On Sunday, June 26, I met with one hundred and five other students, faculty, and family members of the Oakland Catholic and Central Catholic High School communities to celebrate Mass in preparation for our journey to Webster Springs, WV. This Appalachia trip was my first mission experience. Going into it, my friends had told me stories and shown me pictures, but I really did not know what to expect.
As we exited the highway and started driving through the "rolling hills" of West Virginia, the devastation from the flood became evident. Large sections of the road were completely washed away. Two-lane roads had been turned into one. There was a musty smell of dirt and mud throughout the town, but, amid all of that, the locals had such big smiles on their faces and were so excited to meet us and thank us for helping their community.
My team, team nine, was assigned to a house in Erbacon County, which was a forty-five minute drive from where we were staying. As we drove out to our site on the first day, we saw an array of disaster along the way. There were whole homes that had been lifted up from their foundation and carried by floods down stream and completely collapsed.
As we arrived to the site, we saw the main issue: mud. There were approximately three inches of mud covering the driveway, the walkways, and the inside flooring of the home. The homeowner, Jim, was immediately so grateful to see all of us, eager to work. Our team dug in and started cleaning off as much of the mud as we could. We worked at his home for three days. On the second and third day, the community church, down the road, invited us for a delicious, home-cooked lunch that we all thoroughly enjoyed. Throughout our time at Jim's home, we built a friendship with some of his grandchildren. One of the granddaughters, Chelsea, was fifteen, and we seemed to develop a mutual friendship with her. She explained that there are not many other kids her age in her town, so she enjoyed spending time with us. On our last day, she was so excited to take pictures with all of us. It was really sad to leave her because I so commonly take for granted how many friends I have and how often I have the opportunity to partake in social activities with them after school and on the weekends.
Along with Chelsea, there were two other grandchildren, Oscar and Harley, who were extremely shy, but, by the last day, seemed to warm up to our group, and they even invited me to join in a game of hide-and-go-seek! Unfortunately, during the flood, Harley's wagon was left outside and, thus, became covered in mud, so, with the help of two other team members, we scrubbed it clean so that it would be far more enjoyable for her to play with.
As we were cleaning it off it made me think that, when I was young, I never experienced anything like a flood and how calm these kids were despite the drastic change in their living conditions.
As we left Jim's house on the last day, it was a powerful feeling to be able to look back at all the hard work we had put in and how much we had helped Jim. One of Jim's step-sons stopped me as I was going to get mops from the car, and he said, "I can't believe it. You are in all of this mud and you are just all so happy."
It was such a simple, yet meaningful sentiment, but it really made me think that, as our team went into Jim's house, we were eager to help and accomplish a lot, but, in a short week, we were coming back to our safe, clean, and comfortable homes in Pittsburgh, exactly as we had left them. The people in West Virginia opened their homes and their hearts to us and were so appreciative of our help.
I would strongly recommend this trip to everyone, especially if you have never attended a mission trip. While there is no guarantee what the project will involve, seeing the smiles on the people's faces was so rewarding. I was able to walk away from the trip knowing I had made a positive impact on Jim and his family's lives. I think the biggest aspect of the trip that I came away with was appreciation. Appreciation for all that I have in my life: my family and our good health, my education at Oakland Catholic, and my friends who are like-minded in helping the less fortunate.