March 28, 2017
McDowell County, W. Va., isn’t the most popular spring break destination by any measure, but don’t tell that to the 13 McDaniel students, led by senior Jeb Shingler and professor Mona Becker, who grabbed warm clothes, solid shoes and work gloves before heading to this impoverished region of southern Appalachia for their mid-semester R&R.
Shingler, an Environmental Chemistry major from Hagerstown, Md., has made the trip countless times with his Environmental Studies professor Mona Becker. They’ve conducted stream water quality research and continued to forge what has become a robust partnership between the college and the McDowell community.
Hoping to share the experience with McDaniel students while enlisting their help with a long list of projects needed in the community, Shingler applied for and received one of the college’s Griswold-Zepp Awards in Student Volunteerism. The award of $3,000 covered their housing, food, gas and vehicle rental. They stayed at a decommissioned school in dormitories supplied by the School for Life, a non-profit which brings in volunteers in mission work groups and organizes projects.
Students on campus collect everything from prom dresses to toiletries for the people there who struggle for a marginal existence in the town of Gary, hard hit by the boom-bust of the mechanization of coal mining. Here, lack of garbage disposal and waste-water management has resulted in water quality so poor it sometimes must be boiled to be used for cooking, cleaning and drinking. Jobs, food, inhabitable housing are all in meager supply.
Yet, 13 McDaniel students set aside travel brochures to warm, sunny beaches and opted instead for an eight-hour drive to wield hammers, paintbrushes, even pots and pans, to help in as many ways as they could. They helped update “Welcome to Gary” signs, did activities with the kids, held a cookout and dance with the townspeople and worked on renovations for a new daycare for the town.