Cape teens encounter, fight poverty in West Virginia

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By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor

MASHPEE, Mass. — There seems to be a building trend in this country where young adult men and women are becoming more aware of those around them, particularly, those who are vulnerable, in dire straits, or simply need a hug or pat on the back.

The numbers back it up. More and more young people are becoming involved in the Pro-Life movement, and lately, more and more are eschewing the nonsense of spending their precious spring break from school partying and cavorting.

As needed as a spring break can be for a busy student, some are using that time to help those with little or nothing.

This past April, a collaborative group from Christ the King Parish in Mashpee and St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in North Falmouth trekked southward to Wheeling, W.Va., to spend four full days working with and for area residents living in one of the regions in the U.S. most adversely affected by the current economy.

Cheryl and Dave Ryan from Christ the King Parish, and Dianne and Jim Quinn from St. Elizabeth Seton (SES) Parish were the trip coordinators and they were joined by four other adult volunteers and 17 students from nine different area high schools.

“The idea originated about a year ago,” Dave told The Anchor. “Cheryl and I had made two previous spring break mission trips and we hooked up with the Quinns to begin a collaboration of the two parishes to get another trip going.”

“Once the idea was established, we sent a letter to all the sophomore, junior and senior students in each parish to get the word out,” said Cheryl. “We mentioned this would be an alternative spring break, and after our first meeting, friends went and told other friends and we ended up with a great group of 17 wonderful students.”

With that, the Mission Appalachia Team was born, and preparations began. Through fund-raising efforts some of the travel expenses were reduced and with great cooperation from both parishes, enough money was raised to fund the different service projects the group would provide in the Wheeling area.

That area was selected because the Ryans kept in touch with a former Christ the King parishioner, Erin McDonald, who was contemplating a vocation as a religious Sister. “Erin was going to school at a university in the Wheeling area,” said Cheryl. “She set us up with Wheeling Jesuit University that ran Appalachian Institute, whose mission is to promote research, service, and advocacy for and with the people of Appalachia to build healthier, stronger, and more sustainable communities. And part of doing that is by hosting volunteer groups like the one from Cape Cod,” added Dave.

On April 21 the group of 25 divided into two 15-passenger vans crammed with clothing and supplies and headed south on a nearly 14-hour ride to their new home for the week.

“We were put up in a cinder-block building that, in the summer is utilized by Boy Scouts,” said Cheryl. “There were two floors including dorm areas, one for the females and one for the males, and a full kitchen and dining area. We cooked our own meals and made brown-bag lunches to take with us to the service projects. The youths helped with the cooking and they were great. It was quite interesting.”

“The projects we helped with were already ongoing,” said Dave. “We didn’t start any projects from scratch, but jumped right into what was going on.”

Some of the projects were assisting at a thrift shop; a soup kitchen; painting a parish preparing for the arrival of visiting missionaries; and helping with a, inner-city community garden to assist needy people with healthier and fresher foods.

“The people there were very welcoming and warm, and we were inspired by some of the project directors and organizers,” said Dave. “We learned a great deal about why that area is in such a dire financial state.”

“That part of our country has suffered greatly,” said Dianne Quinn. “The universal problems that we also face in Massachusetts — poverty, unemployment, crime, environmental hazards, seem to be 10-fold there.”

Despite many who live in substandard conditions there, Dianne added, “They treated us with kindness and appreciation. They asked questions and wanted to know about us! Under such dire circumstances, we met people of great hope and great faith. They looked to be Christ to others by sharing the little that they have. We were the recipients of their kindness and we are better people for having shared a week in their world.”

“Humbling,” added her husband Jim. “It is a word we don’t use very much anymore, but my experience with the good people of West Virginia and Ohio was exactly that. Proud people who have been dealt a difficult and unfair hand just by living in the place they live are without solid jobs with fair living wages. Factories, mines and mills closed and people who worked hard and were good citizens are now without the means to help their families.

“People in West Virginia help one another without judgment, without prejudice, but rather with the real gift that comes from doing Christ’s work.” 

Recently, the Mission Appalcahia Team met for a reunion at Christ the King Parish to share experiences, feelings and watch a slide-show of their recent trip.

The following are snippets from the sharing of the youths and adult volunteers:

Monica Martini, from St. Elizabeth’s: “This week, all together, was inspiring. But one event that really hit home for me was the soup kitchen. There, we met Becky, the director of the kitchen. She was a woman free of all harsh stereotypes towards the poor. And with her help, my prior views started to vanish. Becky said something that really stuck: ‘Sometimes it’s just a matter of luck.’ This opened my eyes to how fast life can take a turn for the worse and you never know what people are dealing with behind closed doors.”

Melissa Quigg (SES): “This trip was one of the best ideas ever, I’m so glad I went on it. The people that I’ve met and have gotten close with are amazing. It taught me that anything can happen at anytime good or bad.”

Sean Quigg (SES): “Despite all the issues that many Appalachians are forced to deal with, they are constantly giving back, fighting for a better tomorrow, and showing how much they care for their land and those who live in it. If they can rise above the countless problems that plague them daily, we can also work together as a community to build a better future for all.”

The delegation from Christ the King also shared:

Katie Preston: “My experience on the mission trip to Appalachia was truly eye-opening and inspiring. I made connections and friendships with my teammates, as well as the people of Appalachia that I never expected to. Every person who came through the line while I was serving touched my heart, because I could see on their face how grateful they were to be receiving such a simple meal. While there, I completely realized we are all humans.”

