Every house needs two safe exits. Usually there is one in the back and one in the front. They need to be easy to get in and out of, without any hazards barring the way safety. This is so in the event of an emergency, like a fire or a flood, you have two safe ways out. You’re not trapped in. Here at ASP, constructing a 5 foot by 5 foot porch is common practice. Many of the houses we come across only have one safe exit, so adding another porch or building a new one to replace one weathered and time worn quickly improves the level of safety of a house. As a summer staffer, I managed the construction of many 5 by 5 porches. I’ve still got the work order saved and ready, even thought that’s not part of my job anymore. As a volunteer, I built a few as well.

There’s one of two ways porch construction can go. The ground can be that perfect mix of clay and soil that makes digging post holes super easy, or it can be a field of boulders under there. Your team can get into a groove measuring and cutting and framing, or every little chop could be a half an inch off. While I was on staff, my friend Lucas from another county called me complaining about how quickly my dad had built a 5 by 5 porch, changing their long range plan for the house. Meanwhile, I was managing the third group of volunteers to attempt a porch on our room addition. The point here is that while simple in nature, a porch can be as hard as your team and things outside of your control make it, but the end result is the same: a few posts, some framing, decking, and a set of stairs. A porch.

Porches bring homes out of substandard classification, but they do something special for the people who use them. They provide a whole new space for human interaction. One of the strongest memories from my days as an ASP volunteer is a homeowner, Eva, dancing on the new, stable, safe porch my crew had worked on during the week. She giggled and blew bubbles with us on her deck, immediately bringing out a couple of chairs from inside. As we finished up the stairs, one of my group leaders sat chatting with Eva on her new porch. It was clear this was something she missed doing, as she smiled and shared stories of her porch growing up.

Feels Like Home Blog

Mullens, WV 2012.

I see that week as my introduction into the importance of porches. Each summer after that, I’ve taken to sitting on porches of families, learning their stories, and sharing a few of my own. Drinking some tea, petting some dogs, seeing some mountains, all from the best view at any house: the view from the front porch. Just today, I sat on a porch and heard how a couple came to fall in love. In the weeks prior to this, I’ve sat on countless porches, hearing about the best swimming areas or the best places to get tomatoes or how polite the volunteers are this week. I take it all in…

This past weekend, I completed my move to Johnson City, Tennessee. I’ve swapped my Ohio ID for Tennessee, and my plates are now white and green with Washington County emblazoned on it. I have a porch of my own now. It’s where I sit with my guests and neighbors, talking about our days, swapping stories, and sharing meals. I’ve already developed some great relationships in my neighborhood, all because of porches and the “platform” of friendship they offer. On ASP, I learned the importance of good footers and square posts. You should always crown your deck boards. Remember, rainbows, not smiles! But the real lesson I learned from building porches, the one that I take with me wherever I go, is that porches are hospitality and love. They’re more than the structure of screws and lumber. They’re bridges for relationships.

Do you have a story of a porch you built or a homeowner whose porch was a special place during your ASP trip? Submit a photo and a short description to our 2018 Photo Competition by emailing it to Photo@ASPhome.org. For full details, visit ASPhome.org/2018photo

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.