Sunday, May 18, 2014

Reflections on Mission Appalachia 2014

Christ the King & St. Elizabeth Seton Parishes, Cape Cod, MA

Over the past year, a group of adults and students assembled to become the Mission Appalachia Team. We were diversified, assembled from families from Christ the King and St. Elizabeth Seton Parish. We were 8 adults from various backgrounds, and 17 students who attend 9 different highs schools.

Our Mission Statement: Called by Christ and following the steps of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, our mission is to build community through service to others, especially those in most need.

Planning efforts throughout the year included fundraising both to offset some of our personal travel expenses, and to help the people we were to visit in Appalachia. More importantly, our planning efforts were intended to build community within our team and within our parishes.

Our planning efforts culminated in a our journey to Wheeling, West Virginia April 21-26, where we worked under the direction of the Appalachia Institute in various service projects in and around Wheeling, WV.

I took great joy in watching our group excel in all that was asked of them. They committed themselves to caring for each other, and consistently doing more than what was asked in any of the service projects. We were on a retreat experience, and took time each morning and evening for prayer and reflection, without contact with home and friends through cell phones or computers. Our student’s enthusiasm was contagious, and it was a huge pleasure to watch them grow and mature throughout the week as they were challenged, and to watch friendships grow with our faith and our commitment to the project at the core of these friendships. I was also inspired by the coordinators and volunteers from Wheeling and the extraordinary work they do in the in the various ministries we were able to be part of during our short visit. I was challenged as I learned more about the complex social and environmental injustice that has occurred in the Appalachian region in the past and continue today and how I can plug my Catholic Faith into those issues. I have so much appreciation for the support from our parishes and for the new friendships in Christ that I have with all the members of our team.
-Dave Ryan, Trip Coordinator

After all the planning this past year, it was a wonderful feeling to watch the team come together with so much enthusiasm. We learned about the people of the upper Appalachian region and came away with a new appreciation of what they have gone through. The pride they have for their state is contagious. The volunteers involved with the soup kitchens or food pantries give so much and care for these people with such compassion. They were very welcoming to us and happy to share their stories. I felt God’s love in Appalachia and I was proud of how our youth jumped right in no matter what was asked of them. These young people are ready to change the world for the better! I did things I’ve never done before, like helping in a soup kitchen and a food pantry. My vacation spent helping others and building friendships within our group was quite meaningful and rewarding. As I have always said to our own children, friendships you build with Christ in the center will last forever.
-Cheryl Ryan, Trip Coordinator

Humbling. It is a word we don’t use very much anymore, but my experience with the good people of West Virginia and Ohio was exactly that. Proud people who have been dealt a difficult and unfair hand just by living in the place they live are without solid jobs with fair living wages. Factories, mines and mills closed and people who worked hard and were good citizens are now without the means to help their families. The boom days of the past can be seen everywhere, but they are more of a painful reminder of what used to be. But these people have a spirit that only comes from helping one another, respecting everyone in spite of their circumstances. People here in West Virginia help one another without judgment without prejudice, but rather with the real gift that comes from doing Christ’s work. Becky, Dan, Ray, Pat, and Brenda are just of few of the names; Sister Agnes Tres, Sister Veronica and Sister Sophia are others. They see the world as Christ asks us to see it and they live as Christ asks us to live. We come with preconceived ideas about who we are and who they are, but we come away humbled.
- Jim Quinn, Trip Coordinator

This part of our country has suffered greatly. The universal problems that we also face in Massachusetts – poverty, unemployment, addition, crime, environmental hazards, seem to be ten-fold here! We have heard stories from the hearts of the people we have met here, and they have touched us deeply. We’ve seen the faces of the “regulars” in the soup kitchen, the Community Bread Basket, the Appalachian Outreach Project, the Salvation Arm Food Giveaway and they haven’t been unlike our neighbors at home. Yet their life stories have been remarkably difficult. They have lived in a region that most of the country has turn its back on. How can our fellow countrymen and women have been so disregarded?? Surprisingly, they don’t act bitter or angry or vengeful. They treated us with kindness and appreciation. They asked questions and wanted to know about us! Under such dire circumstances, we met people of great hope and great faith. They looked to be Christ to others by sharing the little that they have. We were the recipients of their kindness and we are better people for having shared a week in their world.
- Diane Quinn, Trip Coordinator

