This summer has definitely been one to remember, but not for the typical reasons. In the past, my summers were filled with mornings coaching diving and evenings working at an ice cream shop, with a daily countdown to ASP week. I never imagined that I would end the summer with mask tan lines, and certainly not that I would miss my last ASP trip.

My senior year started off as I had imagined it would, with senior portraits, sports senior nights and plans for celebrating our final year in high school. But it all changed quickly when the remainder of the school year, graduation, and prom were cancelled. The worst part of school being cancelled, was that I would not return to our youth group room to spend time with all of my best friends. I never would have thought that missing youth group meetings would affect me so much; I didn’t attend church or youth group much as a kid. But, in eighth grade my mom sent me to confirmation classes, which is where I first heard about ASP. I didn’t go on the trip that summer because I didn’t know any of the kids very well, and regret that decision to this day.

On my first ASP trip I was on a crew with entirely new people, which was very intimidating. I remember going on the site visit and coming back terrified to share the information with my crew, strangers who I grew to love by the end of the week. It was the meaningful relationships that my first crew-mates built that truly encouraged me to get more involved with our church youth group, and for that I am so grateful. Today I am a part of the leadership team for our youth group, and never ever willingly miss an event because I know I will be surrounded with all of my best friends. Friendships that were built, and strengthened, on every ASP trip.

During my second ASP trip, I experienced the magic of relationships built with homeowners. The family was grieving the sudden loss of their husband and father, and the youngest daughter had been living with a different family member for the summer. When she returned home she was shy and visibly uncomfortable with the number of strangers at her house, but throughout the week she opened up to us. We bonded over her new puppy and love for Taylor Swift. In just a few days, she went from a quiet little girl, to climbing under the house and hanging out with us while we installed insulation, something very few people would do willingly! The relationship spanned both of the crews working on the house and the entire family. We shared the most genuine laughs, meals, and stories with one another. These relationships are fostered between volunteers, staff, and families all over Appalachia, and truly make all the sweat and hard work worth it!

Even though we weren’t able to be together in Appalachia this summer, we’ve spent it building an even stronger community at home, and carrying on the ASP spirit within our youth group. We met weekly on zoom calls throughout the stay at home order, supporting and laughing with one another during “happies and crappies,” just as if we were sitting in a big circle on a gym or cafeteria floor on ASP. We worked in shifts to renovate our church parsonage for our new pastor. And now that it is hot outside, we support our community by going for socially distanced ice cream at a local owned ice cream shop (where the owner donates part of the proceeds to our causes), and play classic ASP games like Kan-Jam together. These moments, although small, have sprinkled ASP spirit and brought joy and a sense of community to this crazy, unusual summer, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My senior year and final summer before I start college, is perfectly encapsulated by this summer’s theme for ASP, “Complete, but not Finished.” Even though I have graduated and will no longer be an ASP high school volunteer, I will carry the relationships and community that ASP and my church’s youth group have given me forever. I have grown to love the entire community so much over the last four years, and I know my ASP story is not finished.

I look forward to volunteering on our college crew next summer, because even though my ASP journey has not been traditional, I cannot pass up the opportunity to go on one last trip with the people that have become my family. I encourage all the seniors out there to do the same. Do not let the unfortunate end to your ASP journey be final. Continue to cherish the relationships you have made through ASP by staying in touch with friends you made, adult leaders and role models, and all the inspiring homeowners. Whether you plan to take more trips with your own church and serve as a volunteer on a college crew, or apply to be a summer staff and help introduce many future volunteers to the amazing community and relationships ASP has offered you, carry on the spirit of ASP. Although our time in High School may be complete, the class of 2020 certainly has not finished our journey with ASP.

Cerys Egan is a Class of 2020 graduate and three time summer volunteer with First United Methodist Church of LaGrange