It’s the last week of class before finals, and my friends and I sit reminiscing in my tiny apartment after dinner. We talk about the challenges we have faced and how we have helped each other through them. We laugh until we are out of breath and there are tears in our eyes over all the good times we have shared.
My college friends are all from different states, have different backgrounds, and are studying different things. We got to know each other because our school brought us together in various, seemingly uneventful ways: as assigned roommates freshman year, waiting in a cafeteria line, or crossing paths on campus so many times a day that we just decided to introduce ourselves.
Much like college, ASP has a way of bringing people together from all walks of life. Church members who have not talked to each other before are now planning a trip to Appalachia and becoming fast friends on the drive over. Volunteers from different groups and churches gather for meals, morning devotions, and evening gatherings. Homeowners from the hills of Appalachia welcome people from across the US into their homes and lives.
This week, the first groups of summer volunteers arrived at centers across Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. Already, work is under way on porches, roofs, and siding. During this first week, I learned that one of the things summer staffers are most excited about is fostering relationships between volunteers, staff, and homeowners this summer.
Maddie Peterson, a longtime volunteer in high school, recalls how summer staff reached out to her when she was volunteer. Now, as the Volunteer Coordinator of Washington County, she is excited to be on the other side of things by fostering relationships with volunteers as a staffer.
Bailee Ban, the Volunteer Coordinator of Lee County, remembers coming to volunteer with ASP in high school with a small group from her church. Bailee explains that some groups arrive with so many volunteers that they are the only group at the center that week. Other weeks, smaller groups (like Bailee’s church in high school) are brought together for the first time at the center. This summer, Bailee especially hopes to foster relationships among these groups who have not met before.
Why should we go out of our way to get to know people this summer? I think it is because it is only by getting to know people that we can tell how to best help them, and it is only by being known that we can receive the help we need.
On sites this week, I saw many examples of this. I watched as more experienced volunteers taught those who knew less about construction. I talked to a homeowner who would not have gotten the help she needed if not for a neighbor up the road who told her about ASP. She, in turn, was eager to help a friend who also needed home repair by sending an application her way.
Without relationships, these needs and opportunities to help would have gone unmet.
This summer, I encourage those working and volunteering for ASP to get to know the people around them. Talk to someone new on your drive to Appalachia, introduce yourself to a volunteer or staffer at breakfast, and say hello to homeowners who come out on their porch. Who knows what you will give or receive by getting to know somebody?
Story Gathering Intern