This week, all together, was inspiring. One event that really hit home for me was the Soup Kitchen. There, we met Becky, the director of the kitchen. She was a woman free of all harsh stereotypes towards the poor. And with her help, my prior views started to vanish. Before meeting Becky and experiencing the soup kitchen I had this unfair analysis/ judgment of the poor- like they did something bad in their life that led them to be poor, like it was their fault that they are poor. Becky said something that really stuck “sometimes it’s just a matter of luck” which she backed up with a story about a woman who lived just a block away from her saying she needed help. She was in tears explaining this woman’s worst Christmas ever. Her husband was out of work because of a broken back, she was out of work because of cancer. On Christmas day they and their two daughters awoke to no food ion the house and no presents under the tree. Hungry and sad, they all returned to their beds for the reminder of Christmas day. Becky had driven by their house that day thinking everything was normal and joyful, not realizing how wrong she was. This story opened my eyes to how fast life can take a turn for the worse and you never know what people are dealing with behind closed doors.
-Monica Martini, Sophomore, Falmouth High School

This week really inspired me and made me aware of issues and poverty in my own country. At every service site we went to, we got a similar piece of history about why West Virginia is struggling so much. I have so much compassion for the coal miners who have lost their jobs due to the changing industry. I feel the pain of the Appalachian people who have lost their land to mountain top removal (a newer technique for extracting coal which is devastating the environment) The culture in West Virginia is so vibrant. The beauty and natural resources that brought the people here is slowly being torn from them. I learned that there are many big and little things that can be done, not only in West Virginia but also on Cape Cod, to help these people, such as donations, clothing, food, efforts towards clean water. Every single person in West Virginia can become part of the middle class if we are all willing to help and serve them. They are no different than us and some of them are even smarter than us.
-Mary Burke, Junior, Sturgis Charter School West

The directors of so many programs, who don’t just talk the talk, are inspired and called to service. Becky, with the Soup Kitchen, reminds us we’re all “just people” and that poverty isn’t a crime. Dan, a young man I was in care of, who’s bringing fresh vegies and even eggs to the least of his brethren. Can you imagine a community garden totally organic under a highway overpass, or a six food with thirty-four long strip of land next to a sidewalk on a city street? There were and are his vision, a vision he’s brought to life. I found people of vision and people of home, willing to give back to a dying city. The young people fro CTK and SES worked alongside the needy and impoverished. My hope and prayer is they will bring their experiences to their own community. I couldn’t have been prouder to be given the opportunity to be part of Mission Appalachia.
- Sandy Souza, Adult Volunteer

Coming to Appalachia, I really did not know what to expect. Sure we read about economic, health, and environmental issues, but it is difficult to imagine those when we often stay confined in the oasis of our own communities. Seeing the area, talking to people who experience the issues that we learned about on a daily basis, and having the opportunity to try to make a small difference wherever we could truly put the idea of service to others in perspective. Despite all the issues that many Appalachians are forced to deal with, they are constantly giving back, fighting for a better tomorrow, and showing how much they care for their land and those that live in it. IF they can rise above the countless problems that plague them daily, we can also work together as a community to build a better future for all.
- Sean Quinn, Senior, Falmouth High School

The mission trip to Appalachia is not only an eye opener, but also enlightenment to the issues at hand in our country and to the ideas of great minded and spirited people. Becky from the Greater Wheeling Soup Kitchen stuck out to me for her spirit and beliefs for the needs of the people within the area. She shows how one individual with a simple idea, knowledge of a region, and a huge heart, can spark safety and hope in many people. Becky is only one of the fantastic leaders we met but I would also like to focus on two others, a patron of the soup kitchen and a volunteer at the Community Bread Basket work site. The first, a patron at the soup kitchen named Roy, is a general contractor. He is not poor or homeless, but works for his check on the first of the month. He is self-employed for over seven years and pays himself. He is skilled at his craft, however, he does not have any means to get food due to his clients not paying from lack of funds. Roy prays for himself, but also for those While on the mission trip I worked with the Salvation Army group. I met this lady who moved away from West Virginia to California, got married, and was living a nice life, but then she got injured while working. Her husband left her. This lady couldn’t afford to live in California anymore and had to move back to West Virginia. She can barely walk and can’t afford food. She had gotten away from all the poverty and then got sent right back to it. It opened my eyes showing me that this can happen to anyone. It broke my heart to see this lady suffering. Someone should be helping her. It makes me sick that she has nothing anymore and deserves everything. She is still a happy person and doesn’t take anything for granted. It makes me change my outlook on how I live my life.
-Catherine Doble, Junior, Falmouth High School

