“Lookin’ for a home in the heart of the country.”

– Paul McCartney, ‘Heart of the Country’

Spring break is only five days away. Last year at this time, I was thrilled over the idea of heading home, hanging out with my family, indulging in home-cooked meals, sleeping for outrageous spans of time, and watching every movie I could think of starring Jeff Goldblum.

This time last year, I was also envious of my freshman classmates who were zealously planning and packing to go on APEX. For those who don’t know, APEX is a common abbreviation for the Appalachian Experience, a program that allows St. Joe’s students to volunteer in the Appalachian region during spring break. My friends who were going on APEX had attended secret meetings late at night, where they filled out paperwork, discussed fundraising techniques, and learned about the culture of the people they’d be working alongside. They had crammed their duffel bags and backpacks full of old jeans, flannel shirts, and work boots. They had created APEX playlists on their iPods. They were giddy with excitement.

I was upset that I wasn’t heading off to Appalachia with them, afraid that I would be missing out on something. I vowed that I would sign up the following year, my sophomore year, and bring as much enthusiasm to my trip as they seemed to bring to their respective excursions.

Needless to say, I’m now a sophomore and I did indeed sign up for APEX. I went to the meetings. I filled out the paperwork. I fundraised.  I’m in the process of packing and making a playlist. In five days, I’ll be on my way to Hazard, Kentucky.

And I am scared out of my mind.

Actually, I’m whole mess of conflicting emotions, but the feeling at the forefront is fear. I’m nervous about the unknown. I’m worried that I won’t open up to my group. I don’t know too much about where we’ll be living or what we’ll really be doing day-to-day. I’m freaked out about potentially having to drive a 15-passenger van.

These apprehensions have been swirling around in my mind ever since the first meeting. Everyone always talks about how wonderful APEX is, which puts me at ease a bit; nevertheless, the gears in my head keep turning, churning out thoughts of every unpleasant scenario imaginable.


Despite all of this, I’m excited. I am in love with the idea of exploring new places and encountering new faces, not to mention lending a hand to a community and getting to know people from different walks of life. I feel as though I’ll get to know myself better, too, along with my classmates and other group members. I am eager to get away from the isolated bubble that is our college campus; often times, you can easily forget that there is a whole world outside of St. Joe’s protective borders.

More than anything, of course, I’ll miss being home with my family during spring break.

I have a feeling, though, that Hazard could become a second home, and my APEX group might become another family.

For now, I am stressed. I am restless. I am unsure of most everything at this point. But above all, I am keeping an open mind and an open heart. 


Posted in: Community Service & Social Justice, Events & Activities, Family & Friends, Student Life

7 responses to ““Lookin’ for a home in the heart of the country.”

  1. beck says:

    I am heading on my way to North Carolina with APEX for my very first trip. While I am also nervous, I share the same thoughts as you on being open-minded and possibly gaining “family”. Best of luck on your APEX trip!

    1. Danielle Zabielski says:

      Same to you, beck! It’s really comforting to know that there are other people sharing my same feelings.

  2. Mary Colleran says:

    Hey, Danielle! A friend just linked me to this article when she posted on Facebook. She’s a friend that I traveled to Freeburn, Kentucky with in 1993 as part of a spring break Appalachia trip at SJU. Those spring break trips are one of the things that led me to a career in social work which I love and also led to some of my closest friendships- friendships that are still going very strong 22 years later. I hope you have a fantastic time. I’m so grateful for everyone who has kept this program going for all these years. The Social Justice Loving Hawk Will Never Die!

    1. Danielle Zabielski says:

      Mary, it’s so wonderful to hear that APEX fostered long-lasting friendships and your passion for social justice. It’s stories like yours that make me think I made the right decision!

  3. Chrissie D. says:

    I did this as a senior 15 years ago. It’s a wonderful experience and you’ll have a blast (I promise), make new friends, and feel forever humbled and changed for the better. And 15 years from now, you’ll still remember it and all the terrific life lessons you learned. Thinking of all of you as you head to the region.

    1. Danielle Zabielski says:

      Thank you, Chrissie! That’s really nice to hear. I’m getting more excited as the days pass!

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