We are Appalachia Service Project. We serve with the Appalachian community. But, what exactly is Appalachia? What makes it special? Earlier this summer, Dr. Ron Roach, director of the Center of Appalachian Studies and Services at East Tennessee State University, spoke to the ASP staff at Jonesville. His work involves breaking down stereotypes and helping people understand the heart of Appalachia. While speaking to ASP staff, he not only wanted to prepare them for what they would experience this summer, but also what to look out for, appreciate, reflect on, and celebrate. Appalachia is so unique in its rich culture and history, and that is one of the main concepts Dr. Roach tries to convey. While Dr. Roach wants to help people overcome negative stereotypes about Appalachia, there are three key statistics that he believes are important in understanding the area. They are:
- Appalachia is far behind the rest of the country in education with low high school graduation and college completion rates.
- Appalachian counties face higher levels of economic distress, with many families living below the poverty line. This is especially prevalent in coal-mining counties.
- There has been an explosion of opioid addiction, resulting in many deaths throughout the region.
However, despite the current statistics, Dr. Roach remains positive, stating that there has been a lot of progress in the last 50 years to develop the region. He continues providing information and correcting stereotypes, not wanting these negative aspects to overshadow the immense number of positive aspects Appalachia has to offer.
One thing he tries to accomplish by speaking to our staff is to instill a strong sense of place. In any area and situation, this is important, but even more so when ‘outsiders’ come into a region to serve and repair homes and lives. It is so important to know as much as we can about the people living in this place in order to serve them well. We can do our jobs and fix houses and leave it at that, and yes, it will be a blessing, but how much more of a blessing it is to touch lives. To truly understand the situation a family is experiencing, to make friends, to empathize and encourage, that is just as important as understanding how to fix their physical homes.
By getting to know the people in Appalachia, you’ll come to find that these are good people. They are “strong and resilient,” as Dr. Roach says. The Appalachian region has a rich culture of arts and crafts. If you get a chance, attend a storytelling night. The Jonesborough International Storytelling Center in Tennessee showcases a different storyteller every week, and they are phenomenal.
To continue progressing and developing the region, Dr. Roach states that we all need to work together to tackle the issues. This includes people at the state level, educators, private sectors, and faith-based organizations. ASP is one such faith-based organization that Dr. Roach appreciates for its contribution to Appalachia. He states that ASP “is giving real assistance to individuals in need.” He also greatly appreciates the effort ASP makes to “mobilize young people to help and experience Appalachia first-hand.” For him, giving the summer staff and volunteers the opportunity to get to know the place and respect the people is a priceless experience.
We are Appalachia Service Project and we serve with the Appalachian community; a community full of life, art, history, and culture. We work to touch lives and encourage an already strong and resilient group of people. Together, we can tackle stereotypes and rebuild the community.
Lily Milioni worked with Appalachia Service Project during the summer of 2018. While primarily focusing on merchandise, she found time to engage with the full mission of ASP. She met with our staff, community members, and homeowners in Washington County, TN to learn their stories and build relationships throughout the summer. We hope enjoy some of her writing from her time with us!