ASB2009 in Tennessee

During Alternative Spring Break 2009, SMU students will be volunteering in Appalachia, Tennessee, with the Once Upon a Time Wilderness Adventures mission. They’ll spend the week doing a variety of service learning projects, including trail maintenance, gardening and work with a Cherokee community.

Highlights of our Tennessee adventure

100_1016-400.jpgAn update from Kat, senior advertising major and site leader:

See a slideshow of our time in Tennessee.


Already back?

So, I was sitting in my dorm on Sunday night and was wishing with all I had that I was back in TN. I’m missing those beautiful landscapes!

I had such a great time working with the community, the other colleges, and our group! (We worked with three other college groups: Cazenovia College in NY, Longwood University in VA, and University of Tampa in FL.)

I cannot begin to describe the impact this trip had on me! It was really wonderful to not only see the effort all the students put into our week, but the relationships that were building throughout the week were incredible.

I highly encourage any student to go on an Alternative Spring Break trip at least ONCE during their time here at SMU. Some people shy away from community service, but it truly is so much more than that! I am definitely one who was born with a servant’s heart and I love to serve others, but that isn’t what this trip is all about.

Yes, our foundation is serving those in need, but you are taking a week to develop relationships, which is so important!

I wanted to recap a few highlights from the week …


We spent the morning working at a Cherokee woman’s house in the community. Our group uninstalled the gutter system on her house and spackled and painted a room in her home. She’s a single mom with three kids who needed a helping hand, and we were glad to be there for her!

Then in the early afternoon we helped another Cherokee lady in the community. She had leased her home for the last 7-8 years, and the family that lived there completely trashed her property. There is a ravine behind her home that was completely covered in trash. SMU students, along with the three other colleges, spent the afternoon picking up trash from the ravine. We were amazed how much trash we picked up!

Afterward we hiked in the Joyce Kilmer National Forest then drove The Dragon’s Tail back to TN (The Dragon’s Tail is an 11-mile stretch that has over 300 sharp turns in the road – in the mountains!)


We went spelunking! We had such a great time, and we got REALLY messy! It was definitely a great adventure. We went spelunking in the Lost Sea with the students from Cazenovia College. It was a great way to get to know the students in our group and the students from Cazenovia!

Then we went to Cades Cove for the afternoon and explored the first settlement in the Smokies! It was beautiful!! And Tom treated us to dinner at Buddy’s BBQ (yum!).


We helped clean the camp site (Citigo) in the Cherokee National Forest! It was a bit chilly this morning, but it was absolutely beautiful!

And then the party starts … Friday night we went to Rocky Branch Community Center to rock out blue-grass style! It was GREAT music, and GREAT fun!! Even our own, Erika, got up on stage and sang for us! 🙂


The dreaded ride home … I definitely didn’t want to leave TN yet! But I am eager to get things ready for the end of the semester. It dawned on me Sunday evening that I’M ABOUT TO GRADUATE!!! But as long as I get into the Temerlin Graduate Program I’ll be attending another ASB for two more years! 🙂

What did I take away from my trip to TN?

• Friends
• Memories
• Giving to others
• TONS of photos!

Si-yo until next time!

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Gettin’ ‘er done, Tennessee Style

An update from Jose, first-year political science, economics and business, and Miguel, sophomore public policy and Spanish major:

Si-yo (shee-oh). That’s hello in Cherokee.

6 am Thursday, March 12 Alarm goes off. Get out of bed, shower for Miguel since Jose decided not to shower for 4 days in a row. We have a delicious and nutritious breakfast, and on our way to The Lost Sea Adventure; America’s Largest Underground Lake! Today, Thursday, is our only free day of alternative spring break.

Upon arrival we are presented with a choice….

(Miguel) Tame adventure? Or wild and life endangering? Jose and I were bummed since we couldn’t go white-water river rafting as we originally had planned. Naturally we chose the tour less traveled, because we walk on the wild side.

We began with the commercial. Sir Charles, our expert cave explorer, started us off with a fascinating boat ride around The Lost Sea!! A five-stories-deep 98% pure water underground lake. Among its other uses and names, it was a fallout shelter during the cold war, a base during the civil war, and the Cave Tavern, a bar with moonshine distilleries! After an amazing ride around the lake, filled with imported Rainbow Trout, we were eager to get down and dirty.

(Jose) And so the spelunking begins … prior to departing for our adventure, we had to don our clothing of choice, which was purchased at a thrift store; in preparation for the red clay, which we were warned covers the entire cave and would ruin our clothing.

So we spent the good part of the next two and a half hours on our knees, hands and stomachs, crawling through tiny, tight claustrophobic tunnels. We have multiple bruises to prove it. At one point we got quite a scare when we thought we had reached a dead end. I ended up having to pull Miguel out from the tunnel by his heels because he was stuck and could not pull himself out.

Another high point of our 200 foot underground expedition was experiencing absolute darkness. It is mind-boggling to fathom that if one were to experience absolute darkness for two weeks, one would become blind. Amy thought all the cave crawling was “just silly,” and several of our crewmembers managed to get stuck.

(Miguel) The cave holds half of the world’s Anthodite supply. Greek for cave flowers, they are beautiful crystals, which resemble sea urchins. While cave crawling the group (we went with Cazenovia) was presented with a challenge of almost Herculean proportions, known simply as The Game. Basically the goal was to scale an inclined 17-foot cave wall attempting to reach a small hole atop of it. Sounds easy right?

