through the Center for Social Concerns.

Kyle Lantz, director of the Social Concerns Seminars Program, said these seminars allow students to serve in a number of different states, including Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia. There are 20 community partners around the region that welcome these students, he said.

“We are there for a short time to serve with them, ask questions, receive hospitality and encourage them,” Lantz said.

Photo courtesy of Claire Saltzman
Sophomore Ethan Sunshine’s community house featured art depicting the principles of Catholic social teaching. Students visited Appalachia over fall break to volunteer through the Center for Social Concerns.

Sophomore Ethan Sunshine said when he arrived in Wheeling, West Virginia, his living situation was far different from what he expected.

“On Sunday, we show up to this office building. We take the elevator up to the fourth floor, and they give us our living space,” Sunshine said. “It’s a pretty small room, maybe 25 feet by 25 feet. Just enough space for all 12 mattresses.”

Sophomore Malia Marshall said she spent her week in Jonesville, Virginia, installing vinyl siding on a family’s mobile home. She said learning about a region in poverty and actually going there were two very different things.

“I think it just provided me valuable perspective about poverty in the United States in a different way than I had before,” Marshall said. “Poverty outside of the big city, Portland, [Oregon,] where I grew up. So that’s definitely something I took back with me.”

Although many people think of Appalachia as a service organization, Sunshine said, it’s really more about immersion as a way to understand the reality of poverty. He said most people struggle to understand what life is like in a food desert until they witness it firsthand.

“You have no idea how bad the actual effects of it are until you’re talking to people living in it,” Sunshine said. “We had this man who came to [The House of Hagar] like every day, and he would eat one meal every two days. For all of his energy in between these meals, the only thing he would do to get energy is drink Mountain Dew and coffee. He’d have two to three meals a week. You really can’t understand how bad the problems are until you’re there.”

In addition to the Appalachia program, Lantz said there are seven other seminars this fall, comprised of about 75 other students.

“These seminars are going deeper on various topics and issues that are relevant as we pay attention to the signs of the times,” he said. “Our newest seminar, Sports and Social Concerns, does not have a fall break immersion but does participate in local experiences and considers how justice is challenged and strengthened through the arena of sports.”

Although this was her first time on an Appalachia seminar, Marshall said she participated in the Realities of Race seminar last spring.

“We visit lots of community organizations, advocates, lawyers and religious organizations, and just talked to them about race in the U.S., and how that affects their work,” she said. “I think it just hit me how much things that I see as normal, everyday things are affected by race more than I realized.”

Sunshine said anyone considering participating in an Appalachia seminar in the future should do it.

“You’re going to learn about things that you have no idea existed in America,” he said.

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