As I mentioned in my post last Wednesday, I recently helped lead a youth group of 37 high schoolers to a small Appalachian town in Kentucky. The youth group spent a week building houses and doing other construction work for a local organization. Eight years ago, I was one of those high schoolers — a senior, in fact. Two years prior to that, I was a sophomore, traveling on the group’s inaugural trip to Kentucky. We had no idea it would become a tradition.
It was February of 2000 and I was ready to “sacrifice” a week of break to help others. Looking back, I realize that that first trip to Kentucky was a wonderful loss of innocence. I had never seen such abject poverty. I was 15 on this first trip to Kentucky and had only really lived in safe and comfortable environments. The trip changed me: not just seeing that people lived in such poverty, but that they lived in such poverty and still lived. They worked to have the essentials and found strength in their family, community and faith. During that trip, I not only bonded with a large group of other high schoolers and learned about my faith, but helped other people and began to question the simple luxuries of life.
I scribbled some thoughts after each trip, in 2000, 2001 and then more formally in 2002. I just found some of these thoughts, in which I wrote:
i wish that people in suburbia could be like people in kentucky. people here are not as geniune. we are always looking out for ourselves and not so much others. maybe that is what we are doing wrong. cuz if you think about it, we have to be doing SOMETHING wrong if people in KY (who live in abject poverty) are happier than we are in suburban towns (we live in luxury!)
This thought spurred a lot of thinking on my part back in high school. It defined my college applications, and many internship applications after that. But, more importantly, it sparked me. This line of thinking is definitely a large piece of the puzzle as to why I went back to Kentucky this year. Vacations are often all about ourselves. We work so hard at our jobs, and we are all truly working hard, and – dammit – we want to vacate them. But sometimes indulging myself is not enough. I need to give back. Because we’re not missing the essentials of lives, and we really do mainly look out for ourselves. Sometimes looking out for others makes all the difference.
I’m not knocking the trips we take to Cancun (hell, I’ve been there!). I’m just saying that I was ready to give a little more back than I have since high school. And that’s what I did. And man, was it different as an adult.
[More on that to come!]