"There were 3 inches of snow on the ground when we got there," said Joy May, a 1997 AU graduate who served as one of the group leaders.
May took three Tri-S trips as a student, and this was her second as a leader, so she was no stranger to other cultures and the hardships that often accompany the trips. She wasn't, however, expecting some of the conditions at the mission.
"Of all the experiences I've had, this definitely ranks as one of the most unique," May said.
The fellowship hall where the group stayed was heated only by a small wood-burning stove. The group had to chop wood to stay warm. Temperatures at night would dip down to nearly zero.
The facility also had no running water. The only restroom was an outhouse about 50 yards from the fellowship hall.
"It's not that outhouses were such a shock to any of us, but it was so cold," May said.
The group patched drywall, painted, made plumbing repairs and did extensive electrical work while at the mission. The students' greatest impact, however, was made in other ways.
"I think we went with expectations of doing a lot of manual labor, but what we found was the experience dealt a lot more with relationships," May said.
For Stephanie Highley, a senior, the trip wasn't her first visit to the mission.
"My parents were part of a group that built the shelter 30 years ago," she said.
Highley had visited the mission on family trips as a child and took a Tri-S trip to the reservation her freshman year at AU.
"It was great to build those relationships again," she said.
The trip provided a lift for Highler and fellow senior Summer Harrison. The education majors knew they would start student teaching when they returned to class this semester. Their time at the reservation was spent working with children.
"We gave them lots of piggyback rides," said Harrison. "They really liked that. They really liked having you there."
Harrison and Highley said the experience signified to them that their decisions to become teachers were the right ones.
"The kids brought back a passion to my life that had been drifting away," Harrison said.
Andy Shores, a junior, was on his first Tri-S trip. He was amazed by how the most simple acts, painting and wiring, meant so much to the people they met.
"For me, the most rewarding thing was seeing the people from the reservation and how excited they were," Shores said.
All said the experience will stick with them throughout the rest of their lives.
"When you think about the abundance of resources we have here, then you go to a place where the resources are limited," said May, "those are situations where you are impacted and your perspective on life is changed."
----RON BROWNING is a staff reporter for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin.