Whole Life: Reflections From Appalachia

by Kalscheur Olivia | Mar 23, 2015

By: The students from Alternative Spring Break to Appalachia

During Spring Break, most students dream of warm beaches and catching up on much needed rest. However, ten students from Marian University’s Alternative Spring Break program chose to spend their time helping the poor in the Appalachian Mountains in Campton, Kentucky. Below are ten reflections from ten students during a truly memorable, Christ-filled, and alternative Spring Break in the Appalachian Mountains.


I am Appalachia. In my veins

Runs fierce mountain pride; the hill-fed streams

Of passion; and, stranger, you don’t know me!

You’ve analyzed my every move-you still

Go away shaking your head. I remain

Enigmatic. How can you find rapport with me-

You, who never stood in the bowels of hell,

Never felt a mountain shake and open its jaws

To partake of human sacrifice?

You, who never stood on a high mountain,

Watching the sun unwind its spiral rays;

Who never searched the glens for wild flowers,

Never picked mayapples or black walnuts; never ran

Wildly through the woods in pure delight,

Nor dangled your feet in a lazy creek?

You, who never danced to wild sweet notes,

Outpouring of nimble-fingered fiddlers;

Who never just “sat a spell,” on a porch

Chewing and whittling; or hearing in pastime

The deep-throated bay of chasing hounds

And hunters shounting with joy, “he’s treed!”

You, who never once carried a coffin

To a family plot high up on a ridge

Because Mountain folk know it’s best to lie

Where breezes from the hills whisper, “you’re home”;

You, who never saw from the valley that graves on a hill

Bring easement of pain to those below?

I tell you, stranger, hill folk know

What life is all about; they don’t need pills

To tranquilize the sorrow and joy of living.

I am Appalacia; and, stranger,

Though you’ve studied me, you still don’t know.

(source Muriel Miller Dressler, Morris Harvey College, 1973)

Feeding the Hungry

Many people in Campton rely on the food pantry from the Catholic Church of the Good Shepard to survive. However, the system only works if people take no more than what they need. Unfortunately, many people abuse the system and take much more than what they need. A very common dilemma is when a community member, who has social security benefits, denies, to Sister Susan, that they receive benefits still receives food assistance from the pantry. When the system is used like this it takes away food from other community members who may need it more. Because of this, the system had to be revised and the food rationed out. It’s sad how people can only visit the food pantry once a month, but do not receive a month’s worth of food.

The Garden Seed Program

The Garden Seed Program through Catholic Church of the Good Shepard enables locals to develop sustainable gardens, providing food for the family. The program gives and allowance that is used to purchase seeds, plants, and fertilizer to develop these gardens at local homes. During our time here, we delivered these certificates to appreciative locals. As we delivered the certificates to their home we took a picture of the garden plot as a record of how their plot began and later another picture will be taken when the garden is ready for harvest. We then spent time hearing their stories and learning about the local culture from these individuals receiving this sort of food assistance.

The Bluegrass Culture

Dulcimers are the ukulele of Appalachia. A dulcimer is a small stringed instrument that draws on the cultural heart of Appalachia. It is played with a pick like a guitar but has the strings and bridge over the entire body of the instrument. Dulcimers are shaped like a violin but sound like a guitar. On Monday morning we visited the Purdue Extension office that gives communal support to Campton. We met Gus who taught us how to play “Boil the Cabbage Down” on the dulcimer. “Boil the Cabbage Down” is the most classic song to be played on the dulcimer. As half of the team learned how to play the dulcimer the other half of the team learned how to quilt alongside the retired women from the community. These women, who lived in Appalachia for most of their lives, probably loved the sound of the dulcimer rather than our playing of “Boil the Cabbage Down”. Gus, who taught us to play the dulcimers, also makes cookie tin banjos for children.

Creating Warmth through Quilts

Our group went to the Extension Office and met local people who are passionate about quilting. We were able to help them complete a quilt and learned how much quilting meant to them and their culture. The Extension Office gives quilts to older people on Hospice. When they die, the family of the deceased receives the quilt as a loving reminder.

The Ominous “Devils’ Gulch”

The terrain of Eastern Kentucky plays a substantial role in the lives of the people here. Many people live away from cities to experience the beautiful nature around them. As a team we got to experience a bit of that with the climb down Devil’s Gulch. We not only explored the beauty around the gulch but also got to experience the awesome power of nature. Many of us had a hard time descending the icy steps, much like many of the residents that had trouble leaving their homes for necessities during the snowstorms that blanketed the area with an impassible white barrier. Devil’s gulch allowed us to not only bond as a team, but also see how nature can directly influence poverty in the area through its beautiful power.