On my trip to Appalachia, I learned a lot about its sad history. We (the group), met a man named Tom and he told us about everything that is happening in West Virginia and how, “America owes this region (Appalachia, WV) a great debt.” So our goal for the week was to repay that debt. I can tell you that I honestly worked my tail off this week for the amazing people I met, just to make their tough lives a little bit easier. The most influential person I met on this trip was Danny Swenland (and his dog Yukon) from the community gardens. The garden was right next to a major highway and it really showed how Danny made it from nothing. The group we had really bonded, sharing hilarious moments to movie quotes to songs and more. Overall, I enjoyed the trip and the amazing people I met. Whether poor, rich, fat, skinny, or anything inbetween we are all people and really deserve a fighting chance in life. I would love to organize another trip next year and make our group even larger, so we’ll see what happens. Once again, thank you for your prayers and support before, during, and after our trip.
-Dan Chamberlain, Sophomore, Barnstable High School

The mission trip to Appalachia is not only an eye opener, but also enlightenment to the issues at hand in our country and to the ideas of great minded and spirited people. Becky from the Greater Wheeling Soup Kitchen stuck out to me for her spirit and beliefs for the needs of the people within the area. She shows how one individual with a simple idea, knowledge of a region, and a huge heart, can spark safety and hope in many people. Becky is only one of the fantastic leaders we met but I would also like to focus on two others, a patron of the soup kitchen and a volunteer at the Community Bread Basket work site. The first, a patron at the soup kitchen named Roy, is a general contractor. He is not poor or homeless, but works for his check on the first of the month. He is self-employed for over seven years and pays himself. He is skilled at his craft, however, he does not have any means to get food due to his clients not paying from lack of funds. Roy prays for himself, but also for those more and less fortunate than him. His ability to truly see his faith, and to guide others during such a hard time, is remarkable. The final person I would like to bring to light is John, a simple volunteer, who I bonded with at the Community Bread Basket work site. This man, who grew up in the area of South West Virginia, his father a coal miner, enlisted in the Army at 18, served over 27 years, became Special Forces in 1998, and served ten tours in Iraq after 9/11. Now out of the military, he is trying to be there for his son who lives just across the Ohio River. He volunteers every Friday after seeing what was happening within third world countries, he is horrified that conditions are worse within our own country. These three people sparked hope, inspired and guided my time in Appalachia, but also showed what our sparked hope, kindness, inspiration, history, and respect can spark in an entire nation.
-Jeremy Thomas, Junior, Sacred Heart Kingston

This Appalachian trip to me build a community between Christ the King and St. Elizabeth Seton and opened my eyes to the problem of poverty in my own country. During this trip I feel as thought the 25 people that came on the trip truly made special connections with each other, especially while seeing the hardship together. The poverty and stories we heard were things I never thought of happening in the U.S., but after seeing and hearing about it, I now see the need that our country has for helping the less fortunate. The place that I felt did the best job immersing me into the West Virginian culture was the soup kitchen. At the soup kitchen, I served food for the poor and realized how many people needed the help to not go hungry and then I ate lunch with them. Eating lunch with them helped me to hear first hand about the poverty and struggles of West Virginia. I am glad I was given this opportunity to open my eyes to the needs of the poor.
-Nathan Ryan, Sophomore, Barnstable High School

