Students to Spend Spring Break Serving in Appalachia
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
PHILADELPHIA (March 4, 2014) — On Friday, March 7, at 6:30 p.m., more than 500 Saint Joseph’s students, team leaders and faculty/staff facilitators will gather in the Chapel of St. Joseph–Michael J. Smith, S.J., Memorial, to celebrate the beginning of the spring break Appalachian Experience (APEX). Sponsored by SJU’s Campus Ministry, the group will travel to towns and hamlets along the Appalachian mountain range where they will work with local organizations to support community initiatives.
Following a welcome and brief discussion of the trip’s mission, President C. Kevin Gillespie, S.J. ’72, will offer his comments and a blessing before the vans depart.
According to program director Matt Fullmer, APEX began in 1992 when 15 students hopped in a van and drove to Phelps, a small town in Kentucky, because they wanted to help make a difference.
“APEX exemplifies Saint Joseph’s tradition of volunteerism, which is rooted deeply in the Ignatian tradition of service to others, a cornerstone of the University’s mission,” says Fullmer. “Now, 22 years later, it’s a testament to our students’ heart and engagement that 60 vans are heading out to 17 communities spanning five states.”
Service sites include locations in Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. For the first time, APEX has added North Carolina as a destination, where students will work with Habitat for Humanity in Ashe County. In addition to volunteering with Habitat, students will help at local nonprofits and enjoy meals with the community during the week.
Many Saint Joseph’s students choose to participate in APEX several times during their education.
“APEX has been an integral part of my SJU experience,” says group leader Brandon Talisesky, a senior accounting and business intelligence & analytics double major from Elysburg, Pa., who is a four-year APEX veteran. Talisesky is headed to Jonesville, Va., along with 27 other participants and two facilitators. He says Jonesville will have as big an impact on his group as his group will have on Jonesville.
“Hopefully, we’ll help put smiles on the faces of the residents and bring positive energy into the town, but they’ll give us such memorable experiences,” Talisesky says. “These trips have taught me about reciprocity. By listening to other’s stories, and telling our own, we learn as much about ourselves as we do about each other.”
Fullmer adds that the students who take part in the trips grow very close to the communities they serve. “Every story is unique, but they all seem to fall in love with the place and its residents, and that’s why so many return each year,” he says.