Coming back with stories to tell and lives that have been changed

The Daily News

8 days

17 Hours on the road

6 pitstops

32 People

5 Houses

0 Cell phone service

1 Unforgettable Experience  

I’ve traveled the world with my family for the past 20 years and been on various school trips and vacations in the past but none compare to this. My dad is in the military and we’ve moved from Alaska to six continental states and Germany over the years. My mom has passed along her love of travel so whenever we get an opportunity to, we do. I have traveled all throughout the world, around Rome, Portugal and Ireland, to name a few.

That being said, this is one of the first volunteer trips that I’ve been on and come back with more friends, intangible life lessons and progressive ideas for the future.

The Alternative Spring Break celebrated its 10th year anniversary of Caretta, W.Va,, and I embarked on a journey that would change my life forever. From the moment we walked into the Big Creek People in Action, facility, we felt at home because the head director Ms. Marsha was there to greet us with open arms, literally. She hugged each and everyone of us as we lugged our bags up the stairs.

Each day there would be a wake-up call, breakfast, work site assignments, free-time, dinner and reflections. 

Reflections each day were structured to allow us to learn more about ourselves in relation to the other 31 people and those who lived in Caretta, where we expressed our deepest secrets and fears and vowed not to let that information leave the room. I can’t recall one that didn’t bring tears to at least one person’s eyes. We became close.

I think the biggest shock for our group was the quality of the houses of the people who worked for BCPIA. The two or three guys that provided us with tools and basic skills to complete the tasks has the homes that were in the worst conditions because they constantly put others before themselves.

I was also surprised at the large number of houses that were in bad condition and the lack of health care. That was evident when talking to people at first, and later reaffirmed by a resident who said the nearest hospital was 45 minutes away.

On Monday night there were special guests that came to play country music and teach us the basics of flat-foot dancing. Chester Ball was the lead singer and guitar player who had white hair on his face and vibrant blue eyes. After each song he would continuously show his appreciation by telling us stories of the people and all that they had gone through. He also gave us advice about life, love and counting all of our blessings. 

“That’s one thing you’ll find in West Virginia is people with big hearts, full of love,” Ball said. Which we can all bear witness to, because although they might not have much, we encountered some of the sweetest people.

Other events that we were able to be a part of were visiting farm animals, climbing a mountain in War (the most southern city), taking a nature hike around Berwind Lake, reading Dr. Suess books playing basketball with elementary school kids and talking to a senior class about secondary education. 

The trip was so inspiring because all 32 people were there with one common goal: to do work and make a difference. But not as many of us expected to be changed ourselves, which was much more than we could have ever accomplished on a beach in Florida. 

We did not go in as the college kids attempting to re-enact “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” but to help those in need by giving our time and resources. In return we formed relationships with the families whose homes we worked on to be more suitable for living.

At different homes in the area we insulated rooms, painted, repaired roofing, shoveled coal and built handicap ramps, walls and floors. The difference we made in each home is just one small amount of change that was set in motion, but the work definitely doesn’t stop there. They need helping hands to rebuild their community, which is prone to flooding, natural disasters and a thwarted economy.

The amount of people that we touched by the work we did and the way it impacted the lives of the Ball State students is unforgettable. Not one of us wanted to leave Saturday morning, and a couple of us walked away with such enlightened purpose and drive. We have exchanged contact information with the people we worked with and someone has already emailed the group about sending pictures and coming back in the summer for warm weather and four-wheeling.


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