Marymount Student, Alum Drawn to Appalachian Mission Center

Hansel D’souza and Abbie Wolf had not been to Kentucky until an alternative spring break trip with Marymount University’s Campus Ministry took them to a rural part of the state to help repair homes for families in need. The experience was so rewarding they’ve returned to the Father Beiting Appalachian Mission Center to volunteer as counselors for a weeklong girls camp or the past three summers.

“I’ve gotten so attached to the girls I can’t imagine not going back,” said Wolf, a rising senior from Gaithersburg, Maryland, who majors in psychology. “Just getting to see them is the highlight of my summer.”

Poverty abounds in the small town of Louisa and campers come from difficult backgrounds, said D’souza, a native of India who graduated in May with a degree in information technology and computer forensics. Many campers, who range in age from 8 to 17, come from broken families, have suffered abuse and some are in foster care.

“They have such rough home lives and have to grow up so quickly,” Wolf said. “Many of the girls are basically raising their siblings. But, for a week, we’re able to let them just be kids and have fun.”

The camp ran from Monday morning to Friday evening, June 10-16. Activities included Bible study, music, crafting, hiking, swimming in the lake, kayaking and playing on a slide. They also had campfires and cooked s’mores.

“They have so much darkness in their lives,” D’souza said. “They need to know there are people who will help them, who won’t judge them for the things they’ve been through and who will listen to them. We love giving them that attention and they thrive on it.”

An outreach ministry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington, the Center, in addition to providing home repairs and the girls’ camp, also holds a week-long boys’ camp and provides disaster relief.

“Without our volunteers we wouldn’t be able to do any of our programs,” said Cindy Capria, the Center’s volunteer coordinator. “When the girls come back and see the same counselors, it makes a big difference. They know people care enough about them to do that. Abbie has been that presence for three years and the girls open up to her and share their hardships.”

“Many have trouble sleeping and have nightmares,” Wolf said. “We try to teach them meditation techniques and let them know they are safe because a lot of times at home they don’t feel safe.”

“They love to be read to,” she said, “and always enjoy spa night.” That’s when D’souza shows he’s a good sport. He helps curl and straighten the girls’ hair and lets them paint his nails and put makeup on him.”

“It brings us so much joy to be kids with them,” he said, laughing.

“The girls need positive male role models in their lives and that’s why I intentionally get male counselors as well,” Capria said.

One camper asked the male counselors what they would look for in a son-in-law if they had daughters.

“You’re not going to ask a woman those kinds of questions; it’s important for them to have that opportunity,” she said.

“They treat me as a brother,” D’souza noted.

Both D’souza and Wolf plan to return to Kentucky next year.

Wolf is working this summer as a resident assistant at Marymount and part-time in the school’s purchasing department. D’souza is interning at Freedom Partners in Arlington.

“The Catholic faith is rooted in love,” the recent graduate said. “To go there and be a good example of the faith and share the life of Christ is a blessing. We come from blessed backgrounds and to be able to give back is incredibly rewarding.”

Photo caption
Marymount University senior Abbie Wolf, left, and 2018 graduate Hansel D’souza volunteer each summer at the Father Beiting Appalachian Mission Center’s girls camp in Louisa, Kentucky. They’re pictured with their friend and fellow counselor Joy Logan.