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Alternative Spring Break

Photo Courtesy of Megan O'neil
Photo Courtesy of Megan O’neil

By Megan O’Neil


Over spring break, a group of seven Roanoke College students took part in an Alternative Break trip to Eagan, Tennessee. With the help of the Clearfork Community Institute (CCI), Claire Brooks and Mackay Pierce successfully organized this seven day trip.

This student-led trip was planned with the goal of learning about mountaintop removal holistically. Mountaintop removal is a method of mining in which explosives are used to, literally, remove the tops of mountains in order to access coal. Not only does this drastically disturb the natural ecosystem, but it also has economic, cultural and political implications as well as personal impact on the residents of the surrounding area.

One of the most obvious repercussions of the presence of coal mining was the widespread cash-poverty. Addressing this form of poverty became one of the main goals of our community service each day when going out to help individuals in the community. Carol Judy, a leading member of the community, and Marie Webster, the current director of CCI, welcomed us into the community our first Saturday evening in Eagan. They invited people of all ages and from all backgrounds to speak with us about the community and its variety of issues as well as its variety of perks in order to better inform us of the widespread issues produced in their hometown.

Claire and Mackay worked to organize this trip in a very thoughtful and organized manner. Each morning we would have “morning circle” following breakfast. Here we talked about what we were planning to do that day and why that work needed to be done. Our work ranged from salvaging materials from an old house to cutting plastic bottles to be used in a greenhouse to making crafts for the upcoming earth week activities to spread awareness. After morning circle, we would get to work.

Each evening, we took about an hour before bedtime to discuss the day. During these evening reflection times, we were able to openly discuss our thoughts and apply some concrete meaning to what we had seen or heard during the day. This reflection time also offered a great way to bond with one another; the reflections often ended with a lot of laughter and jokes among the eight of us.

One of best parts of the trip was the development of relationships with community members. It was amazing to slowly start to understand and appreciate the unique Appalachian culture one can find in Eagan. Being able to relax and go with the flow is one part of the culture at CCI that our group grew to appreciate. The ability to relax was not rooted in laziness; instead, it was rooted in the value they place in relationships and being able to have time to just speak with one another and share ideas. As Carol Judy said one day during the week, “If it was only the work, we would be done by now. But, it is the relationships we need to worry about.”

This trip was a life-changing experience for all of us. We were given the opportunity to further investigate an issue. This investigation allowed us to expand our understanding of this multifaceted issue – which is the first step to making a real change. If given the option to do it all over again, I know all eight of us would jump at the opportunity.