The Nuts & Bolts blog series provides insights into how Group Leaders can prepare for service with ASP. Today’s post comes from Allen Keller, a long-time ASP Group Leader and Ambassador. 

Let love be your guide

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Be the peace that you wish to see in the world”.  Being the peace starts with love.  “Love Will Guide Us” was ASP’s theme in 1998.  A great ASP Group Leader, or GL, is someone who loves others.  All others.  Not just the family you’re working with.  Of course the family you are working with is of utmost importance and treating them with sensitivity and love is huge, but it doesn’t stop there.  ASP is challenging physically and emotionally.  The love you pour out to others can make a challenging week a fulfilling week.  I live to hear kids say things like, “Yes. It was hard. Yes. You better believe it was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.”

1. Love requires sacrifice

A great ASP Group Leader is a GL who is willing to sacrifice their personal experience to provide a better experience for a young team member.  You will discover there are some things you love to do on the worksite.  Whether it’s installing tin on a roof or talking with the family, there may also be a young team member who discovers a similar passion.  As a Group Leader, part of your responsibility is to be willing to give up the job you just got comfortable with so that the youth watching you has an opportunity to feel fulfilled in making a difference in the life of that family.

2. Love requires understanding

ASP staffers work incredibly hard.  They are usually college kids, just a few years older than the youth on your team.  They are often expected to get a lot of moving pieces into the right place at the right time.  They are almost always lacking for sleep.  Greet them with understanding.  Your 2×4’s got into the wrong van and didn’t make it to the worksite Friday morning as promised.  They arrived late on the day you really needed their advice on how to handle the extreme difference in floor level under the toilet you’re installing.  You feel like last night’s EG could have been better.  While all of these things are certainly important, your grace to these dedicated young people will make a huge difference.  Love your staffers.  They may look like they are having the summer of their life.  Actually, they probably are, but there are other moments that will be some of the most challenging in their lifetime.

3. Love requires tenderness

That youth who never seems to get it right may require some extra effort to love at times.  They are the kid so anxious to get on the roof that they forget to wait for your okay, come up the ladder behind you and fall through the drywall ceiling into the bed below (I hope!). While safety is number one on the worksite, this youth might sometimes get a little over-eager! They, and all the other youth are watching and waiting. You are teaching your youth every moment, especially in the crisis moments. Your youth will learn how to react in a crisis based on your reaction to a crisis.  Your initial reaction may be to yell at them and tell them to take a timeout in the van.  Please don’t. This is such a great opportunity for growth (for you and your youth)!

Pour water on your own anxious reaction.  Calmly and safely come down the ladder to their side.  Ask them where it hurts.  Do what you have to if it actually is an emergency.  It’s probably not, but they’ll at least be scared and embarrassed.  Ask them how they feel about what just happened and listen to their answer.  Sympathize with their physical and emotional pain.  Ask them if they have any ideas to avoid this next time.  Guide those ideas if you have to, but try to let them solve it.  Encourage them to try again but remember safety this time. Your situation will not match this scenario. But no matter how well you prepare, some things will go wrong. My point is, when things do go wrong, find ways to handle them with grace and love rather than a kneejerk reaction.  Your youth will learn from your reaction, and you will build strong relationships. It’s harder. But it makes a big difference.

4. Love demands respect of all people

All people deserve respect as incredible creations of God.

All people includes family members, ASP staff, your fellow GLs, your team members, teams at the center from other organizations (the occasional basketball camp or community organization), and people in the community waiting in line at the gas station with you.  When ASP shows up at the local ice cream store, it can be like an invasion.  Respect for others may mean keeping your volume down. It may mean letting a local family of 4 ahead of the 18 people in your group.  Respect for the community absolutely means you don’t talk about the work you are doing at someone’s home in front of their neighbors and community members.  We love others when we refrain from publicizing things that might embarrass them or otherwise bring them emotional pain.

