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Students Serve Appalachia Area on Miller Center Mission Trip

Group in back of van completed rampCONWAY, Ark. (June 13, 2016) – Eight Hendrix College students traveled to Beverly, Kentucky, for a week of service through the United Methodist Church’s Red Bird Mission in Kentucky. The mission trip was sponsored by the Miller Center for Vocation, Ethics, and Calling at Hendrix.

The student participants included:

  • Lindsey Barrett ’19
  • Alundra Dickson ’17
  • Grace Featherston ’19
  • Isaac Filat ’17
  • Shalom Lee ’16
  • Jenna Sandry ’19
  • Jessa Thurman ’16
  • Alysha Hemani ’18

The group had the opportunity to serve the Sizemore family in Roark, Kentucky, by building a 55-foot-long wheelchair ramp and installing a new door so that the family could safely access their home from a steeply sloped driveway and road.

“While the physical work of building this ramp was a nice change of pace to those of us used to sitting at a desk or in a classroom all day, the greatest work was building a connection with the Sizemores. They will forever be in our hearts as true friends and companions," said Leigh Lassiter-Counts ’01, Director of Career Discovery and Internships, who accompanied the students, along with English professor Dr. Giffen Maupin and philosophy professor Dr. James Dow. "Though we busted a water line and made a muddy mess digging all those post holes for the ramp, they were gracious and warm…opening their hearts and lives to our group and sharing with us the beauty of the Appalachian land and people."

During their day off, the group hiked in the Cumberland Gap National Park to the Tri-Point Peak to stand in three states at once (Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia). They also visited a closed coal mine to tour and learn about the economic effects, both historic and current, of the coal industry in Appalachia.

Each component of the trip added to richness of the whole experience, helping students consider the needs of the world coupled with finding their own strengths and interests through both action and reflection, according to Lassiter-Counts.

“The Miller Center’s hope in bringing students on a mission trip like this one is to broaden their world-view of the issues of our time, in Appalachia’s case: poverty, rural health care, environmental degradation vs. preservation, etc.); but also to help students hone in on where their strengths and interests lie by actively serving and knowing the persons these issues effect,” she added. “This active pursuit of vocational insights can have a lasting effect on our students … producing what we hope are ethical, deliberate, passionate and caring citizens of the world regardless of their chosen career path.”

"The dichotomy between beauty and poverty is highlighted throughout the foothills of the Appalachia. It was both the most beautiful and most despondent area I have ever visited,” said Filat. “The Red Bird mission is doing great service work out there, and their work only highlights the need for more development in the region." 

"In Appalachia, I learned about what I consider to be meaningful service, and how impactful even the shortest of relationships can be," said Sandry.

“I feel tremendously grateful to have had this opportunity to serve alongside our students and my colleagues,” said Maupin. “I'm proud of the way that our students challenged themselves physically and emotionally, and reflected seriously on the connections between the work we did and their own vocational journeys.”

“My experience at Red Bird was the perfect end to my Hendrix career,” said Thurman, who graduated in May and received the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. “While on this trip, I experienced a great sense of community with the other students and volunteers at Red Bird. Since the trip, I have had a hard time adjusting to my hometown and old job. The luxuries of having a job, home, and plenty of good food available to me have gone unnoticed for a long time.”

“The Red Bird Mission does a lot of good for the surrounding community in rural Kentucky with a food pantry, community store, and construction projects like the one we worked on. Many other things needed repair at the house we were working on, but the wheel chair ramp was most pressing. It was difficult to see the conditions that our hospitable hosts were living in and learn their attachment to the property. 

“The poverty in Appalachia cannot be fixed with charity alone, although Red Bird is such a successful mission. Policy change and environmental action should be taken to purify the water in the area and possibly provide more jobs,” she said. “It's a shame to see one of the most beautiful corners of the world have so much pollution and poverty, but overall I am very happy I visited.”

“As I pursue graduate school and embark on a journey around the world I will always remember Appalachia, the people and animals I met, the warm homes I was welcomed into, and the community that we all belong to,” Thurman said. “It's our responsibility to take care of one another, and Red Bird was just a starting point for how I can continue to serve the global community.”

The Miller Center will sponsor three service-learning trips in 2017: Eleuthera Island (January 8-15); Birmingham, Alabama (May 14-20); and Washington D.C. (May 14-20). Applications for these opportunities will be available beginning July 15, 2016.

About the Miller Center

Established in 2008, the Miller Center for Vocation, Ethics, and Calling provides resources and programming for Hendrix College students, faculty and staff to explore the work and life to which they are called, the vocation that will fulfill. For more information, visit

About Hendrix College

Hendrix College is a private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas. Founded in 1876 and affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884, Hendrix is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think about Colleges and is nationally recognized in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings for academic quality, community, innovation, and value. For more information, visit