Students find peace at ‘Toppa Joppa’ in Appalachia

The spring Appalachia retreat participants set off for Grainger County, Tennessee, on Feb. 21 and returned Feb. 26. The 24 seniors were accompanied by 4 adult leaders: Jeff Hutchinson, Rebecca Carmel, Ashley Brothers and Kaitlyn Richter.

The Appalachia retreat is a service-learning retreat with Glenmary Home Missioners, who are dedicated to serving those in the most impoverished counties of the South and Appalachia. The Glenmary house is stationed on “Toppa Joppa” where Mountain Managers live and work with the volunteers. Senior Bridget Strotman enjoyed the views from the house. “There are no other views like the one in Tennessee in Ohio,” Strotman said. “I loved going out in the morning, sitting on the back porch, and looking at the sunrise and the mountains.”

The students worked in four different activity groups led by one of the adult leaders. Senior Morgan Vogler said she couldn’t have asked for a better group. “We all got along so easily and created countless memories that I will hold with me forever,” she said.

Each group traveled to a different service site each day.  The sites included painting Clinch Mountain restaurant – a favorite among locals –, doing construction at Joppa Mountain Pottery, building tiny houses near the volunteer house, working at a food pantry and distributing food, and visiting the elderly at Ridgeview Terrace of Life Care. “My favorite part of the retreat was building the tiny houses,” senior Jonathan Hazzard said. “Having worked on similar projects with my dad in the past, the construction work was right up my alley.”

“A fire really sparked in me when I saw the way that the people in Grainger County lived in poverty,” Strotman said. “No one should live in such a beautiful place but not have a good roof over their head,” she added.

Hazzard gained an understanding of simplicity. “Many of the people we encountered had very little, but were so content with what they had – that’s a lesson we could all learn,” he said.

Hazzard had some words of advice for underclassmen planning on going or thinking about going. “Without sugar-coating it, it’s tough. Being away from home for six days, working hard every day, and getting along with everybody else is tough,” Hazzard said. “However, at the end of the day, the feeling of fulfillment was unmatched,” Hazzard said. “The overall experience is like nothing I have ever felt before. Never in my life have I loved those around me more than during Appalachia. It’s a special thing, and it would be a missed opportunity to not go.”

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