5. Love demands respect within your team

Sometimes, maybe all the time, there will be an awkward situation on your team.  Love can turn awkward situations into times of growth.  The difference in ages among your team members deserves your attention.  Your team of mostly high school kids may include someone of college age.  College age young adults can feel awkward at ASP.  They probably aren’t classified as Group Leaders in your group, but they aren’t high school team members either.  It can feel awkward when you don’t know how you fit in.  Know your team members.  Consider giving some extra responsibility to the young adults on your team.  Maybe you give them a more responsible job at the work site, with oversight of the younger members of the team.  Maybe they would like to read the devotions on the way to the job-site.  Maybe they are the “team safety officer”.  As a GL, I like to give young adults some responsibility to watch over the younger among our crew.  If they can keep their emotional eyes open to the feelings of the younger team members, they can suggest an appropriate job change to help provide fulfillment for the young folks.  Maybe they realize that Johnny is really excited to install insulation but he hasn’t had a chance yet.  They can let a GL know that.  Maybe they can have the responsibility of watching the clock and the heat, making sure we take water breaks at good intervals. There’s so much happening on a worksite and everyone has a role to play.

6. Be a loving shepherd; watch the flock

Keep a holistic eye on your jobsite.  Having the ability to track the construction progress and monitor personalities and emotions on the job site all at once is hard.  Let other GLs know that you have goals that go beyond the construction so that they can grow towards those goals as well, and so they understand when you suddenly call a coffee break.  As a GL, keep one step ahead of the team on the construction.  Teach team members how to get something done.  Then let them have the fulfillment of doing it!  Don’t touch it unless they ask for help or you feel they need a little more supervision.  Try to get away and look ahead to the next task that may need to be done, or go check on some other tasks being done by other team members.

7. Love takes time

ASP has lots of proverbs.  Like, “ASP is a relationship ministry with construction on the side.”  ASP has a goal to eliminate sub-standard housing in Appalachia,  but founder Tex Evan’s coined another ASP proverb, “We accept people right where they are, just the way they are.”  So when a homeowner comes out to the porch we’re fixing and tells us they just got off the phone with their mother who has cancer, it may be more important to take a break and listen to their story, maybe even pray with them, rather than press on with the job.  If a homeowner approaches you with a conversation, it’s an opportunity to build relationship.  When we build relationships, we share part of who we are with each other.  We learn from each other.  We laugh with each other, and maybe sometimes we cry with each other.  Times like these teach all of us, families, team members, GLs, staff, that we are all human.

In case it doesn’t happen naturally, think about ways to build-in some time with the family.  Take time every morning to hang out with the homeowner before you start in on the job, especially on Monday when you introduce the team.  Maybe you pick up a game of checkers or UNO on your way down, play a few games through the week, and announce to family and team on Thursday or Friday that there will be a tournament, just for fun.  Each team member will have the responsibility of taking time to participate with family members too (presuming they are willing), in the tournament.  When you leave on Friday, have everyone sign the game box and leave it behind as a gift.  Friday’s with family are often very special days.  Do your best to find a way to leave some extra time with the family on Friday before you depart.  Take a walk together, check out the garden, the animals, listen to stories.

Love brings peace

You might be realizing, or perhaps reminded, that an ASP Group Leader has the potential to influence many others, in many positive ways. The responsibility to do good could be intimidating, were it not for the fact that we never do anything alone. You have lots of support people: back home, at the ASP center, at the job site. Ask them to think of you and pray for you during your trip. Remember those who support you. You are not alone.

Most of all, I believe you are not alone because God is with you. When you leave on your trip, God goes with you.  God is at your side, even at work within you, leading, guiding, crying with you when things go wrong, and celebrating with you when things go right. Knowing this makes life possible. The weight is off your shoulders! The good that you do happens because you allow God to work through you. We can live without fear because of our dependence on God’s love. In this way, God’s love brings us peace.  And as we live and pour out God’s love to others, it will bring peace to them as well.

Thank you for allowing God to work through you as an ASP Group Leader, to do good, to love others, to bring peace to the world through bringing peace to troubled homes and families. Even bringing peace to your teams, your congregations and all the support people who sent you. I hope you might consider saying the blessing that is part of the ASP 2019 theme scripture over your family as you leave on Friday, and then again over your team as you depart on Saturday on your way home. God is with you.  Amen.

“Thus you shall salute him: “Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have.”

                -1 Samuel 25:6

Rev. Allen Keller is a longtime ASP Group Leader, Ambassador, and Helping Hand.  He is a United Methodist Deacon serving in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.  As an ordained deacon, he is appointed to serve both as a Chaplain at A.I. duPont Hospital for Children and as an ASP Ambassador.

Looking for more ways to prepare for your ASP trip? Check out our Group Leader Resources page and our Group Leader Facebook group.