Ashwin Prabaharan ’26
Do you want to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself for just a week? Do you want to learn about towns hundreds of miles away from home with an excited and energetic group? Do you want to emerge anew from the experience of a lifetime? Just sign up for Spring Break Immersion!
Operating since the 1970s, the Spring Break Immersion Program serves as an opportunity for Holy Cross students to venture into the depths of different cultures, traditions, and norms of communities around the nation. Through their exploration and immersion, students work on a vast range of projects, from renovating community centers in the Appalachian to living and bonding with intellectually disabled individuals in our L’Arche sites. Over the last several decades, the program has sent approximately 200 students to 20 different working sites around the country, and students continually describe them as unforgettable and cherished experiences. I had the utmost privilege of joining one of this year’s Appalachian trips to the town of Fries in the southwestern part of Virginia. It was surreal and unimaginable, to say the least.
Our trip begins with a hefty trip down to the town of Fries, with flights canceled, a difference of minutes between connecting flights, and hours of driving around Southern Virginia. We finally arrived with all due haste at the Fries Community Center on Monday the 6th, our home for the next five days. It boasted an authentic bowling alley last renovated in the 1940s, a historic theater, and a rather excellent arcade room. During the spring and summer, the center would host movies, performances, children’s events, and bingo games for the wonderful ladies of the town. For the week, we slept on cots with our sleeping bags in one room, but with my snoring, I doubt anyone got proper sleep. In this room, we held our reflection hours, discussing our highs and lows of the day and a kudos to a member of our group whom we’d like to thank or praise. We had a tall candle decorated with our names lighting our sessions while we discussed what we took away from our days.
Our work for the week was designed to improve the outlook and utility of the Center itself, but some background before we dive in. Fries had long been a town centered around textile mills, railroads, and industry. Before these facilities moved away or were dismantled, workers gave their lives only to their work, even only renting beds to sleep on and nothing more. The mills provided many services for the town, including the construction of the Center, maintenance of town facilities, and community events The Center worked off of a functioning coal-powered furnace to provide heat among other things. As a result, coal soot engulfed the entire center, masking the walls, windows, and items with coal dust that could not be easily cleaned. Our group washed and cleaned a great part of the Center, painted the windows and walls, and covered up artwork for the construction crew. Though we played a small role in maintaining the town’s main hub for gatherings and activities, we knew we gave everything to make sure the town knew how much we appreciated their hospitality and their immensely rich culture.
We made extraordinary memories along the way, from late-night chats with our hosts Danny and Denny, playing bingo with the ladies of Fries (they can get rowdy), joining a musical jam with fiddle and banjo players to eating deer meat with our Taco Tuesday dinner. Denny, our main point of contact in Fries, is truly a man of integrity and kindness, and our trip would not have been possible without his tireless efforts to accommodate us. Danny, a 70-year-old marathon runner and an avid cooking enthusiast, hosted us in the Center, giving us our game plans and helping set our meals. We found a new family, 600 miles from Mount St.James, and I would never have expected it. Last but certainly not least, our group leaders, Bryceida and Lucia, gave every minute of their week to make sure we were safe, secure, and comfortable during our trip. From long drives down the interstate to directing our reflection sessions, they worked to ensure that this trip would not just be one of service but rather of connection. All of these people, including my fellow group members, are exceptional human beings, and I am honored to be a friend of theirs.
Consider signing up for the immersion program, and I promise you, you will not regret it.
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