University of Notre Dame students transformed by time in Appalachia

University of Notre Dame students at WorkFest

University of Notre Dame students joined with staff and volunteers from Christian Appalachian Project to work on a young family’s home that was damaged by fire.

PARKERS LAKE, Ky. — Fall in Kentucky brings rich autumn colors from Cumberland Falls to Jenny Wiley, and this year, like the annual changing of the leaves, students from the University of Notre Dame renewed a tradition of leadership and service by spending Fall Break in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.

“We started the Appalachia Seminar in the 1980s as a service project to provide an opportunity to for our students to become immersed in Appalachia to gain a greater appreciation for the people and the culture,” said Greg White, lead coordinator of administration for social concerns seminars with the Center for Social Concerns at the university.

Students from Notre Dame have been partnering with Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) for over forty years. Currently, each team is led by undergraduate student leaders who attend a leadership training program before the trip. This year 16 students, many first timers at CAP, worked on two projects in McCreary County.

“Overall, this was a very discerning trip,” said Samantha Garbardella, a marketing major from New York. “Daily reflections prompted us all to ponder the issues of the region and how we can help, and now that I know what has to be done here I feel a responsibility to do what I can to help. I learned a lot about Appalachia, CAP, my classmates, construction, God, and myself during this week.”

Garbardella, like many of the students on the trip, learned how to use tools such as reciprocating saws and circular saws that she had never even heard of before.

Mike Wallace, one of CAP’s housing program managers, knows that helping students feel comfortable with tools is essential on a job site. “You have to help them understand the purpose of each tool before you train them how to use it. If they are comfortable with the tools you need them to use to get the job done, it actually works.”

Wallace and his team get an uncommon opportunity to work with volunteers and participants to renovate substandard housing. “It’s a blessing to hang out with people who make service a priority,” Wallace said. “I love to hear their stories and watch their excitement as they learn new skills and meet new people. Their enthusiasm is contagious. Volunteers, like the students from Notre Dame, help the Housing program address the many Housing needs in our area more quickly than relying solely on CAP-only crews.”

Notre Dame is committed for the long term. This year, the university sent 250 students to 19 different sites not only in Kentucky, but also in Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. They will send another team of students to Eastern Kentucky for Workfest, CAP’s alternative spring break trip.

“We teach the students to be part of the community,” White said. “We want to instill in them that this is a partnership with people they meet in Appalachia. It’s not a service project, rather we come to work with you.”

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