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Think college Spring Break and chances are you not thinking about repairing substandard housing in the cold temperatures in the mountains of Appalachia. Yet that is exactly where several Caldwell University students found themselves this March as they volunteered with WorkFest, an alternative spring break experience. Along with students from other U.S. colleges and universities, they stayed at Foley Mission Center in Martin County, Kentucky and traveled each morning to work sites to serve the poor.

Bipin Koirala, a sophomore and native of Nepal, said he and his group worked on making a family’s home “livable”, which included renovating a kitchen, removing windows and doors, and fixing other rooms.

“Going to bed at three in the morning and still getting up at six excited for a whole day of work is something you’d never expect out of yourself, and still it happened there. The moment you reach the work site, all your tiredness disappears, and all you want to do is accomplish the most out of the limited working hours you have,” he said. “Each and every day, you discover a whole new world that you previously thought never existed.”

In the counties that WorkFest serves 25- 43% of the population live below the poverty line, compared to 16% of the population nationally. People not only have substandard housing, but also face obstacles like hunger and low education levels. Yet they have big hearts. “Appalachia is a beautiful place full of people that would care about you more than themselves. It is a place filled with the hardest working people, who just didn’t have opportunities or were limited due to the social conditions. I learned that, even in the heart of the richest country, there are people so below the poverty line who struggle every day for their basic needs,” said Koirala.

Rachael Levy, a freshman at Caldwell, worked on a roof on house for a family that had been particularly hard hit. “Having us there, even if it was just to give a simple smile seemed to make such a difference in their lives. They were so thankful for us to be there helping, but by the end of the week, I was extremely thankful for them,” she said.

For Patrick Lehosky, a senior, this was his second spring break spent at WorkFest, “I once again learned to be humble about my way of life. I learned to appreciate the little things in life by observing how those who are less fortunate value family and faith above all things.”

The Caldwell students worked in groups with students from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, University of Massachusetts–Amherst and University of Connecticut. The Caldwell students appreciated bonding with the students from the other schools. “We are all so different, but we were all called there for a reason. I left there with memories and friends that I will never forget,” said Levy. “It was wonderful to know that there are other people like yourself who are willing to spend their time benefiting the lives of others,” said Lehosky.

Lehosky wants to encourage more students to consider this experience. “I hope to spread awareness and the consciousness of the light of Christ so future students can spend their spring break changing the lives of others and ultimately themselves.”

The other Caldwell students who took part in WorkFest were: Jenna Karahalios, Elizabeth Hooban, Anthony Nieto, Olsen NoelJeune, Rebecca Levy, Samantha Cruz and Sean Puzzo.