From Charity Case to Friend

Common Application: Evaluate a significant experience and its impact on you

Harlan County, Kentucky, deemed the poorest in the United States, hosts the Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries’ (CYFM) Appalachian Mission Program every July. For the past two years I have been a participant. The first year I worked as a manual laborer, constructing a deck, along with five other people, for a family who resided in a trailer with only half a roof. Although the family suffered from an unmistakable absence of material wealth, I learned their mindset was not one to pity, but rather one to envy. After five days of toiling under a sweltering sun, the emotional connection I made with the family was far greater than the physical connection made with about fifty pieces of plywood and a rubber-handled hammer. The sense of appreciation and gratitude I felt from the homeowners inspired me in a way I had never experienced before. Titus and his family impressed me in that I was no longer satisfied with just tending to the needs of their home, but I was captured by their personal needs as well. By the end of the week, I remained hours after the workday ended to chat with Titus’ son, Wesley, about everything from school, to girls, to the University of Louisville basketball team (he was a huge fan). The development of such a tight-knit relationship between my work group and Titus’ family became remarkably heartening. I had heard stories from people I knew who worked at Titus’ house in the past about the final day’s festivities, but I still did not know what to expect. From 7:45 AM to 3:00 PM it was business as usual. I finished painting the railing we had built around the deck, and then proceeded to finish tiling the kitchen floor. When finished, I wiped my brow and braced for good-byes. Titus’ ten-year-old daughter, Chelsea, came tearing down from the chicken coop with a river of tears running down her cheeks. She grabbed me by the hand and tugged me towards her room, urging everyone else in my group to follow. As I walked through the door, Chelsea pointed at the wall to the left of her bed. Engulfing her wall were the handprints of everyone who had worked on her house since she was three years old. In red, blue, green, and orange, each person had left their mark in their own unique style. I guess they believed through a handprint, their image would forever be engraved in the minds of its observers. As I dipped my hand in the same vibrant neon paint I had handled earlier, I realized what I had done for Titus was not a service for a poor family, but a favor for a friend. From that trip, I ascertained Titus did not desire material wealth in even the slightest way. This is something that greatly perplexed me, since the cutthroat, business-oriented world is what I grew up believing was the road to happiness. That one could live contentedly in unquestionable poverty was something I could not fathom before I was lucky enough to meet Titus. Before I departed South, I desired to help those in need while remaining as detached as humanly possible. I soon learned service wasn’t in the physical work, but rather in the meaningful relationships established through it.

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