I was sitting in church oneSunday reading the bulletin before mass when something caught my eye. The parishwas organizing a mission to the Appalachian Mountain region in Kentucky to helprestore and build homes. I was interested, but felt there was nothing I could do.I couldn't even figure out how to put up a tent, so I thought building houseswould be out of the question.
A few days later, I read the bulletin again.It said high-school kids were welcome and that no experience was needed. It wasthen that I decided this was something I wanted to do. I went to the firstmeeting, and listening to the priest talk about the poverty of that region mademe excited about my opportunity to help them. At the time, however, I was still abit unsure of exactly how I could help.
After months of meetings and fundraisers, the time finally arrived. I have to admit that just before the trip Igot cold feet. I was the only one in my family going and would have to travel 16hours in a car with another family to an unknown part of the country. I begged mymom, "Please don't make me go! I can't do this!"
"You madethis commitment months ago; it's too late to back out now," she said. Asmuch as I hated to admit it, I knew she was right.
At 5 a.m., I rolledout of bed, not looking forward to the next week. I got my stuff ready, and myparents dropped me off at the church. I reluctantly got in the car bound forKentucky, and my journey to an unknown land began. I spent most of the next twodays in the car, listening to CDs and waving at passing cars out of boredom. Ihad visions of how awful the week would be. Not once did I think that I mightactually enjoy myself, or gain something from this experience. I just wanted togo home.
The last half hour of travel opened my eyes to what was instore. The car climbed over twisting mountain roads as I looked at the houses setin the woods. I had never seen anything like it before. They were not only small(many smaller than my garage), they were also dirty and broken down. They wereeyesores. I was not able to understand how families could live in such unsanitaryconditions.
Once we got to the settlement, we unpacked and went to themain hall to listen to the program head speak about the week. He was young andquite humorous. I was a little nervous when I heard that my group would bebuilding a deck and doing dry wall, but I was also filled with anticipation.
The next morning my group headed to our site. We traveled on narrow roadsto a little house high on the mountain. We introduced ourselves to the family,and I was shocked to learn that four children and two adults were living in thissmall house, not to mention two dogs.
When I went inside, I was even morestunned. The four children shared one bedroom with two beds. The room was small,with cobwebs in every corner. Gum was stuck to the walls, and mud stains coveredthe carpet.
Every day when I got to the site, the children were wearingthe same clothes. The dogs ran around us, covered with fleas. One was scratchingso hard, his fur was coming off and his skin was beginning to bleed. We couldtell this dog was in pain, but his owners were not able to provide forthemselves, so there was no way this dog could get care.
We worked hardand managed to finish our jobs with time to spare. I have never felt more proudthan at the end of that week. I didn't just build a porch and put up walls, Ilearned important lessons. It had never occurred to me how lucky I am. The kids Imet didn't have the computers and CD players I'd whined about leaving just daysbefore; they weren't even fortunate enough to have a bed to call their own. Ialso learned how to be open to new challenges. Sure, I had never built a porch orput up walls before, but that didn't matter. It was a new challenge I am glad Iaccepted.
In Kentucky I pushed myself to new limits. What started as atrip to help restore homes became a trip to help restore myself. I met new peopleand made new friends. I am truly thankful for what I have in my life, and mostimportantly, for the opportunity to have gone on this unforgettable journey.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.