|Centre students serve community in West Virginia
RELEASED: June 2, 2005
DANVILLE, KYLast week six Centre College students learned how to swing a hammer and to square dance (not at the same time)all in the name of service. Recent graduate Becky Barrick, rising sophomores Kevin Havelda and Ali Lindon, and rising seniors Sam Ruth, Chelsea Wessel, and Elizabeth Wisman, took the first week of their summer vacation to travel 258 miles to Caretta, West Virginia in McDowell Countythe fifth poorest county in the nation.
Patrick Noltemeyer, director of volunteer services and Bonner Program coordinator, and Megan O'Brien, director of student activities and educational programming, accompanied the group, all of whom are members of the Bonner Program at Centre, service-learning organization designed to transform the lives of students, campuses, local communities, and the world through service and leadership and helps students to develop the experience, skills, knowledge and values necessary to make that work meaningful and lasting.
The group set out to build a roof on a local family's house and construct playground equipment for the community center.
"We went down there to help that family accomplish their goalto support and engage them," Noltemeyer says. "They were excited to have us downto have people from Kentucky take them time to come there and help them."
Wessel from Evansville, Ind., adds, "These people literally had nothing, but, in a way everything too. They were some of the happiest and most grateful people I've ever met in my life."
Marsha Timpson, the Centre group's liaison from the Big Creek People in Action in McDowell County, says she had been trying to get a new roof for this family's home for a few years.
"This is the first time I've ever had help from Centre College and hope it won't be the last," she says. "They had their hearts and minds open to the community. They're an exceptional group of young people. We'd love to have them back today, tomorrow, next week, anytime."
Havelda from Owensboro, Ky., says that the service wasn't just about meeting physical needs, but psychological ones as well. The students spent part of their time mentoring to the family's 11- and 12-year old sons and interacting with others in the community.
"We built a relationship that we think we'll continue," Noltemeyer says. "This trip demonstrated to the students the impact they can havethey can make profound differences in the life of a family or in a community. In one week we were able to put a roof on this family's home. The effects of this work will continue to make an impact for years to come."
After completing their project, the students took some time off to visit area families and the local coal mines. They even went square dancing one evening.
"I thought that this trip would be about rebuilding a community left in shambles by a tyrannical coal company," says Wisman from Louisville. "What I found was a community of strong, independent, wonderful people who welcomed eight strangers into their homes and their lives. When I look back on this trip, I won't immediately remember the playground we patched or the roof we fixed. I'll remember the stories of impeccable human character and resilience."
Barrick, a Danville graduate adds, "It was liberating. I went square dancing and honestly had more fun than I've had in a long time. I can't remember laughing so hard and just enjoying the moment like I did that night."
One of the highlights of the trip came when the group trekked to the mountaintop cabin of the Muncys, a family that makes its living from the local coal mines.
"The Muncys aren't well-to-do people, but their sense of charity is still obvious," says Ruth from Knoxville, Tenn. "When we went to their cabin, they served us a lunch they had bought with food stamps. They cooked it and waited until we were satisfied and full with our meal before making their way in the lunch line themselves. Caretta definitely has a bond that is tight, since everybody cares for everyone. There were no homeless people out on the streets, which showed that this community cares enough so no person is left without a meal and a roof over his or her head."
Noltemeyer says that the Bonner Foundation, which partners with the Big Creek People in Action, is looking to expand students' horizons at Centre.
"Service isn't just for the weekends," he says. "Real problems are out there and they take more than a couple of hours to fix. This trip put a face on many of the problems that we discuss in meetings."
"I can't think of a better way to spend those five days. Service really is so much more than me, more than my one act of kindness. Coming to this community makes you think about why we do what we do."
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