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From Salisbury, Md., to Lincoln County, W.Va.

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For The Dialog

St. Francis de Sales parishioners volunteer for Appalachian Service Project

SALISBURY, Md. – Madeleine Yoon hadn’t noticed there were no flowers at the pavilion where she and fellow service workers ate lunch until three days in to their week-long project.

“On Wednesday, all of a sudden, there were flowers,” said Madeleine, a rising sophomore at James M. Bennett High School. Immediately she realized that the family they were helping had picked the flowers. “To us, knowing how important gardening was to them, it was a very kind gesture of welcoming.”

Her experience underscored what Joe Flanagan, coordinator of St. Francis de Sales Appalachian Service Project, called the goal of the annual service trips.

“Youth go out there thinking they will fix houses for people who need it, but it’s about building relationships,” Flanagan said. “They see people that they would never see or talk with [otherwise], and come out with the understanding we are one with Christ, we need to take care of one another.”

 

Service in Appalachia

Madeline was among 45 youth and Flanagan one of 21 adult members of the group that traveled to Lincoln County, W.Va., last month. They divided into nine teams, working at different sites for the week. This was the third year that a group from St. Francis participated in the Appalachian Service Project. The previous two trips were to Kentucky.

“We like to say the effort changes lives,” both for those receiving help and those giving help, Flanagan said. “We go there not only as the face and hands of Christ, but we also try to see the face of Christ in them.”

 

‘How you look at God’

Emily Alessandrini, who will be a junior at Bennett this fall, said the trip “changes how you look at God, how you see the world. It made me know that God’s always here. He has a reason for doing everything.”

She also learned some house repair skills as her team worked on the under-skirting of a mobile home. “It was really hot and muddy, and we were under the house most of the time,” she said. During the week, and months of preparation for the trip that included service projects in Salisbury, she learned to use a drill and other tools.

“It’s more than that,” Emily said. “You learn about yourself, what you can do as a person.”

Emily had some preconceptions shattered by her experience. “I expected the family we were helping to stay inside, but they were always helping us,” she said.

On a typical day, the group would awaken for a morning devotion and breakfast before loading up and heading to the various work sites. In the evening they would eat, then have a get-together to review the day’s events and relate those events to their faith.

The West Virginia trip capped nine months of preparation, beginning in September when the group reforms each year. Monthly meetings are held following Mass on the first Saturday of each month, Flanagan said.

Members work with Salisbury’s Christian Shelter for the homeless on a regular basis, and have built ramps for some households that developed a need for one, Flanagan said.

 

‘Out of comfort zone’

Flanagan acknowledged that the group could do service projects closer to home but said the trips provide several advantages. “If we just work locally for a week, they never get out of their comfort zone.” Instead, they slept on cots and air mattresses at an elementary school, had peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for lunch, and experienced first-hand the needs of people living in a deeper and more widespread poverty that they would find across Wicomico County.

“You hear about poverty and the living conditions some people are living in, but you don’t really see it, one-on-one, where I live,” Madeleine said. “You really saw it and got that one-on-one for five days. It was a humbling experience.”

Her team worked on the roof of a mobile home but were forced inside by rain the first day. As they worked inside, she noticed a boy named Austin, about 11, who lives at the home, intently watching what they were doing.

“My friend and I said, ‘Would you like to help?’ He helped out throughout the week. I think he wanted to be part of it.”

On the final day, as her team went through a tearful goodbye, “Austin told me he would miss me, and gave me a fist-bump,” Madeleine said. “It wasn’t anything too big, but it was big to me. If I made even a little difference in his life, it made it all worthwhile.”

Volunteers help with construction at the St. Francis de Sales Appalachian Service Project in Lincoln County, W.Va. (courtesy Casey Flanagan)

Volunteers help with construction at the St. Francis de Sales Appalachian Service Project in Lincoln County, W.Va. (courtesy Casey Flanagan)

Volunteers help with construction at the St. Francis de Sales Appalachian Service Project in Lincoln County, W.Va. (courtesy Casey Flanagan)

Volunteers help with construction at the St. Francis de Sales Appalachian Service Project in Lincoln County, W.Va. (courtesy Casey Flanagan)

Volunteers help with construction at the St. Francis de Sales Appalachian Service Project in Lincoln County, W.Va. (courtesy Casey Flanagan)

Volunteers help with construction at the St. Francis de Sales Appalachian Service Project in Lincoln County, W.Va. (courtesy Casey Flanagan)

Volunteers help with construction at the St. Francis de Sales Appalachian Service Project in Lincoln County, W.Va. (courtesy Casey Flanagan)

Volunteers help with construction at the St. Francis de Sales Appalachian Service Project in Lincoln County, W.Va. (courtesy Casey Flanagan)

 

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