Five Hundred Students Spend Spring Break at Service Immersion Sites in Appalachia

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

by Elizabeth Krakoviak '17

Over 500 Saint Joseph’s University students and adult facilitators gathered on Friday, March 10 in the Chapel of Saint Joseph-Michael J. Smith, S.J., Memorial, for the send-off ceremony of the annual spring break service immersion program, the Appalachian Experience (APEX). Sponsored by the Office of Campus Ministry, the groups have traveled to towns in the Appalachian mountain range where they are assisting in community development projects.

“APEX is at the core of our Catholic, Jesuit identity and Ignatian values,” says Program Director and Campus Minister Matt Fullmer. “It is both a personal, inward experience as well as a shared, community oriented journey in which lasting relationships are formed.”

Now in its 25th year, APEX takes place at 17 different sites located throughout the Appalachian region in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. This year, students will also travel to Ivanhoe, Virginia, for the first time in over seven years. During the week, participants are building and repairing homes, painting and cleaning up various parts of the community, while in the evenings they will engage in reflection and community building. There is also time dedicated to experiencing the rich culture and natural beauty of the Appalachian region.

Three student coordinators, A.J. Simon ’17, Liz Knezetic ’17 and Jackie Pignataro ’17, help to facilitate the service immersion program.

“APEX is what gave me the understanding of genuinely being a woman with and for others,” says elementary education and special education major Knezetic. “Each trip reminds me of how we are called to live and how the Spirit moves us and shapes us in order to serve others more authentically. This connection and the powerful impact it has is what drew me to be a coordinator.”

Simon, a finance and sports marketing double major, adds that “APEX is a program that brings students from all walks of life together in order to develop a better understanding of the injustices that the communities in Appalachia face. It allows students to experience firsthand the nature of these inequities and is meant to inspire the participants to pursue change. It has led me to respect and appreciate the dignity and beauty of each individual, whether it be a member of a community within the Appalachian region or a peer.”

The alternative spring break trip has grown in popularity, with available spots filling up in record-breaking times for each of the past three years. The trip reached its capacity this year in only 28 minutes, compared to five hours in 2016, 12 days in 2015 and 31 days in 2014.

Immediately following the ceremony, 10 of the 17 student groups will departed for “nZone,” an indoor sport recreation facility located approximately 150 miles south of campus, where students will spent the evening and then continued on to their service sites in the morning. The remaining seven groups stayed on campus and departed the following morning. All students will return to SJU on the evening of Sat., March 18.

Program participants will congregate on Tues., March 21 at 9:15 p.m. in the Chapel for a return ceremony. All students, faculty and staff are invited to attend both the send-off and return events.

About APEX: APEX is a service immersion experience dedicated to the region of Appalachia, guided by the mission of Saint Joseph’s University and the Catholic, Jesuit tradition by: recognizing the unconditional and universal human dignity in all creation; fostering community growth in the spirit of solidarity; committing to education and action concerning the issues of poverty and injustice in the region; furthering the personal growth of the participants; and accepting the challenge to understand the past, experience the present and look forward with hope to the future. 




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