Posts Tagged ‘immersion trip’

Rebuilding with Graditude: Boston College High School

by Mike Goulding, Boston College High School

I hadn’t even heard of the flooding in southern West Virginia until about a week before our troop.  I had not seen it on the news, newspaper, or any media source.  I found out through a group leader as we were preparing for our trip, who had found out through talking with volunteer coordinators via phone.  This was extremely daunting to me and others going on the trip.  How could this be going on in my own country and not even hear a single thing of it.  We saw youtube clips of some of the devastation, but would not even compare to actually being there.

 Image

We arrived at the first house, the entire area had been severely affected.  Every building or house in the area was damaged in some way.  But in this very hopeless looking environment, dark clouds, raining; one found shining hope in the large groups of people, all helping to make this place HOME again.  It was truly quite a sight.  We entered the house.  It was quaint, though a very beautiful place to raise a family.  The water levels had reached beyond five feet and its effects were noticeable.  We began tearing down walls, insulation; learning the entire time aspects of the skills our generation has neglected.  We met Tom and Dave, two very special individuals.  Tom is quiet, but an extraordinarily hard worker.  Dave definitely enjoyed talking and I loved talking with him all the more.  He spoke of how right when the floods happened he just came right down.  It seemed that it wasn’t even a question for him, he felt called.  He always speaks with a smile and is genuine to everyone he meets.  We continued to talk as we met again at another house.  The next was also badly, perhaps more.  We tore up a floor and put a new one in, something I have never done before.  I also met Mike, who loved to crack some of the punniest jokes I have ever heard, still making me laugh, none the less.  He taught me a lot about carpentry and importance of the craft.  I was able to work much one on one with Mike and enjoyed his many words of wisdom.  He told the group and I, as we left, “What you’ll learn in life is how YOU make sense of the world.”  Those words have stuck with me and always will, one among many others he spoke.

Image

I learned much on my trip and was able to experience a truly beautiful land and people.  WV is a place like no other and the people you meet are some of the most good-hearted and passionate people you will ever come across.  I am grateful for all the people and places that have touched me in my life, and West Virginia will always hold a special place in my heart.

Advertisements

Comfort Always: St. Louis University

by Michael Scolarici, St. Louis University

It was Wednesday morning.  Some friends and I woke up at 6:00AM to slip in a run before the sun began to crawl over the horizon.  After returning I led a reflection with two main focuses:  a phrase from Coach Michael Arenberg, “First thought, good thought,” and a quote from Dr. Thomas A. Dooley a Saint Louis University Medical School graduate “A doctor’s job is to cure sometimes, to relieve often, and to comfort always.”  I wanted to share the first phase from one of my high school mentors to remind my new friends that we have the power to decide if we are going to have a good day or let the obstacles we face bring us down.  The second quote aligns with our Health immersion trip, because not only does it describe a doctor’s duties, but Dr. Dooley says that the main responsibility of a doctor is to comfort.  No one on the trip was a doctor, but we all have the capability to comfort those we interacted with on our trip.

After we finished sharing our thoughts on the reflection, Adam, Sara and I traveled to Boone County, WV to serve and shadow at the Boone-Raleigh health clinic.  Our shadowing experience offered very unique opportunities which included taking vital signs of the incoming patients, brainstorming for ideas on a grant regarding black lung, interacting with patients in the blood lab.  The atmosphere of this rural clinic was simple yet warming, and the staff was glad to have us for the morning.

          

Once the three of us began to settle in for the morning, I felt that we posed less of a burden and offered more of a relief to the staff through our conversation and aid in busy work.  I was asked to follow the student physician’s assistant (PA) as she held an appointment for prescription refills with an older mother and daughter.  The student PA completed a very thorough and professional history despite a seemingly routine appointment, and after a few minutes of talking with each patient she was able to open their lives and delve deeper.  Both mother and daughter complained of not only a persistent coughs but chronic vomiting and diarrhea for the daughter and knee pain for the mother.  Besides the cough, both mother and daughter also had a distrust of medicine in common.  The daughter explained that despite only eating baby food, oatmeal, and Pepto-bismal for the past couple of months, she only would trust one hospital to see a gastrointestinal specialist.  Although the mother repeated multiple times that although she has knee pain, she was adamant about not wanting anyone to touch it with needles.  The mother also was very specific that she would only consider getting her knee x-rayed by a nurse she knows at the clinic.  Understanding their concerns, the student PA discussed how she could try to accommodate their requests but also that they might have to step out of their comfort zones to get the appropriate treatment they needed.

