HUNTINGTON — When 14 Boston College students agreed to spend their spring break helping the Huntington West Virginia Area Habitat for Humanity, they knew they would be making a difference.
However, their experience also has given them a lot in return, said Molly Wolfe, a political science and economics major from Basking Ridge, New Jersey.
"For me, if I can speak for my whole group, it's less about the physical manual labor and the hours we put in," Wolfe said. "It's more about who we talk to, who we meet, the stories we hear and how we can bring that back to where we are from."
More than 450 students from Boston College, a private Jesuit university in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, traveled to 37 different communities across the country this week to dedicate their spring break to "service and solidarity." The students are members of the Appa Volunteers Program, which was founded in 1979 as one of the nation's oldest spring break service immersion programs. Although the program has been centered around Appalachian communities, it has expanded to include urban cities and areas affected by natural disasters. In addition to Huntington, groups traveled to major metropolitan areas such as Detroit, Houston, New York and Philadelphia.
The program allows students to live out one of the Jesuit's values of "being men and women for others," said Nick Nolan, a finance major from Westfield, New Jersey.
"That's part of our tradition, that's part of our Jesuit faith and that's part of our school," Nolan said. "It's kind of commonplace at our school to do something like this at least once."
The students have spent the week rebuilding doors on the Huntington Habitat for Humanity's garage on 10th Avenue. They also built several sheds for habitat homes in Scioto County, Ohio, and helped remove carpets and repaint walls for a future home on Jefferson Avenue in Huntington.
Wolfe said she's been to West Virginia once before, but neither she nor Nolan had ever been to Huntington. They did their research on the city but were surprised when it exceeded their expectations.
"Honestly I wasn't expecting as prominent of a city. It's a true city with an urban feel," Wolfe said. "We're both from New Jersey so when you think about West Virginia, you think of country roads. This is a wonderful place."
Nolan said the best thing about volunteering in Huntington has been meeting members of the community. The group experienced many strangers offering them help or just being friendly.
"Originally we planned to buy groceries for our group, but we've gotten almost every single meal given to us by community members since we've been here," Nolan said.
Ken Jordan, construction supervisor for Huntington Area Habitat for Humanity, said it's inspiring to see a group of young people who aren't afraid to break a sweat.
"It goes to show they are willing to help their neighbors," Jordan said. "These kids could have been anywhere or in Florida on their spring break, but they are here with us to help our cause."
Although the students did not get to build a house because of bad weather, they did get to meet someone in the program who is getting a new home.
Habitat for Humanity recently helped build a home for Pam Hunt, of Huntington.
The home on 26th Street will be dedicated during a ceremony March 14. Hunt said she is thrilled with the home and loves the opportunity to work with volunteers in the program.
"It gives me peace because you know it just wasn't done overnight," Hunt said. "This has been planned apparently for my future for a while, and I'm loving it."
The students return to Massachusetts on Friday, March 8.
Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.