Appalachian Spring Break Service Immersion Builds Solidarity
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
PHILADELPHIA (Feb. 27, 2012) - For many students, spring break means relaxation or vacation, but for 420 Saint Joseph’s University students, staff and alumni, spring break 2012 is a chance to give back and spend time in service to others. On Friday, March 2, they depart for one of 15 different service sites scattered across the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. Students will head south after a brief celebration held in the Chapel of St. Joseph-Michael J. Smith, S.J., Memorial at 6:30 p.m. to honor seniors who have spent all four of their spring breaks serving communities in rural Appalachia.
As a testament to SJU’s spirit of volunteerism, the annual trip has a 19-year history and continues to attract more and more students each year. The program is so popular that five new sites were added this year to accommodate SJU’s enthusiasm for generosity.
“The spirit of service is alive and well at Saint Joseph's University and in young people today,” says Matt Fullmer, SJU’s service immersion programs coordinator. “The tremendous growth comes from the student body’s desire to immerse themselves into the Ignatian tradition of solidarity and being men and women with and for others.” Students are drawn to the combination of service, education and community building.
“It is such a unique type of education,” says accounting major and student leader Tom Elitz ’12. “Rather than simply reading a textbook or watching a movie, we are fully experiencing the atmosphere of the Appalachian region by immersing ourselves in the culture.”
According to Elitz, it is an appreciation and understanding of the region that brings students back every year. Elitz will be traveling to Clinchco, Va., where the local mayor has helped facilitate the service effort to restore homes. Food marketing major Jenna Moran ’12 has also made a habit of spending her spring breaks in Appalachia and will be leading this year’s trip to Hazard, Ky.
“The Appalachian Experience service trip has been the most defining experience of my college career,” she says. “It has provided me with memories that I will never forget. I have been able to fully immerse myself in these communities and bond not only with the fellow students but with members of the communities as well. This year, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to lead a group of students to Kentucky. I hope to make an impact on them as my past leaders have made on me. I eat, sleep and breathe this.”
Fullmer has nothing but praise for the annual service trip and the students who participate each year. “I am very passionate about not only this program but the people I have come to know and love in the Appalachian region,” he says, “and I am proud of the students who commit themselves to serving this very special region of our own country each year.”