While many college students flock to the warm, sunny beaches of the Carolinas and Florida’s Gulf Coast for Spring Break, 27 students from Saint Joseph’s University (SJU) in Philadelphia chose to spend their time off in Ashe County as part of a Spring Break immersion program called the “Appalachian Experience” (APEX).
“It’s all part of a service learning experience,” APEX Student Leader Billy Santucci said. “We immerse ourselves in the community and meet with the people.”
APEX is sponsored by SJU and has been around for 21 years.
According to the APEX website, “The Appalachian Experience is a Spring Break immersion program that is committed to serving with and for others while learning about the culture and concerns of the people of the Appalachian region. Participants will meet together several times throughout the year for preparation, education and team-building, all of which lead toward the spring break immersion experience.”
Santucci said about 500 students are participating this year.
For the past week, groups of SJU students have been living and working at 17 different sites throughout N.C., West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.
This was the first year N.C. was included in the program’s site selection process.
Santucci said the group arrived at New River State Park on Saturday, March 8 and returns to Philadelphia on March 15.
Since arriving in Ashe County, the students have worked with the Ashe Habitat for Humanity to replace a roof on a Jefferson woman’s home and helped make improvements to the yard at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Jefferson.
On Wednesday morning, the students toured downtown West Jefferson and took time to visit the Ashe County Sharing Center and Ashe County Cheese Factory and Store.
“Ashe County is great,” Santucci said. “We have grown to love the community and the people.”
Alan Bulluck can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.