A four-hour drive to southern West Virginia and five days of manual labor may not sound like the ideal spring break vacation. However, for a group of Davis & Elkins College students and staff, the alternative excursion reaped many rewards - friendships, skill building and a renewed appreciation of spiritual and worldly gifts.
Making the journey to Mingo County were students Conner Berkey, a junior from Culpepper, Va.; Matt Kokoska, a freshman from Phoenix, Md.; Barbara "Bob" Fellenstein, a senior from Fredericksburg, Va.; and Gloria Lemus, a junior from Arlington, Va.; along with Lisa Senic, coordinator of Parent Relations and Special Projects, and Benfield-Vick Chaplain the Rev. Kevin Starcher.
The trip was subsidized by the Synod of the Trinity and Davis Memorial Presbyterian Church, which allowed the participation costs to remain low enough for students to attend.
In addition to providing service to others, a spring break mission trip gave participants a chance to bond. Taking a break for dinner are, from left, Davis & Elkins College students Conner Berkey, Barbara ‘Bob’ Fellenstein and Gloria Lemus, Benfield-Vick Chaplain the Rev. Kevin Starcher, student Matt Kokoska and Lisa Senic, coordinator of Parent Relations and Special Projects.
"Alternative Spring Break is an experience for students to do something for the betterment of humanity," said Starcher, who organizes the annual mission. "It also exposes students to cultural issues that are prevalent here in West Virginia."
They arrived as strangers in a small town of fewer than 500 residents and possessed few, if any, construction trade skills. All of that changed rapidly.
With a charge of making repairs to three homes under the direction of the WV Ministry of Advocacy & Workcamps Inc., the D&E group was divided into two crews. Each was supervised by a team of retired coal miners. The work at hand included hanging paneling, painting and installing underpinning.
"They were super nice and very patient with us," Lemus said. "I learned a lot. I had never even touched a drill in my life."
For Senic, a lesson on how to use a circular saw came with a dose of friendship and glimpse into the lives of people who live a different culture in her home state.
"They all had nicknames and they came up with nicknames for us, too," Senic said. "They shared a lot of personal (stories) and we really got to know them. It's weird how you're in the same state, but yet it's so different. Those people are hard-working and they try their best, but they never seem to get ahead. It's tough for them.
"Just helping others who are less fortunate makes me thankful for what I have," Senic added. "It really opens your eyes."
The volunteer program was a first mission trip for Berkey.
"It was a great learning opportunity," he said.
Berkey added he chose to spend his break helping others because he had never been on a mission trip, and he wanted to learn about an area of West Virginia that he had never seen. He encourages others to take the same opportunity.
"If you have the chance to go, go," he says. "It's good to get out of your bubble."