This past week has been such an amazing experience and I have truly gotten something valuable out of each thing we have done. I personally had never done service work like this before. Getting the opportunity to help out at a soup kitchen, the Salvation Army, and the Bread Basket really opened my eyes to the realities of life when they don’t have everything they need right in front of them. Something that really made me inspired was hearing that even though there is so much poverty in West Virginia that people could still find some happiness in their lives. For example, Wheeling has a very developed youth hockey program for all ages. All the families have to purchase is hockey skates, a helmet, and a hockey stick and the rest of the equipment is supplied to them. This inspires me to do something to help kids in need receive the chance to play sports. I know that playing soccer and lacrosse relieves my stress and that it does for other kids as well. Providing them with this opportunity gives them a chance to take their minds off all the bad aspects of their lives and just have fun and enjoy themselves. Overall I thought this trip was amazing and I would come back here in a heartbeat because these people one hundred percent deserve all they help they can get.
-Shannon Hart, Senior, Sturgis West High School

My experience in Appalachia was so special words cannot describe. Through all the bonding throughout the week and the jobs, I really got the sense of what true selflessness and what being helpful really is. One great example of this is at the bread basket, the people we were working with were so welcoming and just so happy to have us. They pack boxes of food for people for the month. The act of giving food to others, and having a whole business dedicated to just that, is really remarkable. Also, the people there were like family to each other and that really showed in their personalities and the way they all talked to me. The mission trip really opened my eyes to what others are going through and a great way to directly help the community and show people that you care.
-Kendall Hoover, Sophomore, Sturgis Charter School East

This week we were shown the beauty of West Virginia, the poverty of West Virginia, and the kind people working to help the poor and impoverished of this state. We learned the history of the state and of the thumb print coal mining has left here. Our mission work gave us the opportunity to reach out, with many hands, and lift a bit of the burden in the soup kitchens, food pantries, learning center, clothing centers, and community gardens we worked in. I was touched by those who give so much each day to help their neighbors, as well as by the groups of people I worked with on this trip. This team pitched in, picked up, and got any job asked of them done!
-Kitsy Hoover, Adult Volunteer

The trip has been a wonderful experience of meeting new people and learning how other places compared to home. As the trip went on, all of the team members and myself experienced how the people of Appalachia went through life everyday. All of the people down here appreciate our help that we gave to the community. By helping out in the local garden, working in a local soup kitchen, and working at a thrift shop. Every single team member got along with each other and we all made friendships with each other. The main lesson I learned on the mission trip is that no matter where you are in the world, everyone still struggles but some people get out of hard situations with just plain luck. The people down here in West Virginia have their own unique way of getting along with each other and helping others out when needed within this wonderful community. Everyone here knows that other people in their communities struggle and have their own problems and know the reason why God made us on this earth which is to help other people and get along with our neighbors and other people. This really showed me that no one on earth is alone but they are with others who care about them to give others hope.
-Dan Burke, Sophomore, Sturgis Charter School West

This trip was one of the best ideas ever, I’m so glad I went on it. The people that I’ve met and have gotten close with are amazing. On this trip I went to the soup kitchen. There I met Danny, his wife died in 2003, they were married for forty years. He waved me over to come sit with him. Also I went to the Salvation Army, I met a woman who was handicapped and her husband left her. She told me that she grew up here and moved away to California and had a really nice house in a good neighborhood. Then she got hurt and she was forced to move back after her husband left. This trip taught me that anything can happen at anytime good or bad. These people are in the richest natural resource spot in the country yet they are the poorest. When brining out their boxes of food the people would open up to you. When you got to their car they were so grateful for what you were doing for them. The people that I went on this trip with were all amazing, we’re all wicked close and this was the perfect group to come down with. I met some amazing people on this trip I will never forget.
-Melissa Quigg, Junior, Falmouth High School

The trip to Appalachia was an amazing experience. Being able to help the poor in our country helped me realize how blessed my life was. One experience on the trip that I enjoyed the most was working at the Wheeling Soup Kitchen in West Virginia. There, I was able to serve food to the people who came. Afterwards, I was able to sit down and talk to them. One older gentleman talked about history and it was interesting to see how much he enjoyed sharing his knowledge with me. I also got to listen to a boy who was 17. Even though he mentioned that he had been in prison more than once, listening to him made me realize that he could have been any ordinary teenager. I realized that before this trip, I assumed that people who were poor got themselves there. But now, I realized that these people at times go through hard situations and are not able to recover on their own. I also realized that in the end, everyone is a person, a person who deserves a chance to be understood. By realizing this, I was able to listen and have meaningful experiences with them.
-Marysa MacKoul, Junior, Sturgis High School West

