It has become a rite of summer at Jesuit High School: Two dozen students returning to Appalachia, to the town of Jasper, Ga., for a week of manual labor for the people of that rural mountain community.
The labor is exhausting, but so popular is this service immersion experience - in large part because of the people they meet - that many Jesuit students make the trip again the next year. For Michael Quackenbush '20, 2019 was his third year in Jasper.
In addition to the appreciation expressed by the local community, this year Jesuit students received special recognition. The local chapter of the Knights of Columbus nominated Jesuit for a statewide award, and the Georgia State Council awarded the Tigers the State Council Service Program Award.
The nomination cited "Tampa Jesuit students performing an annual mission to Pickens County, Ga., supporting the entire community. Home improvement projects for elderly or incapacitated persons are performed ... painting, roofing, yard work, and light carpentry work and other maintenance projects that recipients cannot otherwise afford to complete or physically accomplish themselves."
This year's trip from June 4-12 was chaperoned by director of college counseling Fernando Rodrigues, assistant director of campus ministry Matthew Kuizon '11, and assistant athletic director Zach Prado '13. The students who participated were Shane Benko '20, Raleigh Bulleit '20, Cam Buhler '20, Chandler Carnes '21, Adam Dieck '21, Ryan Feocco '21, Jason Fernandez '22, Casey Fuss '20, Cade Freeman '20, Dawson Kiser '21, Jason Kwo '21, Wolf Louk '21, Frankie Machado '21, Nico Machado '21, Ethan Marquis '20, Joshua McDonald '20, Jack McNulty '22, Milo Paman '20, Chris Paniello '20, Henry Politz '20, Michael Quackenbush '20, Michael Schellman '20, Matthew Slowey '20, Matthew Smith '20, and Robin Tionko '20. (Pictured on the homepage L-R are: Nico Machado, Buhler, Politz, Bulleit, and Rodrigues.)
Kwo wrote about his experience this summer on the Appalachia mission trip:
This was my second mission trip to Jasper, Georgia. After the amazing experience we had last summer, I knew I wanted to go back again. Located at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains, Jasper feels like an entirely different world, filled with rich greenery and teeming with wildlife. Upon our arrival at Our Lady of the Mountains Church, we were greeted by the parishioners who host the Jesuit trip every summer. These gracious people go out of their way to help us, preparing dinner for us every day and accompanying us on our daily jobs. We stayed in the church's youth center, otherwise known as "The Barn."
Every morning, the 25 students on the trip would be split into groups of about three or four and sent out on different jobs. There was all kinds of work, including painting, mowing lawns, pressure washing, cleaning gutters, etc. We worked hard every day and got the job done, despite dealing with persistent rain and bugs that honestly belong in a science fiction movie. However, the trip wasn't all work; every evening was filled with games such as ping pong, basketball, and pool, and over the weekend, we went whitewater rafting.
There was one common element to every job throughout the trip: meeting new people. On all of my jobs, I got the opportunity to interact with the people I served. I heard their stories and got to know some of them. I could also tell that, although they requested that we perform physical jobs, the conversations that we had with them were just as important. There was one lady who stood out in particular. I talked to her while working on her lawn, but she seemed pretty down. I thought that once the lawn was looking better, she might cheer up. However, when my group finished, she still seemed a little despondent. Mr. Moore, the parishioner who picked us up, spoke briefly with this lady, and then we left. On the way back to The Barn, Mr. Moore took me by surprise when he said, "You know, you guys really did something good back there." He explained that the lady had depression and anxiety, and she didn't work on the lawn herself because she just didn't know where to start. He told us that the lady was extremely grateful for the work we had done. Moments like these make this mission trip special and rewarding.
Not only did I meet new people from the city of Jasper, but I also got to know some of the guys on the trip whom I'd never even talked to before. Every night, we had a reflection of the day and broke into small groups. I had a senior in my small group whom I had never met, but as we talked about our experiences, we began to understand each other. As a whole, the group came together, working to achieve our common goal of serving the community of Jasper.
The act of serving others is one of the most fulfilling things in the world. I decided to come back to Jasper because I wanted to serve, to change people's lives for the better, and this year's mission trip did not disappoint.
Please view below a photo slideshow from the Appalachia 2019 mission trip, and below that a video of Raleigh Bulleit '20 sharing his experience in Jasper at Convocation.