In 2016, I was on staff in Breathitt County, Kentucky. On one of my first days in Breathitt, I visited the home of a woman named Florence. Upon entering her living room and taking a seat beside her on the tan couch, she said that she would rather be called Flo. Flo’s living room was often dark, and her couch was often slightly damp with humidity. We filled the space between stories with silence, and the room always felt full.
When Flo told stories, she didn’t look at me. She would cross her legs and point her knees towards me, but she would keep her gaze focused on something else – the clock that hung on the wall, the loaf of bread on the counter, or her dog on the ground by the front door. These objects that she looked at, the places she directed her stories, made the room feel full even when we were the only two people sitting on the couch. Her living room was full of things that represented her life. Her living room became a place of fellowship, a place where stories from her past intertwined with the objects on her walls and me, an ASP summer staffer who found refuge in her living room throughout the summer.
Jenna Thompson, a returning staffer in Scott County, Tennessee, has also found refuge in living room conversations and wrote about some of her experiences from this summer.
I find that the most memorable moments of my day are those spent with homeowners in their living rooms, their couches and sofas becoming an appreciated escape from the hot July sun. This summer, I have seen how volunteers often find comfort in homeowner’s living rooms as well.
In Debra’s home, the living room hosts the volunteers’ lunch breaks. As the smell of Debra’s grandmother’s soup wafts through the air, volunteers lead devotions and intentional conversations. For Debra, cooking soup and making peanut butter and maple syrup sandwiches is her way of giving back to the volunteers who are spread out on her living room couches and chairs.
Living rooms can provide a place of comfort for volunteers, and sometimes ASP is able to physically transform living spaces throughout a summer of home repair. On another worksite, Pam and Junior now have new floors in their living room this summer. After the floors were finished, Pam explained how she is now proud of her home. She now welcomes anyone in to see her home – especially her living room since it is the first room people see when they walk though the front door.
As a volunteer, I love watching how a room can physically transform throughout a week. On Sunday, the subfloor might be exposed in preparation for joist repair, but on Friday, volunteers might be returning furniture to its regular location.
As a staffer, I love watching how the feeling of a room can transform throughout the summer. During my first week in the county, I might tentatively sit on the edge of a couch, but by the end of the summer, I will likely have a favorite seat in the home of people who offer love through the fellowship in a room.
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 at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington in the fall.
Jenna Thompson is a second year staffer in Scott County, TN this summer. She is originally from Ellicott City, Maryland and currently studying journalism and social welfare at Marquette University.