Today was the last day of our work here in Virginia with the Appalachia Service Project. Reflecting on our time spent here, it's hard to believe that it was only a week.
Months ago, the 12 of us received our emails alerting us that we were selected for Alternative Spring Break and that we would be rebuilding homes in Jonesville, Virginia. Immediately, I Googled "Jonesville, Virginia" and up popped the shortest Wikipedia page I have ever seen. It seemed as if the most interesting thing on the page was information on the state penitentiary…which wasn't even in the town. I can honestly say that at that point, the excitement that I had built up began to slightly diminish (it diminished even more when I found out that the 12 of us had to shove into one van).
A few weeks later, we began to meet on a weekly basis to plan our trip to Virginia. For most of the group, it was the first time that we had met each other. Many of us were timid and didn't say much in order to get a feel for the rest of the group.
As the trip came closer, we learned more about the area that we were planning on traveling to. We were read facts about Jonesville and the Appalachia area. We heard about the poverty and the poor standards of living, but none of this prepared us for what we were really getting to experience.
Our very first day of work, we showed up to a home in what I thought was the middle of nowhere. The homeowners were not there at the moment, so none of our immediate reactions were muffled. The floor needed tiles, an exterior wall needed insulation and drywall, and there were mentions of a "crawlspace"… which I wanted absolutely nothing to do with.
After the initial shock of what lay ahead of us, we all got down to business. Soon enough, the homeowner came home and that was when things got really interesting. Between the vulgar yells and dirty jokes that left the homeowner's mouth, none of us could stop laughing—whether it was because we felt awkward or because we couldn't believe our ears, we were still laughing.
As the week went on, we became closer to the family that lived in the home. We got to know their girls and heard their stories. During this time, we also learned a lot about the other participants and even ourselves.
Within the first hours of being on site, Omar immediately began second guessing the medical degree that he was pursuing and wanted to learn everything he could about building, carpentry, and most importantly, power tools. I learned that I am not that bad at tiling…which was quite the surprise. (Sorry, Dad. I still don't want to tile the basement bathroom for you…). Keenen definitely surprised us the most, as he knew how to do just about, uh, everything. Though these days were incredibly long, tiring, and often times very smelly, we had a blast.
Everyday we spent the car ride to the site dancing to incredibly loud music, but managed to get it together just in time. In the afternoons, we got hot, tired, smelly, sweaty, crabby, and fought like siblings, but after the van was packed at the end of the day, we were all back to the same happy go-lucky feeling that we started the day out with.
Throughout the week, we played in sewage, met local celebrities, karaoke-ed, made contact with electric fences and mules (at the same time). It only makes sense that after all of that, we became a small family. A small family that may be slightly dysfunctional, but still have an unconditional love for one another.
- Erin Gaertner