Students Gain Perspective in Appalachia During Spring Break Service Immersion

Thursday, March 1, 2018

by Chris Fastiggi '18

While many college students spend spring break visiting their friends and families or traveling to exotic locations, others dedicate their time off to service. This year, over 500 Saint Joseph’s University students will participate in the 26th Appalachian Experience (APEX) service immersion March 9-18. The campus community is invited to attend the send-off celebration, held on March 9 at 6 p.m., in the Chapel of St. Joseph-Michael J. Smith, S.J. Memorial.

One of the goals of APEX is for students to use the service experience to build solidarity with community members in the towns they visit, says Matt Fullmer, program director of APEX in SJU’s Office of Campus Ministry. “It’s a transformative experience where participants let down the guard between people of different walks of life. Students and the communities in which they serve come together to produce 500 unique experiences.” 

The popularity of APEX among students continues to grow. This year, the program reached capacity within nine minutes of opening online registration.

APEX volunteers work at 18 different locations in five states — Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia — repairing and painting houses, sprucing up neighborhoods and learning about the communities. Many students participate in APEX for the four consecutive years of their SJU education.

“I don't feel like I'm skipping my spring break at all,” says Brendan Kiley ’19, a communication studies and political science double major from Westwood, Massachusetts. “I'm simply using the time to have an impactful experience. During APEX I learn about myself, SJU, Appalachia, America and even God. The only thing I would get more of on a beach vacation is sunburn.”

The dedicated APEX volunteers know that the Appalachian region is an ideal locale for self-reflection. “Appalachia is central to the cultural and historical beginnings of our country. It is the heartland,” explains Fullmer. “We hope everyone experiences the beauty of the region like those who call it home.”

Each service site is unique, providing a different perspective and opportunity for service. “The dynamics among the communities and the APEX volunteers vary at every site,” says Cassandra Muratore ’18, a communications major from Yonkers, New York, who serves as an APEX student coordinator. “The factor that is constant is immersion in a community that opens its arms to you.”

For more information about APEX, please visit the website.

2018 APEX Locations


  • Hazard
  • Neon

North Carolina

  • West Jefferson
  • Wilkesboro


  • Deer Lodge
  • Putnam County
  • Robbins


  • Alleghany Highlands
  • Fries
  • Honaker
  • Ivanhoe
  • Jonesville
  • Roanoke
  • St. Paul

West Virginia

  • Bluefield
  • Greenbrier County
  • Guyan Valley
  • Lantz Farm


Media Contact

Patricia Allen, Director of Communications,, 610-660-3240

Expand this section