Before this week, I had made the decision to go on the mission trip after there had already been a couple of meetings. I don’t regret this decision at all. Not only did I get to spend this time with people I’ve known for a while, but I’ve become close to so many others that I met just this week. Being able to go out and help such a large community was so rewarding. I met so many great people with some truly amazing stories. You don’t really get the complete picture until you are surrounded by poverty and experience the warming welcomes in soup kitchens, thrift shops, and out reach programs. There is so much more within it than it seems from the outside. I will carry the lessons I’ve learned this past week with me throughout my whole life. I think I can now understand the phrase, “You don’t become poor from giving.”
-Beth McEntee, Junior, Sandwich High School

Going into the trip to Appalachia I didn’t know what to expect, but by the end of this trip, everything that I had taken for granted now has so much meaning to me, and I appreciate much more. While we were there, one of the projects we worked on was helping the Salvation Army package boxes of food to give out. By the afternoon we had about 200 out of the 375 boxes that we packaged gone and when you are done, even though you may not know everyone’s story, and how you specifically helped them, you know that just that one box can really go a long way to a family who needs it. One of the things that I had taken for granted was our clean environment and clean air on Cape Cod. In Appalachia they have coal mines and when you are within about fifty miles or maybe even more, you can smell that bad smell in the air. There are also billboards everywhere not just on the highways but in the towns and city roads as well. As I make my way back to Cape Cod, I will definitely appreciate the little things in life and the people that I get to share them with because as I learned, they can be taken away from you in the blink of an eye.
-Mikayla Walsh, Sophomore, Mashpee High School

I’ve really enjoyed going on this trip; it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. There have been too many inspiring moments to count and I’ve definitely changed for the better. One of the most thought provoking moments on this trip for me was a talk we received about what kind of people come to a soup kitchen. Becky, the director of the soup kitchen in Wheeling, gave us the presentation before the patrons arrived for lunch. She told us not to expect to be the richest, most educated, or attractive people there. Lots of people come daily to receive meals, all from different backgrounds, for different reasons. This one phrase stuck with me because I feel that there are many stereotypes surrounding soup kitchens and those who go there. One can’t tell what situation someone is in just by how they look. You can’t know someone’s situation until you really get to know them. This is a problem everywhere and I’ve really been inspired to help in any way I can. I’ve learned not to stereotype and learned that anyone can be in a crisis even thought they look okay on the outside.
-Sarah Donahue, Sophomore, Falmouth Academy

Over thirteen hours in a van was the beginning of an enjoyable, eye-opening experience where I witnessed the debunking of many stereotypes. Our group of seventeen teenagers willingly handed in their cell phones for their entire vacations, which included over twenty-four hours of driving, without complaint. The group comprised nine different high schools with some students knowing only one other missionary. Despite the potential discomforts, teens registered for the trip, illustrating that our community contains a group of young leaders who are drawn to serve others. They worked diligently on all service assignments and willingly pitched into clean, cook, and help others throughout the week. Friendships were forged, a deeper desire to help others in need grew, and a fire was sparked to foster social justice in our community. The notion of the high cost of being poor resonated with the young adults as they heard stories of exorbitant interest rates, convenience store prices, and legal injustices that happen as a result of poverty. In each experience, the students questioned, observed, and listened so they could continue to fight for those less fortunate by relieving some of their burdens while finding solutions to the underlying problems. We learned that there are many untrue stereotypes that paint unfair and inaccurate pictures of the poor as well as the state of West Virginia. We learned to stop judging and to start listening. We learned that the world is filled with intelligent and compassionate advocates. We learned to be thankful for our parishes that generously supported our trip financially and spiritually. We learned to see God in others and know that anything is possible when we listen to His will and follow Him when called.
-Beth Donahue, Adult Volunteer

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