A Service Spring Break in the Mountains
As many students pack their swimsuits, suntan lotion, and beach towels for Spring Break, a smaller group of students have opted to spend their break providing community service to residents in Harlan, Kentucky, in the region of Appalachia. They call themselves “Team Appalachia,” and they leave this weekend.
This is the first trip to Appalachia for Fisher, a trip the team of 11 students, faculty, and staff have been preparing for since the beginning of the semester. Team Appalachia will travel to the most southeastern corner of Kentucky, bordering West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee, and surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains. They will partner with Alternative Spring Breaks (ASB), an organization that coordinates service-learning immersion trips for college students. They will be joined by students from Northeastern University and will spend two days immersing themselves into the Appalachian culture.
According to Sally Vaughan, Director of Community Service, they will learn about the area’s determined residents, unemployment plague and depressed economy, its coal mining industry, and mountaintop removal issues. After that, they will spend three days providing service through a variety of projects.
“Team Appalachia’s hope is to learn as much as they can about the people of Appalachia and to return to Fisher to educate others and tell their story. Hopefully, we can coordinate a service trip there each year,” said Vaughan.
Senior Mark Prunella-Miller, a double major in Biology and Spanish, will be participating in the trip. He said while he never imagined he’d travel to Kentucky, he jumped on the opportunity.
“I love being immersed in a different culture, so I'm really looking forward to meeting people from Appalachia and learning about their perspective on things like coal mining,” said Prunella-Miller.
He added that the group is looking to help improve the quality of life for the people in Harlan, and make a positive environmental impact.
“Many of the mountains there have been stripped bare from mountaintop removal for coal extraction, and we hope to plant many seedlings which may one day give rise to new forests,” he said.
Prunella-Miller, who hopes to join the Peace Corps after graduation, added that service trips aren't just about going somewhere to help people, but they are also about being an ambassador.
“I like these sorts of trips because I can learn about people of an area and try to understand their way of life, and when I come home, I can share this with people here,” he said. “I also like to spread a good image of our area by sharing how our lives are and maybe clear up any misconceptions that people may have.”
Karlee Platts, a junior majoring in Biology with a minor in Chemistry, chose to travel to Appalachia because of her passion for helping others. It will also be her first time on a plane, and she said she is eager to dive into whatever projects are in store for the group.
“One important key to service is being able to understand and relate to those you are helping, and I firmly believe that you can learn something from every person you meet, no matter how different,” said Platts. “I am most looking forward to immersing myself in the culture and seeing what life in the mountains is really like.”
Platts said that the area the group will be visiting is one of the most captivating areas of the country, and also one of the most misunderstood. She said the group has been well-educated on the area, but she looks forward to learning more from the residents themselves.
“When most people think of ‘service mission’ trips, they think of trips to Africa, Jamaica, and other third world countries that are in need,” she said. “What many don’t realize is that we have very similar areas of poverty here in the United States. This trip in particular will be a great reminder that no matter where you live, there are always others in need of your help.”
Front row: Sally Vaughan, Director of Community Service; Tierney Sullivan; Chloe Warner; Tricia Blanchard. Back row: Dan Przybylski; Aaron Spacher; Mark Prunella-Miller; Karlee Platts; Sarah Hryzak; Scott Bryson, Director of Practicum and Internships, Sports Management; Dr. Greg Cunningham, Associate Professor, Biology.