Elizabeth Connelly ’25
This past week over spring break, I was fortunate enough to participate in the Spring Break Immersion Program. This program is run by the Chaplain’s Office on campus and sends students to serve different marginalized communities across the country. I was sent to an “Appa” site meaning a site located within the Appalachian region of America. My group’s home for the week was the small town of Ivanhoe, Virginia home to about 550 residents. (For scale, that would be about half of the class of 2025 here at Holy Cross.) Before we left, I kept hearing about how “life changing” Spring Break Immersion was. This statement raised some doubts for me; it just seemed too big and too dramatic for a single week. I have since discovered that Spring Break Immersion does not change lives in an obvious, loud way but instead it does so quietly and simply. This may seem oxymoronic. How can a life changing experience be quiet? But I have come to discover that this kind of change is the most meaningful. It is achieved through humility, community, and love. For me, love was the focal point of Spring Break Immersion. In the five days I spent with the people of Ivanhoe, love was at the root of all of our interactions and conversations, though it may have not been apparent at first. Afterall, I didn’t expect to love people I had just met. But the connection that I formed with the people of Ivanhoe was unlike anything I had ever experienced. The people I met loved in the most free and giving way. They opened their hearts to us and shared their lives. I heard stories that broke my heart, made me laugh, and shocked me to my core. Something that my group and I kept coming back to in our nightly reflections was a genuine surprise at how open and honest the people were.
In our world, and at least in my own life, people are often guarded. Our personal failures and losses are private, not something to be shared with others. And yet, the people I met last week shared their whole selves fearlessly. They shared with me their favorite books, first loves, recent losses, family drama, current struggles, private successes, and hopes for the future. I was and continue to be thoroughly humbled by their openness and trust.
Ivanhoe is a true community and its people are so genuinely human. They have endured so much and yet choose to be persistently joyful. They lean on each other for support and celebrate each other’s happiness. The woman who hosted all of us, Phyllis, was the most gracious and human person I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. She made a point to interact with each of us twenty students individually, and made us all feel like we belonged. Phyllis cooked us every meal and invited anyone and everyone to join for lunch and supper. Her love for us and for the town shone through everything she did. She is a remarkable woman, and I won’t even attempt to do her justice by simply describing her. But I’ll leave you with this: When asked about her favorite part of Ivanhoe she replied simply, “The people.”
Ivanhoe Virginia is an incredibly special town. There is an innate goodness in its people and a persistent optimism throughout all they have experienced. I feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of its history, even for just a few days, and consider it a privilege to have met its inhabitants. This program pushed me far outside my comfort zone, and honestly I was terrified to go. But the people of Ivanhoe, Virginia shared with me a new meaning to love and joy that I would not trade for the world.
Featured image courtesy of Holy Cross
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