This obvious distrust of the medical system is frightening because it adds another layer of complications when trying to treat someone who is now not only limited by poverty and access to healthcare but also by their own fear.  Earlier in the week, I also shadowed at Jackson General Hospital, and one of the patients in the clinic was almost desperate to take off his wrist identification from the hospital.  He explained to the PA if you don’t have one of them on then there is nothing wrong with you.  Some may call this ignorance of their own health needs, but there is something deeper.  Fear of what the doctor may tell them and fear of what anyone involved in healthcare may do to them burrows deep into the culture.  This fear is contagious and needs to be addressed along with all of the other public health concerns that everyone knows about throughout WV.  Whether it be lung cancer, obesity, diabetes, bad knees, or a mystery gastrointestinal problem, fear must first be calmed and over come before a patient will accept and follow a healthcare provider especially in the areas that I saw in West Virginia.

West Virginia the Rich: Loyola University of Maryland

Since I’ve been back from our trip to West Virginia, I’ve been consumed with the question of what it means to be rich. On on our immersion trip, West Virginia was described many times as being the “richest and poorest state in the country”. This didn’t begin to make sense to me until I got home.

We learned that West Virginia is the greatest producer of coal energy, only second to Wyoming. Ninety-seven percent of its energy comes from coal, as well as the majority of the country receives energy sources from this state. Our nation would not be able to function, as it does today, without the resources extracted from Appalachia. In the same breath, West Virginia’s unemployment is consistently rising due to a great deal of mechanization. The divided counties are united when it comes to concern of growing poverty and unemployment and ultimate stability of their futures.


In this sense, yes, West Virginia can be seen as being both rich and poor. While discerning about my time spent and experiences of the past week, I’ve concluded that West Virginia is richer in so many other ways than the rest of the country is lacking.

Although this may be bold, I will go out on a ledge to say that West Virginia is home to the nicest people in the nation. These wonderful people not only invited us into their centers, seminars, and service sites, but also into their hearts. They answered every one of our typically blunt, curious, and personal questions about home, work, and their beliefs of energy sources were impacting their way of life, with educated and passionate responses. While usually being so rushed for time, our conversations were relaxed, engaged, and thoughtful. I learned what it to be joyful to live in homes that were filled with family relationships, tradition, and culture, rather than computers and televisions. The beautiful mountains that guarded their homes, as well as, the hollers that separated them, were as important to the West Virginians as the air we breathe.


We cannot begin to understand until we immerse ourselves in what we do not know. This vulnerability forced us to listen which in turn brought us understanding. The stories of both the county people and the big energy companies, were enlightening and inspiring because we now can share it with all of you. After one week, I am just beginning to see how much West Virginia has to offer. In the simplest terms, I unknowingly left a piece of my heart in those hollers.

