If you had told me that this Alternative Spring Break trip would include a hospital visit, climbing inside a cave, killing a wasp nest, and incredible moments inspired by the Holy Spirit, I wouldn’t have believed you.
We were going to McKee, KY, a small, rural town in Jackson County situated in the mountains about an hour from Lexington. Rebecca Koury, the Pastoral Associate at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, would be organizing the service projects for us. She hosts many groups like ours throughout the year.
The trip started out early. We all arrived at the CCM house at 6:00am and departed a little before 7. We had nine students in total going, including Fr. Mike, Julie, and myself. The first leg of the trip saw us cruze down I-64 East and I-81 south. We stopped for lunch around 12:30, and then proceeded to drive deeper into Virginia. We passed UVA-Wise and then crossed the border into Kentucky!
However, as we started to drive on the windy country roads of Kentucky, one of our students, Thea, started to get sick and threw up. We stopped at a Rite-Aid to get her some medicine, which put us an hour behind the rest of the group. We waited for the medicine to take effect, and after about an hour we departed. However, instead of going north on route 80, we went south. This put us even further behind schedule, and we didn’t arrive to McKee until about 10pm. We spent around 15 hours in the car that day. The craziness only continued!
The next day we spent time with the parishioners after Mass. After every Sunday Mass, they gather together for a potluck. Many of the families come together to share a meal and quality time with one another. Many of the students played kick-ball with the children, and later in the evening we gathered for our first talk. The evening ended with some discussion about what we hoped to get out of the trip spiritually.
However, later that night on Sunday I also got sick. I spent most of the night tossing and turning, and eventually vomited as well. Another one down for the count!
Monday was our first day on the job, and it included an array of activities. One group visited a family and fixed their wheelchair ramp. Another group visited one of the local schools nearby and spent time with the kids, while others paid a visit to an assisted living center in town.
However, later that day, another student, Pat, (who was also in the car with Thea and myself), experienced the same symptoms that I had the previous night. He began to throw up profusely around 2am, and he quickly became dehydrated. We took him to the hospital as a precaution, and he also made a full recovery in 24 hours.
At this point in the trip, we had three people get sick in a matter of four days. I was worried that the sickness would demoralize the students, but it did far from that. They persevered in serving the community of McKee the rest of the week. Many of them gave great talks during our reflection time, including candidate Sean Mazary. They saw what it meant to serve the poor and to see Jesus in them. One of the residents we visited, Elmer & Ferry, lived near a cave that had an underground spring! Elmer had set up a chair and had a small pot from which he could draw water. On top of this, Elmer carved magnificent walking canes, chairs, and gun barrels using only his pocket knife. We had found our Kentucky version of Michelangelo in this small cave!
Thea, who had gotten sick earlier in the week, had a neat reflection on the sickness that had befallen us. She said, “We came here expecting to serve others, but we ended up serving each other.” That summed up our trip in a nutshell. The maturity and leadership of the group amazed me, and I was thanking God the rest of the way home. Praise God for the many ways he worked in the hearts of these nine college students in McKee, KY!