When I think of mornings back home in Warren, OH, I think of slanting rays of sunshine streaming through windows. The tweeting of the robins in the backyard where I used to play with sticks. I think of the scent of strong coffee and the crinkle of newspapers. A crispy brown sugar cinnamon pop tart. These times are simple and magical. Mornings are a peaceful time at my parents’ home, but this home isn’t my only home. After three summers of being on staff with Appalachia Service Project, Appalachia feels an awful lot like home to me.

I learned to love the quietness of mornings during ASP summer staff training in Jonesville, VA. ASP’s permanent center in Jonesville is lovingly known as “The Porch.” Typically, this place experiences nonstop action during Summer Staff Training. Fast-paced construction sessions, high intensity square dancing, and in-depth explorations of faith all happen here during the last two weeks of May. For the majority of the day, 130 college-aged folks run around frantically in the Virginia heat preparing for a summer of hard but fulfilling work that they often feel utterly unqualified to do. The days are exhausting mentally and physically, but often times the emotional exhaustion is the most trying. For me, mornings on the Porch are the best times for grounding yourself. For remembering why you’re there. Just as it is back home, mornings at the Porch are peaceful, gentle, and solemn. The sights and sounds are a little different, but the stillness of the morning is the same. A typical staff training day officially starts at 7:30 am, but a few people rise early to linger in the mountain air, sip on coffee from their favorite mugs, and sneak in some Bible time. The same strong coffee smell that wafts through my parents’ kitchen pervades the air in Chester Hall, but this time accompanied by the sporadic spurts of the Jonesville coffee maker. The gentle scrapes of rocking chairs on the Porch are accompanied by the swing of the door into Chester. Steam rises off the dewey grass of the Jonesville hill as the sun ascends into the sky, and Kay the Jonesville cook puts out breakfast.

Some of my favorite porch conversations happen in these quiet mornings. Confessions of anxiety about the summer. The truest expressions of excitement. The creation of trust between new staffers and those with a summer or two under their belt. Mornings make vulnerability easier. The hectic pace of the day hasn’t set in yet. The anxiousness of the day doesn’t have a hold on you as the sun peaks over the hills. Rocking with a friend or sitting solo, reflection happens naturally. Sometimes the conversations are deep confessions of recent tragedies affecting how things are going now. Other times, they are silly stresses that a gentle exhortation can push away. No matter the depth of the conversation, they’re meaningful and memorable…

But slowly, people trickle in with varying degrees of awakeness, each gravitating undoubtedly towards the coffee maker. Steadily, a line forms. People groggily complain about the snorer in their room, the clogged toilet, or the lack of coffee (patience is key!). The schedule of the day’s events are checked, and the reality of a new day of training settles in. Porches, mobile homes, customer service, ASPire, the works. It all awaits after the sun finishes its journey over the treeline. For me, the fuel of coffee, silent solitude, and meaningful conversation each morning was enough to get me through three summer staff trainings. The magic of porch mornings aren’t for every summer staffer, but for me, they acted a compass. Centered and caffeinated, I could accomplish the ask of the day. Now, as a member of the Johnson City staff, my summer staffer days are behind me. However, throughout this summer I will be traveling with fellow former summer staffer Clara Leonard. We’ll engage with families, volunteers, and staff to create compelling stories for ASP to use in the future. This role is different than any I’ve had before, but with a little coffee and morning conversation, I think we’ll manage. When I volunteered with my home church throughout high school, I never understood the daily ritual of our adults who rose early to drink coffee and chat, but this summer, I think I’ll be joining similar coffee circles throughout ASPLand. Times change, as do homes, but the gentleness of a morning well spent can make anywhere feel like home.

What about you? Are there any daily rituals you have on ASP? How does ASPLand feel like home to you? Let us know in the comments!

Matt Headland is ASP’s newest member of the Volunteer Department. Throughout the year he focuses on new volunteer recruitment, retention, and media. This summer, however, you will find him driving throughout Central Appalachia with our Media Content Team. Follow along with his travels with his weekly blog, “Feels Like Home,” and on social media at @AppServProject.