I remember feeling like a writer for the first time when I was junior in high school. I had written a narrative essay about the ocean for my AP English class, and I was proud of the way I used language to relate the ebbs and flows of the ocean to life. I emailed the piece to my grandma when I finished it. After she read it, she called me, cooing through the phone that I was a good writer. From that point on, I was my grandma’s writer of choice. When she saw a robin perching on a bird feeder, she would acknowledge its elegance through the kitchen window. When we were driving home on the highway and she saw a cluster of weeds, she would be openly in awe of their beauty. When my grandma saw beautiful things, people, and places, she would sit in their beauty, and then she would ask me to capture the moments with words. Because of my grandma, I recognized my identity as a writer, as someone who was connected to the beauty of life through words and stories.

I have been involved with ASP for the past seven summers. After volunteering for four summers in high school, I spent two summers on staff in Kentucky, and a summer spread throughout thirteen different counties as a liaison. During these summers, especially my summers on staff, I learned that many aspects of ASP are required. We are required to go to the hardware store, do home repair, and attend evening gatherings, among other things. But there are many aspects of ASP that are a choice. We can choose to admire the sunrise on the drive to the hardware store in the morning, relax in the warmth of a homeowner’s hug, or eat a leisurely lunch on the front porch. We can choose to spend our time in Appalachia seeking beauty.

I believe I have spent my time in Appalachia seeking beauty.

I have reveled in the sun settling between the mountain curves, conversations with volunteers over morning coffee, and the simple joy that accompanies spending a Saturday night making sweet potato casserole with a homeowner. As I recognized moments of beauty in my car, on a porch, on a run, or at the hardware store, I realized that in order to truly appreciate these moments, I had to write about them. With this realization, my identity as a writer and my love for Appalachia intertwined, and I felt a definitive sense of purpose.

I write because I believe in Appalachia’s beauty, and I want to remember how it feels to be whole and alive in these mountains. I write because I know Appalachia is full of good people with amazing stories that deserve to be told. I write because our world can be painful, but words will always be a refuge – a place to turn conversations on a couch in a humid, hazy living room into a story about how love can change the world, hope can emerge from seemingly dark places, and beauty is constantly around us. I write because words can connect a mobile home in West Virginia to a suburb of Chicago and because connection fosters relationships, empathy, and peace.

As I travel around Appalachia this summer, I hope the stories I gather during my time here will remind you what an afternoon breeze feels like as it whistles through a holler, how good laughter sounds as it rises above construction noise, and how quickly love can weave its way through relationships that have a timid start. I believe in Appalachia, and as I spend the summer writing about where I experience beauty, I hope you will join me and choose to experience beauty too.

Jamie Tews is the Advancement Storytelling Intern this summer writing a weekly blog series titled “This Must Be The Place.” Prior to this summer, she was on staff in Breathitt County, Kentucky in 2016, Leslie County, Kentucky in 2017, and roamed around Appalachia as a staff liaison in 2018. She just graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Writing, and she has plans to pursue an MFA in creative writing.