For the past four summers I have volunteered with my youth group for the organization Appalachia Service Project. I have traveled to West Virginia to the counties of Bud, Craigsville and Nicholas and to Jonesville, Virginia. Appalachia Service Project is similar to Habitat for Humanity and their goal is to create warmer, safer, and drier homes for the families being served. Appalachia Service Project was founded in 1969 by Rev. Glenn “Tex” Evans and since its founding they have repaired 17,866 homes and have had 393,643 volunteers from all over the nation come to their facilities to help. Each of the four summers I have left feeling grateful and blessed for what I have and with many stories to tell when I return home.
I worked on a house that was also the location of a small pet store. The homeowner had a shed from Home Depot or Lowes with exotic animals inside, she had from lizards to trantulas and a baby aligator in a cage inside the house with a parrot who would mimick the people working outside the window. I will never forget when we got home from the trip and my dad told me about how the homeowner had told him about a snake that had gotten lose and had asked if he had seen it. When he asked her what kind of snake it was she responded with a constrictor. Yes, a constrictor was on the loose! Experiencing exotic animals and a copy-cat parrot is just the beginning of my adventures volunteering with ASP.
Now my second summer was the summer of the crazy flooding in West Virginia. I was volunteering during the flooding. So I went from exotic animals to being like Noah from the Bible with the Great Flood. At that time, we could literally have made a boat and been fine. Sadly, because of the flooding we couldn’t work some days so we went to the nearest town and walked around Walmart and went to Applebees and Lowes. We were in the large white vans and had to drive through a huge puddle of water. On the way to the town it was raining but wasn’t too bad, but on the return back to the center it was a different story. The front yards of homes we passed on the way to the stores were now lakes and pools, gas stations ended up having water all the way to the tops of the columns. I’m not going to lie, I was scared.
Now, I think my second year volunteering was my favorite because of our jobs. The first day we were waiting for the construction person to come and go over the project but took forever so the homeowners told us they had wanted to clear out and tear down the dilapidated shed in the yard. So, we started on that, we ended up discovering an old car battery or engine and had to hook it up to the ATV and use someone’s truck to pull it out and then roll it into the bed of the pickup truck. I think my second year was by far the craziest, between the flood and the fact my group did just about everything we weren’t supposed to do. We did the project we weren’t intended to do, we didn’t wear hardhats when doing demolition and we sent youth with the homeowners to the landfill. The week in West Virginia was a crazy one, but one filled with tons of memories and interesting stories.
My third summer working with ASP was probably one of the easier ones. My group was working on taking shingles off of a ladie’s roof, but it wasn’t that simple, because life is never as simple as you originally expect. No, this house had layers upon layers upon layers of shingles covered in bat poop. Bat poop mind you is toxic, and the shingles were covered and I mean covered in it. Thankfully, another group from my church was just across the street so we worked together on both projects. I mainly worked with the other group and helped rebuild a wheelchair ramp because the previous group did it incorrectly and also digging a rain water trench so water wouldn’t go underneath the house. The homeowners couldn’t have been kinder, Brenda the wife, was always outside with us talking and making conversation. Brenda was always making sure we were staying hydrated, and reducing our chances of sunburn by bringing the guys baseball caps and the girls bandanas. By the end of the week we all had something special that Brenda had given to us. I came home with a tshirt, a hankierchief and a bandanna. I friended Brenda on Facebook and love seeing a notification from her commenting on my posts.
My most recent summer was this past one, and I went to Jonesville, VA. The living situations were the Ritz-Carlton of ASP and I couldn’t have been happier. The other summers I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor with a tarp divding the middle of the room for genders. This past summer was the first one where my home had children and I was very excited when I found that out. This past summer I think has by far been the most rewarding and meaningful to me. The homeowners were so sweet and gracious and I loved getting to play with their 4 year old Alex. Alex was in awe of the power tools being used and desperatley wanted to try them for himself. We had to watch him like a hawk because at any moment he could sneak past us and grab a tool. His parents brought him out his toy drill, but that wasn’t enough, Alex wanted the real thing. My dad was underneath the handicap ramp we were completing and Alex was leaning over the edge with his plastic drill, he was drilling my dad’s belly button. He kept leaning over and saying “are you okay?” because my dad was under the ramp drilling something and wasn’t moving and Alex thought he was dead. Alex was the sweetest and craziest little thing ever. His brother Shawn was so sweet. He is very shy and his mother told some of us the last day that he had never opened up to anyone as much as he has opened up to my youth group that week. Hearing that, made me feel really good. We got him a ASP shirt and gave it to him and he told his mom “Look. Now I’m a real worker.” Shawn being the shy and private person he is, came out one day with gloves on and started helping us.
My trip to Jonesville, Virginia I think has by far been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had since I started volunteering with ASP. Michelle messages me on Facebook every so often and asks how I am. When the handicap ramp was completed she sent me pictures of the finished product. She always says how much they miss us and to tell my dad hello. Recently, she messaged me and extended the invitation for a visit if we are ever in the area again.
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