Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Project Appalachia: March 1993

Kristen and I met on an "alternative Spring Break" trip to Appalachia, while we were at St. Joe's. This was an article that Mike, one of the guys on the trip, had published in the SJU newspaper. Just one guy's take on a service trip. He was right about finding friendships that lasted.

It was the best of times…and that about covers it. I have just spent a week in an area I’ve never been, helping people I’ve never known, with people I’ll never forget.

Hi, I’m an introverted outsider who prefers the fringes of society. Don’t ask me why I’m at St. Joe’s. For over three years now I’ve been questioning my decision to attend this institution. My own psyche has made it difficult for me to associate with the students who come here. I never knew if it was me or them, but I probably didn’t put the work into it I should have. However, after some strenuous persuasion I decided to join Project Appalachia this semester. I figured since I had a lot of construction knowledge and an affinity for those that occupy the lower economic social strata, I could at least be useful. Oh, did I underestimate the experience.

In my mind, I down-played whatever social interaction I would have with my fellow student volunteers. I was way off. I was “forced” to associate with people I would never have spoken to otherwise. There were students from all four year levels, business and liberal-arts majors, whackos and conservatives, men and women, various national heritages, and free thinkers and linear thinkers. It should have been a microcosm of society with cliques, conflicts and confusion. But instead, this varied group of individuals came together at work and at play, and made it the greatest and most worthwhile social event of my life.

This group that went to Kentucky consisted of sixteen student of an even distribution of men and women. I will remember all of them:

Matt, the fun loving, good natured friend of all, who couldn’t hammer a nail to save his life. He and I turned every sentence into a joke (if you know what I mean) and realized that shepherd and diesility are the instruments of peace.

Chuck, the conservative chef who could make hot dogs gourmet and river water into a laxative.

Megan, the happy, funny, love-of-an-eleven year old, who always made me smile. She was a great straight man, and I loved it.

Peggy, the straight-laced, take charge woman. She took all jobs, no matter how tedious and always took the time for a kind word.

Andy, the fresh-faced, boy next door, who will one day be a leader. He became like the younger brother I never had, enjoyed my bad jokes, and let me know it.

Glenn, the leader of this band of merry construction maniacs. Everyone knew he was the boss, but he never forced it, because he didn’t have to. My respect for him was instantaneous when we arrived in Kentucky.

Nicole, the only person I knew before I joined. She was able to put up with all my eccentricities, which were usually directed at her. She always made me feel like I was important, yet when I got too big for my britches, she gave me a shot to the knees. She is the greatest.

Tiffany, the braid-haired birthday girl who loved being in the mix, and learning something new. She was always able to make me laugh.

Ira, the Mario Andretti of van drivers. By the end of the week, I believed he was physically attached to the vans. His humor played an integral part of our camradarie.

Mike, one of the funniest and most hard working guys I have ever met. He did almost exclusively scut work and let everyone know it, but always with a laugh.

Lauren, the girl who had a flair for the obvious and tended to get it wrong. She took so many rips so well that I could do nothing but love and respect her.

Kristen, the grand-daughter of the cardboard granny. She had a razor tongue that always put me in line, but a sense of humor that floored me time and time again.

Mary, my constant opposition. If she said black, I said white. She could argue any topic I brought up. But more importantly, I saw my serious self in her all of the time. But she could be as whacked out as the rest of us. One day she will see that the true meaning of life is not dying.

Joe, my eccentric twin. A thin-lipped, hilarious, subtle whackado, who I could discuss every inane topic with, and make jokes about, so long as he doesn’t explode, so to speak.

Liza, my friend. I was forced to spend fifteen hours of virtual solitude with her, and in that time solved the question of the 51st state, the role of men and women in society, sexuality, religion, plumbing, and the need for friendship. She helped me realize that there is more to life that cynicism and static friendships. I hope she’s right.

As I write this now, it’s playtime and everyone is laughing and enjoying themselves. I realize that other articles will be written about this year’s Project Appalachia, probably from the angle of our work in the community and the benefits of Habitat for Humanity. But, I wanted to say thanks for making my last semester worthwhile, and just maybe for friendships that will last.

I hope that you will recognize these people I have described and tell them just how great they are. I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again, but I know I will never forget them.

Michael W.

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