The Vast Network of ASP Volunteers

Good morning!  My name is Butch Barton.  I am a volunteer for ASP and am writing to you from my back porch in sunny St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  Some of you I’ve had the opportunity to meet, others of you I look forward to meeting somewhere in ASP-land or elsewhere along the way.  Why exactly am I looking forward to meeting each of you?  Because together, #WeAreASP.  Collectively, we make up a population of around 16,000 volunteers who travel to Central Appalachia each year to help make homes warmer, safer, and drier; all while, accepting people right where they are, just the way they are.  I can think of nothing else that compares to working alongside people I respect and admire, toward a common goal that we all believe in.

ASP, as an organization, employs some amazing people.  I love all 150+ of them.  Unfortunately, none of them can be in more than one place at a time.  (No matter how many miles Walter puts on his vehicle every year)

This is where the rest of us factor in.  For each ASP employee, there are over 100 volunteers.  I lose sight of this when I’m at ASP because I tend to look no further than the center where I’m staying.  During the week, I try to remind myself that ASP volunteers are sent out in two dozen other counties, filling up gymnasiums with air mattresses and building relationships with a dozen families in each one of those counties.  I am then reminded of the other weeks of the summer and throughout the year where this happens.  This is huge!  I can’t think of any other group this size, to which I belong, with this specific of a purpose.  This is one of many things that sets ASP apart.

Looking beyond the numbers, I am unable to fully describe how special ASP volunteers are.  I am overwhelmed by the immeasurable skills, broad perspectives, and extensive life experiences of ASP volunteers.  If that were not enough, the icing on the cake is the surplus of talents that are shared when we are together.

This would be a good place for me to stop and say, ‘Thank You!’  Thank you volunteers for your work, your patience, and your dedication.  Thank you for your singing and enthusiasm during evening gatherings.  Thank you for your kindness, like when you let someone go in front of you in the shower or food lines, help someone find a tool in the tool room, or bring back extra fasteners from the worksite to help another crew.  Thank you for the detailed notes you leave on the green continuity sheets describing the work that was done and still needs to be done.  Thanks also for describing how special the family is that we were about to be working for.  Many of you have left notes on what kind of sandwiches the family enjoys eating with us at lunch and of nearby hiking trails the families enjoy showing us.  Thank you for the paper attachments showing detailed drawings to further explain our work and help us better understand.  Thank you for providing your cell phone numbers, so we can call with any questions that we may still have.  These are just a few of many examples why I love being a week 7 volunteer.

I would like to leave you with some ways I have been able to stay connected with other ASP volunteers.

Social media often gets a bad rap, but you can’t argue with Facebook’s ability to stay in touch with #ASPfamily.  It is a good way to share and celebrate life events that happen years later.  Plus, it is always exciting to see when volunteers from previous years appear in upcoming summer staff photos!!!

While these are on hold for now due to COVID, youth conferences and similar gatherings are great places to run into other ASP volunteers.  Usually, it’s a t-shirt or a hat that is recognized, and then a casual conversation starts up.  A few years back, Katja Olari wrote a blogpost, titled “Hey, is that an ASP shirt?”  I love to hear this when out in public!

Where I live, there are a handful of groups within an hour drive that also go on ASP.  I practically guarantee you will receive a big smile from the other volunteers if you were to show up at one of their fundraisers to get your car washed or have a bowl of chili.

When our two daughters were touring colleges, we took the opportunity to not only tour some great school in North Carolina and Virginia, but we also got to visit some incredible ASP churches.  Given the current social distancing conditions we are in, there are now opportunities to attend church services via live stream.  James Henry, a volunteer that I met in 2013 was, and is still, a pastor whose church was an early adopter for online services and webcasts.  During the years since we worked together in Newport, Tennessee, I’ve listened in on many of St. James UMC’s webcasts.  When this pandemic hit they moved more of their church activities online.  I’ve started attending one of their weekly “Soul Space” zoom meetings where we pray, study, and reflect.  This has become a favorite activity, and has been something that has really helped me adjust to this new 6-foot separation world we live in.

There are other events such as “Friends of ASP” weekends, initial home visit weeks, social gatherings, and celebrations that occur not just in ASPland, but also near Chicago, Washington DC, and New Jersey.  Sarah, and others in the volunteer office are a great resource for getting plugged into events like these.  The Facebook group for ASP Trip Coordinators is another good resource for information on stuff happening around us.

In closing, I want to reiterate something Dean Smith said last week in his video devotion.  “We are complete and equipped by God for the work that we are called to do.  And if that work is really worthy, it’s going to be bigger than any one of us can do on our own.”  This is what brings each of us back to ASP every summer, being part of something bigger than our individual selves.

Butch Barton, ASP Trip Coordinator, Adult Volunteer, Ambassador, Helping Hand, and Supporter