View of hammocks from the porch 2012

Finding Peace and Love

By Michelle Perusek

With a humbled heart, I can confidently share that UDSAP was the most influential and life-changing experience of my twenty-six years on this earth. UDSAP changed me in a way that, to be honest, I’m still trying to fully process six years later! I know for certain that it helped me grow immensely in empathy, compassion, and helped broaden my mindset in a way that nineteen years of formal education could not even come close to accomplishing. The people there are so raw, so organic, so genuine, and so fearless. They remind you that we are the all the same, that we all have goals and ambitions, likes and dislikes, intricacies and talents.

I remember sitting in the Love Room our first week there, staring around at all of the quotes from different generations of UDSAPers, as BT led our group in a reflection about the culture shock we were experiencing. Little did I know then, but that culture shock would take a huge turn nine weeks later, as I returned to mainstream America, walking back onto UD’s campus, and feeling an overwhelming sense of emptiness. As all UDSAPers know, there’s something so indescribably special and unique about that summer in Appalachia, one that can never fully be matched by other experiences. The peace and tranquility I felt there, the sense of home and belonging, and the feeling of reciprocal love can truly overpower you. I’ve tried to find that same peace in my life now, and I struggle at times. But as a fifth year teacher, I now know how to love my students in a powerful way, regardless of their backgrounds, lifestyles, or struggles. I learned how to do this from interacting with the Fletcher family, especially Alex and Isaiah, spending many nights with David Weickert , getting to know who they really were as people. I learned how to do this from being a part of Rebecca’s wedding shower and wedding ceremony at the age of eighteen, with us UDSAP ‘09 ladies being the only guests at the shower when their own family did not show up. I learned how to do this from spending countless days talking to Papaw out on the rickety lawn chairs, under his tree, and playing hide and seek with the Cammie and Kevin. Finally, I learned how to do this by trying to get angsty teens like Anthony to actually care and participate in Teen Center, by writing poetry and learning from 84 year old Winna Lee, and from getting to know the fun and multidimensional personalities of my community.

These memories, along with many many others, will linger in my heart for the rest of my life. They’ve left and imprint on my heart and they will never dissolve.

Michelle Perusek '09