By Kelley Dolan, Loyola University of Maryland

Heath Care in the Hollows: St. Louis University

By Kelsi
          When I first signed up for the trip to West Virginia, I was not entirely sure what we would be doing. Our group had a few preparatory meetings before leaving, and then one morning we met to load up our vans and eagerly set off on the nine hour car ride.
          Even that first night though left me with a lasting impression–we could see the sky full of constellations as we wound our way through the winding roads dotted with small homes and a babbling creek. The beauty was breath-taking. Still not knowing quite what to expect, we set off for Wheeling Jesuit for an orientation and to meet our trip coordinator. Before our lecture we attended a church service at the small chapel on campus–I think that was my first clue to how the trip would go. After mass parishioners eagerly sought us out and gave us advice or asked questions. With that advice we left for a delicious meal at a local diner before returning for the orientation. Unlike many lectures I have received, I was impressed by how engaging the presentation was. We learned about mountain-top removal, the mining industry, health issues in West Virginia, and the particular culture and charm of the Appalachian region.
          From that lecture onwards, our days were full of activity and learning. We visited Jackson General Hospital where we learned about health systems utilization and the patient population’s needs and assets from surgeons, physical therapists, CEOs, nurse practitioners, and physicians’ assistants. In Boone County we met with an administrator at the Department of Health and Human Services. We walked along mountain ridges after making our way up steep gravel roads to witness the effects of mountain-top removal. The Rock Lake Community Center where we stayed in South Charleston became home for us as we prepared nightly dinners, sang karaoke to the Backstreet Boys and Beyonce, played basketball past the point of visibility, and admired the night’s stars from the vastness of the quarry walls.
         But my two most memorable experiences involved really getting to know the heart of West Virginia: its people. On our second day we left for Wayne County to join a group of men from American Baptist who had devoted their time to disaster relief. When we arrived at the work site, we were all taken aback by the destruction of entire mountain sides. Trees littered road ways and crisscrossed backyards. We dove into our work after no more than a few sentences of direction. Not only did we work alongside the men, but we also worked with the homeowner herself. Ruby was so incredibly brave–she knew what had to be done and she did it. As we worked in camaraderie with the men and Ruby, easy conversation began to flow between us. We learned about how they’d devoted their life’s work to assisting others–even at the ripe ages of sixty and beyond–and how Ruby and her family had been born and raised in the same holler her entire life. The work and friendship created that day strengthened our own individual friendships and I know will have a lasting impact on each of us.
          My second experience came after a day of directing health education activities and volunteering at local after school programs conducted by the Patch 21 program. Our group had spent the day telling stories about hand-washing and chasing the plaque monster from teeth, and had finally ended the day’s activities with the rocking of infants and toddler play at a school in Ripley. I finally allowed myself to be dragged back to the vans and away from the little boy I had been goofing around with for the past few hours so that we could set out to Fairplain Union Church for a dinner reception and some genuine bluegrass music. Immediately upon arriving we were graciously greeted by Debbie who vigorously shook our hands, asked for names, and led us into meal lines and the rest of the community gathering. After loading my plate with delicious lasagna and a cheesy potato casserole, I found a seat with a few group mates and some of the kids from the community. There I met Noah and Taylor; I was so impressed by all of the kids and their willingness to speak with complete strangers let alone strangers who weren’t even their own age. We talked about school, sports, and books and learned what they liked to do for fun. I watched gymnastic feats and listened to them tease each other.
          Everyone gathered in the church itself for a performance from a local bluegrass band. The setting could not have been more perfect: the church was intimate with both community members and the rest of our group interspersed in the pews and the valley’s evening light streaming in from the windows. I swayed and bobbed my head as I remarked on the sublimeness of the evening to my friend Sara. When the music stopped no one left. Instead our trip coordinator’s father got up and spoke shortly before Debbie jumped in with promises of more music from one of the community members, Crystal. Crystal’s song was so beautiful, but even more impressive for me was her son’s, Noah’s, rendition of the song “Lead Me”. An eleven year-old boy got up on the parish stage and sang beautifully, completely alone to strangers who an hour or so before he had never met. Filled with good food, good conversation, and the evening’s entertainment we made conversation with the pastor, parishioners, and band before leaving. As the light turned to dark we finally progressed our way towards the back of the church giving hugs, handshakes, and warm thank yous to our hosts. We loaded our buses, but not before Debbie hurried our way with offerings of leftovers and a few last stories.
          Those two experiences left me with such a lasting impression of the warmth and community of West Virginians that was continued throughout our experiences. Everywhere we went we were received kindly and with enthusiasm. I am so thankful for the opportunities I had to meet with and engage in the community and to the Appalachian Institute at Wheeling Jesuit for their help coordinating our trip. I am especially grateful to all the new friends we met and made, because they are the ones who made this trip special for us. Thank you all. The trip is not one I will ever forget.