The trip that 8 members of Hofstra's Catholic life took to Kentucky was an incredible experience for everyone involved. We departed on Palm Sunday and didn't return to the Northeast until Good Friday. Each student gave up his or her Spring Break and Holy Week to trek down to Kentucky's Appalachian region, but honestly, I can't think of a way I'd rather have spent it. We were there for the 3rd week of what was called WorkFest, so we were able to put the finishing touches on the houses we were rebuilding.
Most of the Hofstra students were split up into groups with students from 4 other colleges. My group was working on a house that was built into the side of a small cliff. It had no insulation, very obsolete siding, and a deck made up of stacked, unstable cinder-blocks. The residents of the house were an elderly woman who was suffering form Alzheimer's and her middle-aged son, Doyle, who was difficult to understand with his deep Southern accent and his surgically-replaced jaw.
During the first 2 weeks of WorkFest, most of the front porch, almost the whole roof, and one side of the house's siding were completed, but there was still much to be done. Since the side and back of the house were inaccessible from the ground, I spent most of my week climbing on scaffolding and nailing insulation and siding onto the house. If I gained nothing else from that week, at least I got very comfortable on small platforms 30 feet off the ground. By the end of the week, we finished all of the siding (which Doyle praised and said the house was already feeling warmer), we built a ramp for the front porch so his mother could get in and out easier, and we built an entirely new back deck that didn't risk falling every time Doyle took a step on it.
Getting to know the family was worth much more than the work was to me, though. Doyle himself was very interesting, and I learned all about the family hardships he had with his siblings, his parents, and what led to him being the only one taking care of his mother. His mother, though often disoriented, would watch us from the windows, and on the third day, actually came out and gave all of us hugs. It was so obvious that they needed this kind of help and were grateful just to have some attention paid to them. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the resident pit bulls, named "Big Guy" and "Little Guy," that kept us company and entertained us all week.
Throughout the week, it was obvious that we were doing amazing work. I know there are other humanitarian groups (e.g. Habitat for Humanity) that do the same work and provide the same tangible results that we did, but I keep the service that we did on a higher tier; this isn't because it was done by me, but because it was done for God. The shared fellowship of Christianity that the volunteers kept throughout the week fueled our positive attitudes. One of the leaders of the groups gave a talk about reaching new heights and breaking out of comfort zones, which every single person there was able to do. That's what God intends for us. He doesn't want us to be sedentary in our lives and our habits, but instead he wants us to explore, try new things, and spread his love everywhere we go.
Mission work has become my favorite thing to do with my time. Getting a group together and helping people in Christ's name is one of the most noble activities I can think of, and I plan to participate in as much as I can for the rest of my life. I encourage others to do the same if given the opportunity, especially young people. High school and college students have so much to offer, and many people are surprised to see younger kids helping the ways we did. Don't be afraid to break out of your shell; don't be afraid to go somewhere you aren't used to; don't be afraid to branch out. Whether it's another country or a soup kitchen down the road, mission work is amazing and helps people realize that as Christians, we believe in love and brotherhood above all things. It has changed my life. I'm thankful for the chances I've already had to help, and I'm incredibly excited to take advantage of more of them in the future.
-Sean Grealy, Freshman at Hofstra
Our College Missionaries
This blog is by our student and missionaries so that you can learn a little more about our experience on our mission trips!