Ball family and WCU friends
The Ball family is joined by WCU faculty and students on the back porch of their severely flood-damaged home as the children display their new gifts. First row (left to right): Karen Dewell, Jeannie Huber-Ball, Everett Ball, Jr., Everett Ball, Sr. Elizabeth Ball, Crystal Holland, and Mary Kate Olson. Second row (left to right): Sandra Kay Weden, Elena Bennett, Kimberly Miller, Ashlyn Williams, Sarah Manring, Chelsea Froidcoeur, and Margie Askins.

CULLOWHEE –About 20 freshmen who study together through a learning community at Western Carolina University got a lot more than a grade for a recent classroom project that took them to flood-ravaged Macon County. They also gained a sense of appreciation for what the word “community” really means.

The freshmen, who live in Harrill Residence Hall, traveled Saturday, Oct. 9, to the home of Everett and Jeannie Ball in the Peace Valley community of Macon County to help the family begin to pick up the pieces of a household shattered by floodwaters spawned by the remnants of Hurricane Ivan in September.

The effort was the brainchild of Marjorie Askins, instructor of English at Western, who teaches in a learning community with Sandra Kay Weden, instructor of theatre arts. A learning community is an effort at Western to provide an immediate support group for new freshmen by clustering those with similar interests into the same residence hall. In addition, the students take some of the same classes – including freshman composition – that are linked together by common themes.

In their learning community, Askins, Weden and their students have focused on themes that include the importance of family and rising above problems. When Askins heard of the plight of the Ball family, who lost nearly everything they owned in the horrific flooding of Sept. 16, she decided to take a group of students to help clean up – and to see first-hand a real family trying to overcome real adversity.

The students spent a Saturday sorting through debris to salvage whatever personal items could be saved. “ As a team, we cleaned out their entire front room, picking up items from the wreckage like toys, old pictures and more,” Askins said. “We shoveled their floors and removed the mud, and then power-washed many items for them, including all of their appliances and tools. After hours of work, we had a cleaner house, two Dumpsters full of ruined materials, and freckles on our faces from the dirt.”

Before leaving at the end of the day, the students signed a piece of paper for the Ball family. The paper, including thoughts and wishes for recovery and muddy student thumbprints next to the signatures, will be the first thing the family hangs on the new walls of the home once work is complete.

After returning to campus, the professors asked their students to write papers about the experience, and Askins and Weden say they found themselves honestly moved by what their students had to say.

“I have discovered that we are now more than classmates; we are a gracious community reaching out to others,” said Lauren Gillespie of Gastonia. “I have built strong relationships with my classmates, which have now turned into friends.”

“This trip taught me a lot – mainly to appreciate what you have and that all mankind isn't going to hell in a hand basket,” said Stantin Miller of Denver. “There are people who care and there is hope for a brighter tomorrow. We really made a difference. That means a lot to me, and I'm sure it meant a lot to the family.”

And the Western students weren't finished helping yet. They took the initiative on their own over their fall break to collect items such as clothes, toys and household supplies from their hometowns, and delivered the items to the Ball family on Friday, Nov. 5.

“I have never been more proud of a group of students,” said Askins. “We did more than clean up their home that day. I think we gave them hope.”

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Last modified: Thursday, November 11, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Western Carolina University