The University Record, March 15, 1993

SERVE team members ‘changed’ by Kentucky experience

By Rebecca A. Doyle

Daybreak at the southeastern Kentucky farm is accompanied by a clanging cowbell, rousing volunteers from their warm beds and to a hearty breakfast. A full day of physical labor awaits them, ranging from repairing fences and hauling manure to accompanying nurses on their visits to remote and impoverished homes.

Seventeen U-M students and one staff member chose this setting over the more traditional student migration to Florida during the term break this year. Ryan S. Solomon, an information officer with News and Information Services, joined students working at the Lend-A-Hand Center on Stinking Creek in Walker, Ky.

Solomon’s team was one of seven sent to regions around the country through the Alternative Spring Break Program of Project SERVE. Another group of eight, also working at the Kentucky farm, was sponsored by St. Mary Student Parish.

Project SERVE supplies cars, makes contact with the work site and sifts applications for the program. Each volunteer pays about $50 to cover food and lodging, and may spend another $50 on gas, snacks, souvenirs and entertainment during the week, Solomon speculates.

Why would students and staff—or anyone else—choose mud and manure over surf and sand? Solomon says that for him, it was a combination of things.

“I’ve been lucky,” he says. “I have had a whole lot of things given to me, opportunities to learn and do all kinds of things. It was time for me to give something back.”

Working in journalism, Solomon says, also influenced him. “When you are a journalist, you have to be an observer. You can’t ever be proactive, no matter how much you want to be involved in what’s happening, because your job is to deliver an objective view.

“I did this because it was time for me to become involved,” he says.

The Lend-A-Hand Center has an on-site medical clinic that operates on Thursdays and sends nurses to visit isolated and poverty-stricken areas where medical attention is needed thoughout the week. It also operates a strong 4-H summer program. The 600-acre farm operated by the Lend-A-Hand Center provides food for the five women who make up the permanent staff there—nurse Peggy Kemner and former teacher Irma Gall, who founded the organization in 1958; a full-time nurse; and two women who provide general support at the house and on the farm. Lend-A-Hand also transports children from as far away as 30 miles to the chapel for Sunday school, Solomon says.

Poor soil and rocky terrain keep food crops from being very profitable, but those and livestock raised on the farm help feed the staff and volunteers like the U-M students who come to work for a week or two.

Volunteers returned home muddy and tired instead of salt-sprayed and tanned, changed by what they experienced.

“We got together the other night just to talk about what we’d done,” Solomon says. “It was like being in a different world when we were there. You can’t help coming back changed.

“When you come back here, it is an environment that has had mankind’s order imposed on it. It’s almost surreal.”

A total of 63 students participated in the Alternative Spring Break Program through Project SERVE. In addition to the Kentucky project:

—Eleven students washed pelicans and cleaned bird cages in Jacksonville, Fla.

—Twelve students worked in high schools and the Detroit community on conflict resolution and violence in the schools for Save Our Sons And Daughters (SOSAD).

—Twelve students worked on construction and in soup kitchens, in homeless shelters and in the community center in Chicago for the Su Casa Catholic Worker House.

—Twelve students went to Dupree, S.D., to work in the Sioux YMCA with Lakota children on the reservation and to help rehabilitate housing.

—Eight students worked in New York City on the YMCA Youth Service Opportunity Project serving food in soup kitchens.

—Ten students joined the Friends Weekend Work Camp in Philadelphia, Pa., on a clean-up, fix-up program focusing on racism and poverty issues.