by Hannah Luke
Got spring break plans? I didn’t my freshman year. On a whim, I decided to sign up for Appalachia Volunteers. No application, and only one hour-long meeting a week? Great! I wasn’t quite sure what I was signing up for, but I did know that after my first spring break spent with a small group of BC students serving a community in Barren Springs, Virginia, I was hooked. Making that impulse decision to give my spring break to Appalachia Volunteers shifted the trajectory of my path here at BC, changing it for the better.
Appalachia Volunteers is one of the largest service organizations at Boston College, boasting more than 350 members who commit to spending their spring break serving poverty-stricken communities in the Appalachian region of the United States.
At each weekly meeting throughout the year, students hear from a speaker who elaborates on his or her experience with service, and what newcomers might experience on their trips. These speakers serve to prepare both newcomers and returners alike for spring break. In addition to attending weekly meetings, members sell raffle tickets and participate in a letter campaign, which raises most of the money needed to make the trips happen.
The weekly meetings culminate when it’s finally spring break, and small groups of about 10-15, including two student trip leaders, head off to become immersed in the communities they will serve. Appalachia Volunteers runs two types of trips—community and Habitat for Humanity. Participants on a Habitat trip help build houses, most of the time working alongside both expert volunteers (carpenters, construction experts, etc.) and those who will live in the house when it is complete.
On the other hand, students on community trips are sent to serve in various ways. It could be raking leaves on an elderly couple’s front lawn, maybe painting a busy family’s kitchen, working in a local elementary school for a week, or even chopping and carrying wood. The common thread running through both of these weeks in Appalachia, though, is interaction with the communities—it is truly an immersion experience.
A major component of Appalachia Volunteers is reflection at the end of every day. Each night, the small groups gather their thoughts and talk about whatever events their days have held. These reflections serve as a way not only to think more deeply about what these communities are going through and why, but also to think about what’s important in one’s own life, at BC and beyond.
I’ve been on two Appalachia trips, both community, and I’m preparing to lead my first trip this coming spring break. The program has given me so much—wonderful memories, lasting friendships, and inspiring conversation, but it’s the unexpected moments that truly made me fall in love with Appa. Whether it’s unprecedented wisdom from someone in the community or words of pure love from a child, these moments that can only come from direct involvement with a community are what make Appa so special. Learning to stand in solidarity alongside people with whom I thought I had nothing in common has taught me in a way lectures or research papers never will. I have already learned so much about service as well as about myself through Appalachia Volunteers, and I can’t wait for what my future with the program holds.
There’s still time to join Appa—no application required! Freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors are all welcome. Stop by McElroy 111 during office hours, 12-3 Monday through Thursday to get more information!