The Nuts & Bolts blog series provides insights into how Group Leaders can prepare for service with ASP. This week’s post comes from Butch Barton, who was introduced to ASP in 2003 by a couple who had gone on ASP at their previous church. When he saw the opportunity to go back “home” and work in the area where he grew up, he was hooked, and has been coming back every summer since.
I am convinced that one of the greatest resources we, as ASP Group Leaders, will encounter when we get to our centers is ASP summer staff.
Before we arrive…
Depending on which week we serve, the staff will have been setup, acclimated to the center, and engaged with the community for at least a week, and as much as seven weeks before we arrive. The difference between involvement and investment is a lot like a breakfast of eggs and bacon. The chicken is involved, but the pig is invested. The staff at our centers are invested.
They have reviewed dozens of home repair applications, met face to face with a good portion of all of those families that applied, said yes to about 15, and had the unenviable task of saying, “We’re sorry, but we cannot get to your home this summer,” to more than any of us wish.
Once the staff notifies a family they’ll be able to work for them, the work begins. Diagrams are drawn, work orders are written, and materials are ordered. Each family ASP serves has a staff contact person assigned to it. Every staffer at the center is knowledgeable about each job site, but the contact person has taken on a personal responsibility to oversee the work being done on the homes they’re assigned to, with each staffer typically taking on 2 to 4 each week. They also make a commitment to the quality and completeness of the work ASP has signed up to do. There are critical factors to meeting this commitment: budget, time, number of volunteers… it seems as if there is never as much of these as we would like.
Continuity of Care
Because the staff has been in the community before I arrived, and they will be there after I leave, I’m careful with the suggestions I make on how to do a job. Even if my suggestion is how I would do a job for my dear ol’ grandmother’s home, it does the family no good if I don’t complete it in the week I’m there, or the volunteers after me don’t understand how to continue the work in the same way, or if this method consumes more budget and time, leaving other projects unfinished.
This is what’s so great about having staff managing projects over the whole summer. The continuity in knowing what work is being done, and more importantly, how to do that work. The staff are one of the greatest resources available to us at the centers when we arrive. ASP has invested a lot of time and talent into their construction manuals and training videos. There’s a continuous effort of process improvement and this shows in their frequent updates and changes to how they do things. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t make suggestions, it’s just a reminder to myself to be careful and considerate in what suggestions I make and how I make them.
Once we arrive…
While the staff are one of the greatest resources available to us before we arrive, they are also a great resource throughout the week. It seems like every year our youth are blown away by the quality of the staff. When they realize how close in age the staffers are to themselves, it really makes them think. Every year during the Sunday evening group leader meeting with the staff, I let them know that I’ve put them up on a pedestal for our youth. I do this because I know how busy they are during the week. I do this because I have hopes of them taking time at dinner or on the job-site to have an extended conversation with our youth. I have hopes the staff will share with my youth why they chose to work for ASP over the summer, rather than work in a temperature controlled office internship position, or a summer life-guarding at the pool like many of their college-aged peers. In my past 17 summers, I’ve never been disappointed.
The youth that accompany me on these summer trips are consistently shocked by how much responsibility the staff undertakes. There is an almost instant amount of respect earned when the youth see how complex the tasks surrounding being on staff entail. Usually it’s the limited sleep the youth first take notice of, followed by how many tasks for which the staff are responsible.
One particularly impactful moment came when some of our youth (and adults) observed a homeowner stopping by the center to ask about their application. We were the last week of the summer. No more volunteers would be there the next week. The staff had been holding out hope they would be able to gain some schedule or a few extra volunteers that would allow them to at least start some of the more critical repairs on this person’s home. Those resources didn’t align. The staff had to tell the homeowner we couldn’t get to their home this particular summer. The people from our group still describe this event, over 15 years after it happened, and how the staff responded with such grace and compassion.
After we depart…
Thanks to social media, keeping up with the people we meet at ASP is much easier. As an organization, ASP has done a really good job taking advantage of these opportunities to keep people connected. For example, you can pretty much count on the last Friday of training for someone to host a Facebook Live event of tool load-up at the warehouse in Johnson City. The big event in my household is when pictures from staff reveal picnic get posted in late May. That’s when we find out the full list of who all has returned to be on staff. We get really excited when we see faces from previous years. We get super excited when we see youth we have volunteered with in previous years become first year staffers.
Despite the problems with social media that we all know too well, I do find great joy in keeping up with staffers years after ASP. It brings such great joy to see what these compassionate individuals go on to do later in life. Seeing pictures from engagements, vacations, graduations, new jobs, new careers, weddings, babies, (the list goes on…) I am convinced that some of the nicest people you will ever meet, you will meet at ASP. When you look at the professions most, if not all, ASP staffers choose, it all makes sense. Doctors, lawyers, public servants, advocates, coaches, teachers…especially teachers. Regardless of the career, the underlying attitude of service is still present, and that just continues to bring me happiness on a regular basis.
Another source of joy is getting to work with these fine individuals years later. The first time I ever took on the role of a “floater” in ASP’s summer program, the Center Director that year suggested I come along with the staff in the mornings to do hardware. I had never done that before, but I liked the idea, and did hardware every day that week with all 4 staffers. Tom was not your typical chatty, extroverted ASP staff person. Some of the other adults thought he was a little out of the ordinary, especially in how he was so protective of his pen that he carried around with him on runs. One of the group leads asked to borrow it, and he went out of his way to find a different writing utensil to loan out.
The last morning of hardware came on Friday, and as we were driving off after hardware had been all loaded Tom stopped the van, put it in park, and said, “I’ll be right back.” He ran into Napier Lumber, and came back out with a pen identical to the one of which he was so protective. He gives it to me, and tells me the story of how his Center Director the first year he was on staff gave him his, and how he has had it with him on ASP every year since then. I was extremely flattered, so I too, brought it with me on ASP my following years.
A few years later, I met Tom’s wife, Margie, another ASP rockstar, who many of us credit for getting Tom to become more talkative. I shared the pen story with her, too. We were both sad to hear that Napier Lumber in Hazard, KY had since gone out of business. I was also sad to learn that Tom had misplaced his pen that his CD had given him his first year on staff. At that point, I decided that if I ever had the opportunity to work with Tom again on ASP, that I was going to let him have this pen he had given me years ago.
That time came in 2018, at the 3rd annual ASP Race To Build event at Bristol Motor Speedway. Tom was a construction supervisor, equipment operator, and coach, in addition to a few other roles. That was a really fun weekend. It was sensory overload with of all the activity and fast pace going on around me. But the best part was getting to work with Tom and other ASP people like him, helping provide a warmer, safer, and drier home to someone who needed one.
Do you have a heart for writing and words of wisdom to share with ASP Group Leaders, new and experienced? You can be a part of ASP’s Nuts & Bolts series! Email Matt at Matt.Headland@ASPhome.org with your name and blog topic idea.
Butch Barton currently resides in southern Maryland with his wife and twin daughters (who are also big fans of ASP). Butch grew up in Athens, WV. Butch enjoys meeting ASP family and hearing stories from their trips. If you see him at an ASP information/recruiting booth, be sure to tell him who you know and where you’ve been with ASP!