Red Bird Mission Trip – Interview with Bianca Zanella

By Binh Bui’14

Let’s face the truth: GMC is still covered by a snow blanket, and we cannot do anything about it. Yet, regardless of its power, snow could not keep us from enjoying our spring break. It was spring break at GMC last week, and as far as I have noticed, everyone had a blast. One of my friends Bianca Zanella’ 15 spent her spring break, joined by other GMC students and Poultney residents, helping people in need in Kentucky. Here, she shares her experience about the Red Bird Mission Trip.

Can you introduce yourself?

I am Bianca Zanella, a Secondary Education and English major. I’m a junior, and I’m from Hollis, New Hampshire, a tiny town similar to Poultney. 

Photo Source: Erondu Jude 

 Why did you decide to spend your spring break going to Kentucky? 

I have had friends who attended Red Bird Mission in the past. After hearing about their positive experiences with the trip, I’ve wanted to go for the last two years. This year, I was available during spring break, and decided it was time. I also had never visited Kentucky, so I believed this trip would be a good opportunity to get to know people who live there and to see the differences in life-style between the Appalachia and North-East regions.

How did you travel from Vermont to Kentucky?

We drove from here to there. We left GMC at 8AM on Saturday March 8th, spent our Saturday night in Ohio, and then continued driving to Kentucky on Sunday morning. We reached the Red Bird work camp by early Sunday afternoon.

That’s a long ride. How many people did you travel with?

We had twelve people total; six students and six Poultney community members. Four students came from GMC, and two others, the “youngsters,” from NY and MA. They were really fun. It made the trip more worthwhile as I got to know GMC students better. I knew them on campus, but the trip showed me different sides to them. Meanwhile, the two other students from different colleges and our community members brought me many new perspectives that opened up my mind. 

I noticed that the trip was organized by the United Methodist Church. Do you have to be a Methodist to join the trip?

You’re right; the trip was organized by the church. The six Poultney community members in our trip are involved in the church. But you don’t have to be a Methodist to be on the trip. Like me, I am not a Methodist.  

What did you do there?  

As I said, we arrived at the work camp by Sunday afternoon. We had our orientation on the first day with the other volunteer groups. Except for Wednesday, which was our day off, we worked on two different projects for the week. We were divided into two teams, a team of five and seven. I was with the team of seven people. My team worked on building and repairing a kitchen for an elderly woman, Laura C. She’s living in a trailer with some of her family – she has 28 grandchildren! While we were working there, the children ran around and taught us a traditional Appalachian song, called “The Shark Song,” which was super fun. The song has these little hand motions, and every time they sang the part of “grandmother shark and grandfather shark,” they put their fists together like a mouth without teeth. It was so cute!

Back to Laura and her unique story. She had lost three family members in the last four years, and her house had burned down. That’s why she is living in a trailer. But, most of her kitchen floor had rotted through, so we had to re-frame, re-support, and replace it with a new floor. We also constructed a counter top with a bigger sink over fresh cabinets. Her old sink was too small to function well. Now, she can cook and clean in her kitchen.

Photo Source: Bianca Zanella

Our other team worked to build a handicap access ramp and a deck for a man who had recently been confined to a wheelchair after a bad car accident. If you have driven in western Kentucky, then you know how scary the roads can be – no guard rails with steep drop-offs. Roads are built right around the mountain slope, and many car accidents must occur because every so often, we’d see a small memorial on the side of the road. This man had hit a pole, or a tree, but because his air bag never deployed he went right on through the windshield, resulting in a broken arm, broken ribs, and two immobile legs. Every time he wanted to go outside his house, he needed help from his wife, who was also suffering from more minor injuries, as luckily her air bag did deploy. Before the team finished the ramp, he had been trapped in his own house and had not seen the sun for over two weeks. You can imagine how warm everyone felt on Friday when he finally wheeled out onto the deck and up and down the ramp to breath fresh air.  

It was so great that all of you were there and helped those people. I wonder how Laura cooked during the time her kitchen was repaired?

She couldn’t cook during the week because we had to shut off the water in that part of the house while we worked. Fortunately, the program “Meals on Wheels” delivered food daily.   

What was your favorite moment during the trip?

There were so many. Just being exposed to an area where people are so focused on religion opened up my mind. Along with our volunteer group at the Red Bird work camp, there was a group of Missouri high school students who attended Christian Heights High School. Listening to their life experiences and stories as well as seeing their talents were amazing. I met many people that I wouldn’t have met if I didn’t go on this trip.

Another favorite moment of mine was hearing Laura’s story about one of her most price possessions: a model wooden house. Her son made it for her when he was in prison. The model, made from wooden Popsicle sticks, newspaper, and glue, is so detailed that it even includes a bell tower where Laura can ring the small hanging bell. The son knew that his mother collects bells. Laura has a whole wall of bells. She cherishes them. Her story makes me more grateful for the live that I have.  

On the last day we were at Laura’s house, we took pictures with her and her grandchildren. As we said goodbye and were about to drive away, the children (without any such prompt from an adult), waved to us and said, “Bless ya’ll! May Jesus Christ bless your lives. Have a good life!” It was a remarkable moment for me to witness such strong faith. They have practically nothing, but they still think of others and thank them with the Holy Spirit backing up every word they say.

Photo Source: Bianca Zanella

Did you face any challenges during the trip?

I suppose you could call clumsiness a challenge. I fell into the hole on the floor of the kitchen that we were working on. I had to go to the Red Bird Health Clinic to get a Tetanus shot and antibiotics, but I was able to see how the health clinic works there and meet the friendly nurses. I was surprised at how many supplies they seem to hold, and how accessible Red Bird is to this region.

Is there anything else that you want to share with us?

I just want to say that the trip is a wonderful learning experience. Anyone who has an opportunity to go should take it. The trip is organized every year during the spring break at GMC. If you have never seen Kentucky, it will open your mind up to see how people are living just in the backyard of the United States. Also, coming from GMC and studying a lot about the environment, you will have chances to witness the effect of coal mining industry on people’s lives. Never turn down new experiences.

What amazing stories and experiences. Thank Bianca for sharing with us. Wish you the best with the rest of this semester.



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