Alternative spring break was a "learning experience"

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By Megan Ritter,
Staff Writer

While some of us spent spring break getting ahead in our coursework, and others spent the week relaxing on the beach or training for a spring sport, seven student members of the Seton Hill University (SHU) Education Club spent the week doing service work in eastern Kentucky.

The club worked with the Christian Appalachian Project's (CAP) WorkFest 2007, an annual spring break alternative for college students interested in social justice and volunteering.

"Our mission statement includes a bit about improving the lives of children," said Joann Migyanka, club advisor and assistant professor of education, who, with her husband, chaperoned the group to Kentucky. "Originally we wanted to go to New Orleans to do some work with the school system - their schools are absolutely a mess - but that fell through."

When plans to help out in New Orleans evaporated, Kristen Zappalla, a senior member of the education club, suggested WorkFest, having previously attended a summer work camp sponsored by the CAP.

In the months prior to each year's WorkFest, families in the poorest areas of Appalachia apply to the CAP for the volunteers to perform repairs on their homes.

"My group helped to build a three-bedroom extension onto a trailer for a mom with six children," said Zappalla. "Getting to do that kind of work will change your life."

CAP relies on donations from across the country to accomplish its mission to help impoverished families to meet basic housing needs. Their work, however, goes beyond a family's need for a roof overhead.

"When we arrive we're each assigned a home, a family, a job for the week," said Migyanka. "We're encouraged to get to know the families, to take time out to help meet their emotional as well as their physical needs."

The club traveled to Kentucky by rented van and stayed the week at CAP's Camp Andrew Jackson. To pay their expenses for the week, "Everyone who went paid thirty dollars out-of-pocket, and we fundraised the rest with several large projects - a book sale and a bake sale. The SHGA [Seton Hill Government Association] helped us out too," said Tiffany Brattina, a senior.

Overall, said Brattina, she wouldn't have changed a thing about the week. "It was an incredible growing and learning experience," she said.

The club is already making plans for next year's WorkFest, said Migyanka, and she'd like to see more people to come along. "The learning and compassion and understanding that take place...lead to such a spiritual high."

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