Sometimes I crave my work boots. I long to throw on my battered, worn, steel-toe exposed brown work boots and hop in a truck and drive on over to the hardware store. I want to feel that feeling; that invincible feeling that my work boots give me. I want to put them on and just be the tough-as-nails, hard-working staffer that they make me feel like. I want to put them on and miss those country roads just a little bit less. But then I remember that I can put on my work boots any time I want. I can wear them around my house in Florida and to the grocery store and on a bike ride. I can wear them in bed as I just lay there thinking of that little Southwestern corner of Virginia.

Maybe its not my work boots that I’m missing.

I’m currently on the ride home back from a weekend in Appalachia and I am longing to turn around and head back to that place I love. And guess what? I’m not wearing my work boots. I’m wearing some Nike sneakers and I’m still missing Appalachia with every inch of my heart. It’s just not the work boots. It’s not the 2×6’s and it’s not the vinyl siding. It’s not even the construction, even though I miss that too. It’s the roads and it’s the gas stations. It’s the Wal-Mart and it’s the people in the chairs on Main Street that wave every single time you drive by. It’s the ladies at the post office and it’s the cashier who knows you want a chicken sandwich with no tomato. It’s the people.

Sometimes I think about the construction and I am overwhelmed by the work ASP does. I think about all the tin roofs installed and all the subfloors removed, re-supported, and reinstalled. I think about the insulation hung in floors, walls, and ceilings, and allllll the pieces of drywall hung and mudded, mudded, and mudded some more. I think about the porches and the ramps and the plumbing and electrical and the room additions. I think about all of this stuff and I’m awestruck. But then, I think about the hugs and the high fives. I think about the smiles shared, the tears shed, and the jokes exchanged. I think about the times we take our work boots off and enter a friend’s home and share a meal and share a story. I think about the times we slip on a pair of chacos and run to the grocery store and laugh with the cashier about how we have no hamburgers at the picnic. I think of the times we walk into a pair of flip flops and have an out of nowhere heart to heart with a volunteer on the way to the shower. I think about the times we lace up our sneakers and get crushed in basketball at the picnic by a ten year old. When I think about these moments of connection, of relationship, I have no room for the love and awe that I feel. These moments are moments of love, and these moments multiply. There’s a reason when I got back to Lee County this weekend, I was like a kid on Christmas walking into the Wal-Mart. It’s not the work boots.

I worked for a man for a few months last year in Appalachia, and he never failed to comment on the steel toe that sticks out of my right work boot. I remember one day he said again, “Must be workin hard to rip the leather off that boot!” I laughed it off and replied something like, “Oh you know me… But what do you want me to do, work in flip flops!?” He didn’t laugh this one off like I thought he would. Instead, he looked at me kind of taken aback by my lighthearted comment. He said, “Sure! Come in flip flops or come bare foot, just come.” I don’t know what had blinded me before this conversation, but I realized in this moment the beauty of ASP. It’s about the construction and about the home repair, but it’s about the people. Sometimes I talk through an evening gathering and a meeting reminding volunteers that ASP is a relationship ministry with construction on the side, and I don’t realize the severity of what I’m saying. A relationship ministry with construction on the side. The beauty and the hope and the love and the good comes from the relationships. The relationship with the Wal-Mart cashier and the relationship with the woman who knows what you want on your chicken sandwich. It comes from the unspoken relationship with the men who wave to you every time you drive down Main Street and with the ladies in the post office who do a lot more than mail your packages. It comes from the relationship with the community, the love of the familiar roads, and the friends tucked around every corner.

If you miss your work boots like me, throw them on. Let yourself miss the crazy construction and the long days, and feel like that badass, invincible staffer. And miss your friends and your families and your mountain homes. Miss them with everything you have. But then remember that you can take off your work boots and put on a pair of flip-flops and keep missing them. And keep loving them. And tell yourself that it’s not about the work boots at all.

Katy Goodson is a former ASP Summer Staffer and Fellow from Hopewell, New Jersey. She graduated in 2016 from the University of Delaware with an English degree. She is currently serving with City Year, an educational nonprofit in Jacksonville, Florida. Her ASP journey began when she volunteered in 2008, eventually totaling 7 summer trips as a youth. She was on staff the summers from 2015-2017, in Martin County, KY; Lee County, VA; and Scott County, TN. She also served as a Year-Round Fellow from 2016-2017 in Lee County, VA.