Madonna group lends a hand

WEIRTON – As the school year lets out, many students are thinking about summer vacation, spending time with friends and having fun. A group from Weirton Madonna High School, however, chose to start their summer a different way.

On Tuesday, the 19 students and eight chaperones returned to Weirton following a six-day trip into southern West Virginia as part of the Lend-A-Hand Appalachia program.

Lend-A-Hand Appalachia was been in existence for 18 years, providing high school students with an opportunity to give back beyond their community. During each year’s trip, participating students and chaperones make their way to various communities and assist families in need with home repairs and renovation projects they otherwise might not be able to afford.

“Our first trip was in ’97,” chaperone Erica Rogers explained. “It was started by a group of alumni from Madonna.”

This year, the group worked with families in the communities of Mullens and Pineville, sleeping on the floor of a local food bank and performing tasks including roof repairs, insulation work, ventilation work, deck repairs and laying a foundation.

First-year participant Makenzie Santoro recalled one family in particular where the woman’s mother has been staying in a nursing home, but because of black mold and other issues they were unable to bring her home.

“They were all living in the front of the house, in one room,” she explained.

The students worked to lay a new foundation for a trailer to be brought in, thus providing a healthier environment for the family.

“It made it worth it, knowing we were helping her,” Santoro said. “That was very touching.”

Third-year participant Travis Brown agreed, explaining while the trip provides them a chance to spend time with friends, it is the knowledge they are helping those who need it that makes the trip special.

“No matter what we do, it has a big impact on their lives,” Brown said. “That’s probably the most satisfying part of it.”

The group worked at four sites this year.

The group is aided by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which finds the families in need of assistance.

Rogers explained all the tools and supplies used by the group are purchased through donations from local businesses and residents.

(Howell can be contacted at, and followed via Twitter @CHowellWDT)