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Tue, Mar 28, 2017 09:19 AM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
College students experience heartwarming spring break
Nine college teams, along with volunteers from all across America, rolled into Eastern Kentucky last month for the first week of WorkFest, an alternative spring break hosted by the Christian Appalachian Project (CAP).

Students arrived from as far away as Los Angeles to kick off the three-week WorkFest that will eventually see nearly 400 students from 39 colleges participate. The volunteers came to lend their labor to 12 housing repair projects for deserving families, including the construction of two new homes.

The students spent the week shivering in the hills of Martin and Owsley counties, giving up spring break vacations in traditional hotspots like Miami and Daytona Beach. They all agreed, though, that they felt no lack of warmth. Their labor of love was rewarded with the heartwarming experience of volunteering with CAP.

"I can't imagine being anywhere else for my spring break," exclaimed a student from New Hampshire. "I have had a wonderful experience, and I'm glad to be here."

Upon their arrival, the students received a crash course in Appalachian culture. They awoke early for on-the-job training in proper hammering techniques. Though many had never before swung a hammer, they caught on quickly and worked hard. The week proved successful as the volunteers bonded in the common cause. As each day passed, progress also became apparent on the houses. Siding went up, porches were constructed, windows replaced and doors hung. The early mornings and labor-intensive days tired the students, but the out-of-classroom course was a learning experience they won't soon forget.

"It's amazing how a group of strangers can come together and accomplish so much in such a little time," said Nick Lehrter, a junior at Xavier University. "Once you're here, you love it. The people are spectacular, and you just want to keep coming back," he said. Lehrter has volunteered at WorkFest all three years of college.

In the end, the volunteers enjoyed the fruits of their labor. They also enjoyed the fruits and vegetables and soup beans and cornbread. Food was good and plentiful the entire week. Community churches in Owsley County prepared dinner one night and homeowners provided some lunches throughout the week. The students were warmed by the hospitality and many enjoyed the break from school cafeteria food.

"I had the world's best chicken and dumplings this week," said Sam Colito, from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Homeowners were appreciative, too. One homeowner, who is receiving new doors, windows, siding and a porch, sang the praises of the volunteers who came to work on his house.

"This is the finest group of young people I have ever met," he said. "CAP is a great organization, and I appreciate them sending these young people to help me with my house. If next week's group is this great, I will be tickled pink."

For many students the week ended too soon. Their tearful goodbyes were witness to the warmth of the experience they took with them which will remain in their hearts. What they left behind is their participation in a legacy of volunteerism that is evident in the accomplishments of the week and which will change the lives of some folks in Appalachia forever.

To learn more about the programs of the Christian Appalachian Project, call toll free at 1-800-955-3470 or (859) 792-3051 or visit their website at www.chrisapp.org. For more information about volunteer opportunities with CAP call toll free 1-800-755-5322.

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