Friday was a powerful day. I know this sentiment was shared by all of the volunteers at the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) center in Jonesville, Virginia. The other college group and ours were each paired with a homeowner for the week. Throughout this week, the volunteers, homeowners and staff formed a special bond, which became much deeper than I initially expected. I think that people become closer and more inclined to show their true selves when they are working side by side for a greater cause. We learned more about each other's strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, struggles, guilty pleasures, fears, pasts, future plans and beliefs than I ever could have imagined. Basically we formed one large, diverse and happy family (where I am one of the moms).
Today was special though, because we had to wrap up our projects and say goodbye to the homeowners we worked with. This was bittersweet. We were overjoyed to see how our hands transformed a broken and bare space into a clean, fixed and warm room. We were relieved to 'hang up our hammers' and rest our tired bodies. With that, however, came the goodbyes. How do you say goodbye to a family you have quickly grown so close to? Even though we had fixed their kitchen, we wanted to do so much more. Keenan was getting Ty Pennington fever and wanted to go the extra-extra mile to please and surprise the homeowners. Jake was putting on his philanthropic hat and thinking of ways to increase the focus on and support for the Appalachian region. Many of the girls were brainstorming about the perfect gifts to give the family that would bring them joy and remind them of our week together. If we didn't have classes, jobs or families back in Missouri, I am sure that our group would have wanted to say for another month to finish the rest of their house.
And how were we supposed to depart from a family that taught us so much? Despite the obstacles that they have faced, this family held a very close bond. They truly loved each other and put family and faith first in their lives. Who was going to make us laugh like they made us? Would we stay in contact? How would the children be doing in five years?
All of these thoughts rushed through my head while he hugged and wished each other luck in the future. Our ASB trip to ASP was a complete success. We came, we served, we grew.
But….our Friday was not over, as it was only 9:45am. We knew that we would be wrapping up our project at our family's house early, so we planned to join another group and work with them until the end of the day. Thursday night, the ASP center became a little fuller as a church group or 50+ arrived for the weekend. We joined a small group of six volunteers who were tearing down and replacing one wall of the house. Our Mizzou ASB group of twelve split up so that we could work on roofing, laminate flooring in the kitchen, and finishing the porch. It was much easier to get started on our tasks because we were guided by the volunteers there, who were very experienced in carpentry and DIY projects. After moving many pounds of old shingles off of the porch area, Keenan and I began working on it. Half of the porch was already built, so we needed to complete the last half and build stairs to access it. As all of our projects have been all week, working on the porch was a wonderful exercise in communication and team work. I followed Keenan's lead and with the help of Jake, Logan and our ex-contractor savior, John, we were able to finish the project by quittin time. One highlight of the day was when Keenan and I were digging out the Earth underneath the stairs. As we were digging, we found big chunks of coal. "There's coal in them there hills!"-Jake. While our stash of coal would probably only weigh out to be a few dollars, we were over the moon to have authentic souvenirs to bring back home. Through the help of the homeowner, we even obtained a 4 x 4 chunk of coal! We also dug up a horseshoe which we mistakenly thought would give us good luck. After a broken shovel, broken drill bit, smashed fingers in a car door, an electric fence electrocution (everyone is ok, rest assured), and loosing Mega Million lottery tickets, we realized that we should have left that horseshoe right where we found it. You live and you learn.
Even though we were only at the new site for part of one day, we became attached to the homeowner. He was the most charismatic, energetic, and nice man I have met in a long time. He quickly passed out nicknames, which included Boss Lady, Lil Bit, Chief and Red Legs. Anything we needed, he would hunt down. Anytime we had a spare second of down time, he would feed us a joke. This man reinforced the strong sense of community that has been present on our trip. The bonding that occurred between the Mizzou ASB-ers, between volunteers and homeowners and between the residents of Jonesville, Virginia was inspiring. As in many small towns, people wave when your drive past here. The locals that we met talk to you like old friends when you are in the store or restaurant. They truly opened their arms and accepted us without any questions. I was reminded that it is important for me to become involved in my community, no matter how large the city I live in is. How difficult is it for me to ask how the cashier's day is going when I am at the store? Am I giving the time and effort that I can to support my fellow community members? Who will I turn to in the future if I fall on hard times? Am I cultivating community in my daily actions, I asked myself. People in Jonesville, Virginia surely are.
We ended the day with a reflection of the week, where everyone shared their 'biggest' moments. Then both of the college groups traversed to a local bowling alley to bowl a few games. Not only did we learn how to take score the old school way (counting pins and tallying up the scores on paper), but we also learned who the closet pro-bowlers are. After a quick jaunt to Mickey D's we returned to ASP, where we crawled in our beds. Tomorrow is our departure day…another bitter sweet one. But, as always, we will make it amazing. See you back in Missouri tomorrow!
Jane and the rest of the Mizzou ASB-Jonesville, VA crew