Eco-Friendly Housing

One of the ladies we met at the extension office shared her story about how she settled in Campton and made a life with her husband. Her husband, Landry, was a cabinet maker and said building a house was just a big building a big cabinet. He had always wanted to live off of his own land. Katie, was born in D.C. but moved around a lot because of her dad’s job. Katie and Landry, got married after they finished grad school and moved to Campton. We had to hike about a mile after parking the van to get to their cabin. They live in a beautiful storybook like house with an outdoor kitchen, root cellar, studio room, shed, and woodshop. Katie practices art therapy. In addition to the cabinet making Landry is has experience making trails during the Vietnam War. His trails are very distinct and carefully formed by stones he had cut himself. Katie’s studio is also really beautiful, full of her art work. They were both extremely welcoming and Landry didn’t even know we were coming. He gave us a great tour of their facilities pointing out the wood stove, and solar panels, and garden. Landry took us on one of the trails to show us the spot where they pitched their tent while he finished the house. They lived in a tent for months with a two month old baby. Then we took another trail that gave us a great view of the view surrounding four sides of their property.


Ale-8-1 is the drink of basketball country and a Kentucky favorite since 1926. A family run company makes this citrus-flavored ginger ale which is made in the Bluegrass State. Gas stations and grocery stores are filled with this sweet beverage and the Appalachian folks are in love with it. Whether it’s diet, caffeine-free, original, in a can, plastic bottle, or glass bottle. Kentuckians will drink this soda any time of the day.

Downtown Campton

When walking downtown, everybody was really friendly and open. They shared personal stories with you. You got to make personal conversations with them. At the parish we stayed at, they were the same way. We went to mass and ate lunch with the people at mass. A few people who volunteer to help were very approachable. Everybody was very nice and helpful.

Local Community—“the Town”

We built many relationships with members of the community that have made lasting impression on us. Despite our initial expectation that people were going to be closed off, we were pleasantly surprised to find out they were extremely welcoming and open. One day at the recommendation of Rusty, the group went to buy homemade ice cream at a local store. While on this mini adventure, we had the chance to speak with the shop owners who scooped the ice cream for us. Everyone we met up to this point were extremely welcoming and praised the Catholic Church of the Good Shepard for all the work it does for the community. This overall tone is a great way to describe the town. Relationships are everything. People are able to rely on each other because of the positive relationships that have been formed through the years. In addition to this, the Catholic Church has also established a positive relationship and credibility within the community. No matter where we went, there was a resounding theme that the Church is there if you ever need help. In this way the Church has become another member of the community, which is predominantly Protestant, that people are able to rely on.

“Operation Preparation”

Friday morning was a very early wake-up, especially early for Alternative Spring Break which typically includes sleeping in. We had to arrive at the middle school in Campton at 7:45 in the morning for a light breakfast and a confidentiality training. As a team we were tasked to split into groups by our academic major. We talked about how important education is. Our audience was groups of twenty high school sophomores or eighth graders where we introduced ourselves as college students and informed them of our experiences. They learned of our similarities and passions. We taught them that it is because of our passions that we chose our academic major to decide on a career path. Everything from dorm life, to academic stress, and home life we expressed the importance of being involved in co-curricular activities balanced with academics and time with friends. The same experiences they are going through in high school we had shared and reminded them to enjoy life and be happy while being mature enough to master self-discipline to earn the dreams we made for ourselves.

Sister Susan

Working with Sister Susan was such a blessing. From day one this woman has had the people of Wolfe County on her mind and Jesus in her heart. She has only been present in this community for six months but is putting all she can into carrying on the Catholic Church’s mission of social justice and opening the resources she can supply to those in need. Sister Susan depends on a group associate from the community, and donors from all across America to enact the Catholic Church’s mission in Campton. With the members of the community volunteering at her side, Catholic Church of the Good Shepard will be a beacon of Christ’s light and saving grace to the people of Campton for years to come.

Collaboratively experienced and written by:

Student Leaders: David Doub & Simon Salgado

Faculty Advisors: Brian Collisson, Jeanne Hidalgo, & Sam Oliphant

Student Spring-Breakers: Kaylee Bluethmann, Mary Carper, Will “Rusty” Eckerle, Jackie Esparza, Jacob Howard, Alex Lease, Adam Lesniak, Jeffery Mayo

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