Unfortunately only half of the 2/3 of the wall was clay and thus scalable. However the other third was slippery, wet rock and thus unscalable. Before we began Sir Charles had bet us $100 we wouldn’t be able to complete the feat. Exhausted and disenchanted with our failed attempts, our expert guide explained the trick to the challenge.

While jumping toward the hole at the end of the clay portion of the incline, it was necessary to jump and raise yourself onto the unscalable wall while simultaneously twisting your body, landing on your back, and kicking your feet towards the nearby ceiling thus wedging your body between the wall and the ceiling. You would then have to crawl up the wall, shuffling your back and hands up toward the hole, with the use of your feet against the ceiling to help thrust yourself up; wrapping one of your arms around your head while on your back to reach into the hole, which supposedly contained a $100 bill.

Almost nobody came close to achieving this move until my boy Jose managed to get himself stuck between the wall and ceiling with zero mobility, finally allowing himself to tumble the 17 feet down the incline. We almost left the cave with a feeling of failure, until we went down the 25-foot water mudslide.

We could go on and on … but we have to go get ready for an East Tennessee hoedown!

By the way Tom treated us to Buddy’s Tennessee Barbeque!

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Hiking, spelunking and serving in Tennessee

An update from Erika, senior political science and public policy major:

Hello all! I apologize that those of us on the Tennessee trip have been less than faithful about our blogging. We’ve been hard at work, and it’s been difficult to find the time to provide these updates! Nonetheless, here we are, and I have to say … spring break in Tennessee has exceeded all of my expectations!

I went to Taos last year, so I had no doubt that this trip would be fun, educational, and rewarding. However, I’ve been blown away once again by the caliber of SMU students on this trip, the fun we’ve had, and the excitement of the overall experience here at Once Upon A Time.

I want to take this opportunity to say the following – if you’ve never been on an Alternative Spring Break trip with SMU, you’re missing out! Please consider going on a trip next year … you won’t regret it.

OK … back to Tennessee. I’m supposed to update you on what we’ve been doing, so here goes …

On Tuesday we headed out to a Cherokee community in North Carolina called Little Snowbird. The drive was a beautiful scenic route bordered by the Cherokee National Forest on one side and the Smoky Mountain National Park on the other. Our fearless leader, Kat, drove us through 11 miles of over 300 curves … a road known to locals as “The Dragon.” It was kind of amazing.

When we got to Little Snowbird, our group (along with the other universities here – Longwood University, University of Tampa and Cazenovia College) split into three groups and served at the Senior Citizens Center and the Child Development Center and picked up rocks at a local park. We later carried dozens and dozens of bags of trash off of a woman’s property; due to some previous tenants who had been completely irresponsible, there was garbage everywhere in her backyard. This included things as big as couches and swing sets! As a group, we cleared all of this out … the finished product was wonderful to see.

Later that afternoon we played a traditional Cherokee game that involved semi-Lacrosse sticks, boys vs. girls, a fish on a tall pole, a small ball and literally no rules. It was a bit violent, but lots of fun. We then played endless rounds of Taboo and spent the night at the Little Snowbird Baptist Church.

The next morning (Wednesday) our group went to a woman’s home and ripped off old gutters (much more difficult than it sounds), spackled and painted a room. In the afternoon, we went for a hike in the beautiful Joyce Kilmer National Forest and forded a stream that was crystal clear. It was beautiful.

I drove the team back through the Dragon to Ed and Arlene’s, where we currently remain. That takes us through last night, but does not include today, our glorious free day … which is where the spelunking comes in. But I’m going to leave that to Jose.

For now, know this … we’re having a wonderful time serving these people in Tennessee. We’ve learned a lot, worked hard, and had a great time doing it. I’ve got to go to a bonfire in the mountains to make s’mores now … how amazing is that?

Thanks for reading!

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Hard at work in Tennessee

Kat, a senior advertising major, sends this update from Tennessee:

We just finished day one of our trip. The drive yesterday was pretty rough. We met REALLY early yesterday morning to start our 14-hour drive to Tennessee from campus. It was nice because many people slept a great portion of the trip (about 2/3 of the day).

When we got to our hostel, Ed and Arleen had dinner for us. The other three schools were already here. Everyone was hanging out in the dinning area just chatting away, and then we came in for some home-cooked chicken casserole, beans and some really good homemade cherry cobbler! It was an early night so we all went back to our bunkhouses to relax and get settled in.

We got up this morning about 6:30am. I think I’m playing the role of house mom, and making sure everyone gets up! It’s funny how that one works because on my own I have a difficult time waking up, but as long as I know I need to wake someone else up I’m fine!

We spent our day working with Charlie at the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonroe, TN. Sequoyah is the Cherokee Indian who constructed the Cherokee syllabary (kind of like an alphabet, but it was symbols for the syllables).

We worked on putting together a patch area where they have shows in the summer and people can sit, and then we went down to the Chote council place about 11 miles from the museum. We cleared a ton of dead branches that were cut down the week before by Charlie and his employees. We had a lot of fun, but were definitely working hard.

We had a mock council, and learned about the way Cherokee had their government structured and what they do today. There are two main Cherokee groups (Cherokee Nation in OK and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian in NC) that will be coming down to Chote council place to have their early co-council meeting. The four colleges helped with preparation with clearing out the debris in the wooded area and clearing the roads.

We have learned so much on this trip already and it’s only the end of day one. We just got back from a moonlight hike and it was absolutely beautiful – especially with the full moon out!

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