Caldwell, N.J., March 31, 2015 – She lives with her son, daughter and grandson in eastern Kentucky and they used space and kerosene heaters all winter. Her son, who has been suffering from rectal cancer, had no sunlight in his bedroom since the windows were taped up with cardboard and garbage bags to keep the heat in. The bedroom needed a slew of repairs due to fire damage. And the house had only a few electrical outlets, so she was running torn and dangerous extension cords across the rooms.
That all changed in March when eight Caldwell University students and two staff members repaired the substandard homes of low-income families in Kentucky during their Alternative Spring Break experience at WorkFest, an initiative of the Christian Appalachian Project. Their service consisted of framing windows, installing doors, fixing the foundations of houses, putting in outlets, and repairing the spirits of the families, as one student explained.
“I felt like we gave them hope again,” said Sean Puzzo, a sophomore, who was attending for the second year in row. The feel of that one son’s room “changed 360.” Now he could lie down and enjoy the warmth of the sun on his face or watch nature in the beautiful mountains surrounding their home, explained Puzzo.
The Caldwell group lived in a retreat center in Martin, Kentucky, awoke each morning at 6 and journeyed to the work site. They shared in prayer and community with students from other colleges across the country who were participating in WorkFest.
Forming relationships with the local people was most rewarding. “There is no connection like a human connection … storytelling needs to be done more,” said Aristedes Giron, a senior.
Another positive twist to the trip was working with Caldwell alumna Elizabeth Hooban, who is doing a year of service work with the Christian Appalachian Project. As a student, she was so moved by her volunteer experiences, which included the project, that she decided to d ministry work full time.
The others in the Caldwell group were students Rachael Levy, Samantha Cruz, Tomas Carvalho, Megan Collins, Claudi Schafer and Mia Haugen and alumni Patrick Lehosky ’14 and Mason Traino ’14.
Giron said they got a feel for the struggles and the lifestyle of the people and were struck by how they could still be happy and find joy in life. “You don’t need” all the things you think you do, he said. Most important is “a roof over your head, good people in your life, and some good food,” he said. “I learned that there are several things that go into making you feel complete as a person … one of those things is selfless acts of kindness.” He hopes other students will be inspired to participate next year and get as much out of it as he did.