Years before ASP officially became involved in new home construction, our group took part in new home construction in Buchanan Co, VA in 1983. The staff had caught wind of a hard-working family building their own log cabin. The family was living in a very old school bus, with no electricity, on a piece of almost inaccessible land. The family’s source of water was a shallow spring, easily mistaken for a large puddle, and we made sure to bring gallon jugs of water from the center each day.

In the evening, after work crews had left, the father would go “up the mountain” with his front-end loader, cut down three or four large trees, and bring them back to the work site. The ASP staff, led that year by John Maynard, would come to the site each day with a truck of fresh-cut lumber. Once the lumber was unloaded, the trees were taken to a local sawmill. At the sawmill, they would load up the truck with the lumber cut from the previous day’s trees and bring that lumber to the site on their next visit.

It’s been thirty-five years since our group was there on week eight, the final week of the project, but the memories from that week remain among my favorite. First, we were impressed with how hard this family was working on their home, undoubtedly well into the night after the volunteers left. Also, they served the volunteers a hot meal for lunch every day, prepared by the mother on the wood stove in the bus. Their friends and neighbors also pitched in with food.

Two teams from our group worked there all week, putting on the roof, building interior walls, and putting the insulation and chinking between the cracks of the logs. On Friday of that week, the last day of summer service, all four teams from our church, a family from Ohio returning to help out, and the Buchanan Co staff all worked to finish the home, so the family could move in the following week.

Like most ASP summer projects, it was hot, the work laborious, and our skills challenged. After several days of pressing the chinking into place with our bare fingers, we discovered it contained an acid which was making our fingertips crack and bleed. We were left without fingerprints for several weeks. But I don’t remember any of the discomfort. Instead, I remember how grateful the family was, I remember the fun we had swinging on a sturdy vine hanging from a tree limb, and I remember the crazy lyrics we put to popular songs.  When constructing the interior walls, we carefully chose the planks of fresh-cut lumber with the most beautiful green and purple colors to form the kitchen and living room walls. Most of all, I remember, and cherish, the relationships built that summer. After a week of service with my local church, no longer was I just a person who attended worship and youth group, but instead I had a set of close-knit connections developed from working side-by-side with others, for something much greater than any of us could accomplish alone. I now had a church family, and close brothers and sisters in Christ.

Tom Cullens has volunteered for thirty-six consecutive years with the Appalachia Service Project, leading teams of friends and church groups in North Carolina and Florida. Tom first volunteered in 1983, with a group from White Plains UMC in Cary, NC.  He served on summer staff in 1988, while taking a leave from IBM, and his service with ASP led to a call to ministry. Today he continues to serve with ASP as a Helping Hand volunteer, assisting college-aged groups during their alternative spring breaks and new groups of high school students in the summer. Tom is a member of the Tex Evans Society and the Carpenter’s Club, and is always ready to share a story about one of his many memorable ASP experiences.