Central Appalachia Alternative Spring Break Trip 2012

by Kevin Amirdjanian ’14

Spring break is often a time for students to acquaint themselves with some much needed rest and relaxation.

This year, A group of students at CMC decided to do something unique with their spring vacation and take part in a community service trip sponsored by the Center for Civic Engagement. Twelve students and two staff members boarded a plane late at night on March 10, 2012 heading to Johnson City, Tennessee to spend a week working with the Appalachia Service Project.

The Appalachia Service Project, or ASP, is a Christian volunteer organization that operates in Central Appalachia. ASP dedicates itself to providing home repair for low-income families whose living conditions are considered sub-standard. Additionally, ASP provides the opportunity for groups of people from across the country to develop leadership and communications skills while participating in home-repair projects.

Each student had very different and very interesting reasons for participating in the trip. For Lizzy Ginelli ’15, “volunteering is a way of investing a little in the lives of others, so I can hopefully do for them something that they cannot do for themselves.”

CMC took part in the ASP Tri-Cities Program, joined by Stevenson University and Lake Forest College. The colleges were hosted by the Cherokee United Mission Church in Johnson City. CMC’s fourteen participants were split into two teams, six students and one staff member on each team, to work on separate projects. Each team was assigned a name, usually based on the location of their project.

Team Clingman’s Dome tackled a very difficult project. The home they were to repair had been scorched by a fire and needed work from the ground up. Amelia Evrigenis ’15, Lizzy Ginelli ’15, Jacob Shimkus ’15 (Student Trip Leader), Felipe Fagundes ’14, Damini Marwaha ’14, Chang Bao ’12, and Adam Pruett, Director of Recreational Sports Services at CMS, were tasked with building two porches and knocking down an exterior wall. Amelia was particularly taken aback by the scope of the work her team had to undertake, wishing she could “just buy the homeowner a new house.”

Nonetheless, her team worked hard and pushed through some difficult challenges. For Felipe, “the hardest challenge of the trip was finding a balance between what I could and what I wanted to accomplish…the idea of being idle for longer than a water break was unthinkable despite how exhausted I would find myself.” By the end of the week, Team Clingman’s Dome was able to build and install a new porch as well as complete the demolition of the exterior wall.

Team Orange, on the other hand, tackled an interior home repair project. Anna, the homeowner, greeted the group with a big smile and overwhelming enthusiasm, which was saying something considering that she has MS, is blind in one eye, and can’t feel her toes. Richard Ahne ’15, Andrew Nam ’15, Hester Lam ’15 (Student Trip Leader), Niki Lotte ’14, Kevin Amirdjanian ’14, Allie Lerner ’13 and Jessica Briggs, Assistant Director Leadership Programs at the Kravis Leadership Institute, worked throughout the week to help improve Anna’s house and bring it up to code.

They had to lay vinyl flooring throughout the kitchen, replace a door, replace a broken window, and tear out and replace the flooring in a downstairs bathroom. This was a tall order for the team. The difficulties came to a head on Thursday, March 15, when the weather took a turn for the worse. Allie explains that “when the thunderstorm began and the rain was pouring down, we didn’t call it a day and instead moved inside a cramped shed.” Eager to finish the project, “I knew we had to keep working so we could ultimately finish all of the tasks for the family.” Team Orange kept at it and by Friday, Anna’s kitchen and bathroom were completely transformed.

In looking back at this experience and reflecting on the sense of accomplishment she and the team felt by the end of the week, Jessica Briggs had this to say: “Anna has such a powerful heart and it was amazing to see her interactions with the group and the team leaders…The last day was really sweet when she warmly took pictures with the group and gave each team-member hugs. It was so heartwarming to see her appreciation and the students’ fondness for her as we said goodbye.”