Jaclyn Travaglini thought she knew what to expect as a second-generation family participant before a dose of the unexpected left her emotional as she reflected on the 25th annual Capuchin Appalachian Mission to Harlan County, Ky., July 9-17.
“I think they changed my life more than we helped them. I wasn’t expecting that,” said 16-year-old incoming senior at Albertus Magnus High School in Bardonia as she attempted to fight back tears.
“You’re always appreciative of what you have, but going down there and seeing how they lived, you appreciate your blessings in a totally different way.’’
Ms. Travaglini was one of 83 volunteers, including 38 high school students, who participated. The participants were separated into four ministry projects—vacation Bible school for children, Harlan Nursing Home to engage in activities and share stories, outreach ministry delivering clothes and children’s books, and manual labor to work on homes for people who cannot afford the improvements.
The mission trip was sponsored and organized by the Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries (CYFM) in Garrison.
Harlan County, located in eastern Kentucky, is one of the most poverty-stricken regions in the country, ranking 3,112 of 3,135 counties in the United States in a data analysis released by The New York Times in 2014.
Families in Harlan County had a median income of $26,758, and the coal-mining area was battling an unemployment rate of 13.2 percent.
Six eastern Kentucky counties ranked in the bottom 10 in the data analysis based on educational attainment, household income, jobless rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity rate.
“The heartbreaking part of it is to see this poverty. We go down there, and it’s not all we see,” said Tom Brinkmann, executive director of CYFM.
“We see resilience and faith. There is a beauty in the people we see. We realize, too, as much as we are building and repairing homes, we’re sharing God’s hope with them. We can be a sign of God’s love and care.”
Jaclyn, whose mother Hope Travaglini participated in the first mission to Harlan County, took part in the manual labor ministry. She helped replace a floor damaged by a leaking roof in the home of a grandmother, who was the parental guardian to her three grandchildren. The group also built stairs off the back of the house and a picnic table.
“It was amazing,’’ Jaclyn said. “I saw how much we made an impact on the families we helped and how grateful and appreciative they were. It was amazing and life-changing.”
Hope Travaglini hopes that Jaclyn will be the first of her seven children to participate in the mission.
“She couldn’t wait to go and I couldn’t wait for her to go,” Mrs. Travaglini said. “It was a wonderful experience for me, and seeing her come back with the pictures and telling me of her experience reminded me of my experience.’’
Jillian Coniglio, a parishioner at St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Lagrangeville, participated in the vacation Bible school ministry.
“Seeing the excitement on their faces was awesome,’’ said Ms. Coniglio, who is a student at SUNY Brockport. “They are so filled with joy and thankful for what they have. It puts everything into perspective.
“We had hot dogs for lunch one day and one girl wanted more. I gave her my tater tots. I didn’t know if these children had a meal before they came or if they would when they went home. I knew I was going to have dinner that night and come home to three meals a day. Small things like that really hit me.’’
Ms. Coniglio hopes she will return to Harlan County with the Capuchin mission.
“My dad said he wants to come with me next year, and it would be cool to share this amazing experience with someone I’m so close to,” she said. “He will see the love, joy and community that is in Harlan County.’’