Mary Burke: “I feel the pain of the Appalachian people who have lost their land to mountain top removal. The beauty and natural resources that brought the people there are slowly being torn from them. I learned that there are many big and little things that can be done, not only in West Virginia but also on Cape Cod, to help these people, such as donations, clothing, food, efforts towards clean water. Every single person in West Virginia can become part of the middle class if we are all willing to help and serve them.”

Sue Preston (adult volunteer): “I was so impressed by the care and support that the teens demonstrated toward each other after the second day. I have a deep concern for the plight of Appalachia citizens and the battle over clean water, job security for all, and justice and fairness with regards to mining royalties. Their future is bleak.

“I really enjoyed starting and ending each day with prayer, knowing that people back home were praying for us, completing a circle of love.”

Sarah Donahue: “I’ve really enjoyed going on this trip; it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. There have been too many inspiring moments to count and I’ve definitely changed for the better. I’ve learned not to stereotype and learned that anyone can be in a crisis even though they look OK on the outside.” 

Sandy Souza: “The directors of so many programs, who don’t just talk the talk, are inspired and called to service such as Dan, a young man I was in care of, who’s bringing fresh veggies and even eggs to the least of his brethren. Can you imagine a community garden totally organic under a highway overpass, on a six-foot by 34-foot-long strip of land next to a sidewalk on a city street? They were and are his vision, a vision he’s brought to life.”

Shannon Hart: “Getting the opportunity to help out at a soup kitchen, the Salvation Army, and the Bread Basket really opened my eyes to the realities of life; when they don’t have everything they need right in front of them. Something that really made me inspired was hearing that even though there is so much poverty in West Virginia, that people could still find some happiness in their lives. I would come back here in a heartbeat because these people 100 percent deserve all the help they can get.”

Nathan Ryan: “During this trip I feel as thought the 25 people who came on the trip truly made special connections with each other, especially while seeing the hardship together. The poverty and stories we heard were things I never thought of happening in the U.S., but after seeing and hearing about it, I now see the need that our country has for helping the less fortunate.”

Kitsy Hoover (adult volunteer): “This week we were shown the beauty of West Virginia, the poverty of West Virginia, and the kind people working to help the poor and impoverished of this state. I was touched by those who give so much each day to help their neighbors, as well as by the groups of people I worked with on this trip.”

Marysa MacKoul: “The trip to Appalachia was an amazing experience. Being able to help the poor in our country helped me realize how blessed my life was. I got to listen to a boy who was 17. Even though he mentioned that he had been in prison more than once, listening to him made me realize that he could have been any ordinary teen-ager. I also realized that in the end, everyone is a person, a person who deserves a chance to be understood.”

Beth McEntee: “Being able to go out and help such a large community was so rewarding. I met so many great people with some truly amazing stories. You don’t really get the complete picture until you are surrounded by poverty and experience the warm welcomes in soup kitchens, thrift shops, and outreach programs.”

Mikayla Walsh: “Going into the trip to Appalachia I didn’t know what to expect, but by the end of this trip, everything that I had taken for granted now has so much meaning to me, and I appreciate much more. I will definitely appreciate the little things in life and the people who I get to share them with because as I learned, they can be taken away from you in the blink of an eye.”

Catherine Doble: “It opened my eyes showing me that this [a woman who moved to California, lost everything and returned] can happen to anyone. It broke my heart to see this lady suffering. It makes me sick that she has nothing anymore and deserves everything. She is still a happy person and doesn’t take anything for granted. It made me change my outlook on how I live my life.”

Jeremy Thomas: “The mission trip to Appalachia is not only an eye-opener, but an enlightenment to the issues at hand in our country, and to the ideas of great minded and spirited people. I met John, a simple volunteer, whom I bonded with at the Community Bread Basket work site. This man, who grew up in the area of South West Virginia, his father a coal miner, enlisted in the Army at 18, served more than 27 years, became special forces in 1998, and served 10 tours in Iraq after 9/11. He volunteers every Friday after seeing what was happening within third world countries, he is horrified that conditions are worse within our own country.”

Dan Burke: “The main lesson I learned on the mission trip is that no matter where you are in the world. Everyone still struggles but some people get out of hard situations with just plain luck. The people down here in West Virginia have their own unique way of getting along with each other and helping others out when deeded within this wonderful community.”

Kendall Hoover: “The people we were working with were so welcoming and just so happy to have us. They pack boxes of food for people for the month. The act of giving food to others, and having a whole business dedicated to just that, is really remarkable. The mission trip really opened my eyes to what others are going through and a great way to directly help the community and show people that you care.”

Dan Chamberlain: “I can tell you that I honestly worked my tail off this week for the amazing people I met just to make their tough lives a little bit easier. Whether poor, rich, fat, skinny, or anything in-between, we are all people and really deserve a fighting chance in life. Thank you for your prayers and support before, during, and after our trip.”

Nicole Linse: “While it was obvious the stereotypes of these regions and cultures were lurking behind other apprehensions, our unbridled enthusiasm pushed it aside. At the heart of our own ‘America’ the ‘promised land’ there are knowledgeable people who have been neglected. So much has to and can be done.”

Beth Donahue (adult volunteer): “Our group of 17 teen-agers willingly handed in their cell phones for their entire vacations, which included more than 24 hours of driving, without complaint. They worked diligently on all service assignments and willingly pitched into clean, cook, and help others throughout the week. We learned to be thankful for our parishes that generously supported our trip financially and spiritually. We learned to see God in others and know that anything is possible when we listen to His will and follow Him when called.”

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts