As many of you may remember from my fundraising attempts earlier this school year, I will be heading down to Harlan, Kentucky this Saturday as one of three staff leaders for La Salle's service trip, Project Appalachia. This is the 39th year that La Salle students and staff will head down to Kentucky to serve the people of Appalachia. I think most people are aware of the stark poverty that exists in Appalachia, but it is easy to think about it abstractly without really understanding what this kind of rural poverty looks like.
I was thrilled to be chosen back in October as a staff leader because as an undergraduate student at La Salle I was not nearly as involved as my present day self would have been. I regret some opportunities that I did not take advantage of while at La Salle. The opportunity to lead a service trip, and particularly one with such significance to the university and its mission, felt like a second chance for me. This is what I've thought all year. It was not until our last group meeting this past Sunday that I realized how truly lucky I am to have this second opportunity.
At our meeting on Sunday our four amazing student coordinators read two newspaper articles to us. The first was an article from March 2001 from the La Salle newspaper, The Collegian, by student writer Eric Bucher. He wrote an article reflecting on his time in Harlan and asking students what they did over their spring break. He challenged them to think about the time they spent sleeping or tanning on a beach or drinking at parties and if there was something more, something different they could be doing to make a difference. It was clear from his article that Eric had found part of himself in Appalachia and he wanted to share that experience with the La Salle community. The second was an article from The Inquirer in the spring of 2002. It told the story of Bill Bucher, Eric's father, who attended Project Appalachia that spring as a La Salle student in memory of his son Eric. Shortly after writing his article for The Collegian Eric was on his way to Ohio with his family to celebrate his oldest siblings college graduation. There was a car accident and Eric passed away in May 2001. His father decided that he wanted to honor his son's memory by doing the things that Eric would have done. He went back to school at La Salle, applied for Project Appalachia, and earned a student spot on the trip.
This story is touching in and of itself, but it had a much more personal impact on me. Eric Bucher was my age. He attended La Salle when I attended La Salle. He would have graduated a year ahead of me. While we didn't know each other and up until this past Sunday I didn't even know that he had gone on Project Appalachia, hearing his story made me reflect even more on how lucky I am to be at La Salle, to be a part of such an amazing community, and to have this second opportunity to spend time in the Harlan community giving back, but probably gaining far more than I give.
Over the next week I'll be chronicling our work in Harlan, the people we meet, the projects we accomplish and the lessons we learn. If you're interested in learning more about Appalachia, I encourage you to check out this 20/20 epidsode: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBdu6uhrNno. I understand that cell and internet service will be spotty, so it's my hope to post each evening, but all posts may be delayed until I return if I can't get good enough service to upload photos and stories. Stay tuned. It should be a powerful week.