In February 2012, 10 students journeyed more than 2,400 miles From L.A.’s southwest urban sprawl, palm trees and freeways to the creeks and hollers of the coal-ridden mountains of West Virginia.
They spent spring break on a Center for Service and Action Alternative Break in Spencer, W. Va., observing rural poverty and a controversial mining practice called mountaintop removal. The practice involves the stripping of hilltops to extract coal. Critics say it increases minerals in water supplies, disrupts streams and forest growth, and harms vegetation and animal life.
The Appalachia project was started at the urging of two students, Annie Daley ’11 and Ana Lopez ’12, who went on the first trip to Spencer in spring 2011. They wanted to establish an immersion/learning opportunity that would expose them and other students to nonurban examples of U.S. poverty.
“Our usual perception of poverty is very inner city-oriented and involves ethnic minorities,” Lopez says. “But we realized that poverty is broader than that, so we wanted to learn about poverty in Appalachia.”
The LMU contingent stayed at the Appalachian Catholic Worker Farm run by Jeannie Kirkhope, who holds a master’s degree in theology from Seattle University. Kirkhope also has hosted groups from other Jesuit universities, including Xavier, Canisius and St. Peter’s. She guided the LMU group through a week that included service work, meetings with Spencer residents, a visit to a mountain- top removal site, testing of water sources for mineral levels and a visit to a coal company mining museum. They also met regularly for prayer and reflection, and attended Mass at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, where they talked with parishioners about faith and local economic and environmental issues.
We went along on the trip to document the students’ experience in the coal fields of Appalachia. View the images below.