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Bucket shower under the stars illuminated Sarah Cornwell's ASB experience

cornwellSarah Cornwell (right) and Sarah Neitz, a Jesuit Volunteer for University Ministry, work on Krystal’s home in rural Appalachia.

by Liz Cezat, contributing writer

Sarah Cornwell is in her third year of a five-year Physician Assistant program. She grew up in a family of six that does community service regularly.

Cornwell went to Nazareth Farm in West Virginia this past spring for Alternative Spring Break and joined with students from other Catholic universities to repair homes in rural Appalachia. In groups of six, with four Sarahs—each taking a nickname to tell them apart—her team repaired the homes of three families.

One of the homeowners had a disabled daughter, who was 33 years old but looked like she was 11. She was kept in a crate-like container on her bed. At first, Cornwell thought the crate was unjust, but as she observed the father’s gentle nature around his daughter and how he showed his love and wanted to protect her, Cornwell realized he was doing the best he could do.

“I learned about social justice on this trip,” said Cornwell, who works in UDM’s University Ministry office and has taken several other mission trips and ASB trips.

She related well to another homeowner, Krystal, who is in her early 20s. Her home had holes in the walls that were filled with garbage bags to keep out the elements. Cornwell and her team took down the dining room walls and put up new drywall.

“It impressed me how happy Krystal was. She had an enormous amount of joy and contentment despite her circumstances. It made me look at all of my blessings,” Cornwell said.

Nazareth Farm practices environmental sustainability. The volunteers are limited to three showers a week: one inside and two outside in a “closet” over the river. The outdoor shower, which Cornwell took at night under the stars in 20-degree weather, consisted of filling up a five-gallon bucket with hot water, then using a coffee can with holes on the bottom—held overhead—to sprinkle down water for bathing. Surprisingly, Cornwell said she didn’t use up her entire five gallons. The typical five-minute shower uses 12 gallons of water. “I didn’t feel cold. It was so beautiful looking up at the stars.”

The Farm abides by the principles that its staff and volunteers “seek to understand more fully the culture and the issues facing the people of the Appalachian region so they are better equipped to offer assistance, to face needs in a meaningful way, and to break down stereotypes by learning firsthand and then becoming teachers for others.”

Cornwell has taken those principles to heart. “I have a deep desire to do this,” she said. “Practicing medicine (her chosen profession) goes hand-in-hand with community service and social justice.”