Hello! I’m Addison, ASP’s Story Gathering Intern for this summer. I come to ASP as an outsider; I’ve never volunteered, been on staff, or even visited Appalachia before. But the Christ-centered mission of ASP has welcomed me with open arms and showed me the boundless love that makes this place run.

Here, you just fall into it. Sophie and Amanda, two first-year staffers, talked for five minutes, found out their hometowns were close together, and were already making plans to drive home together to save Amanda a flight.

But this ease in community is new compared to the last two years of operation.

Rose, an ASP Program Manager, explained how COVID-19 affected ASP. 2020 shut down the volunteer program entirely, and only full-time staff were able to repair houses. As a result, 2021 forced training to be conducted virtually, and most ASP centers ran at half capacity. This year, while we’re not quite up to full capacity, there’s a palpable feeling in the air that we’re returning to normal.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to gather on The Porch in three years,” ASP’s President, Walter Crouch, told us.

Rose, however, voiced some concern over the social implications of such a long hiatus: “A lot of ASP’s training week is built on tradition. Because so much of the returning staff was trained virtually during COVID, not a lot of people know these traditions.”

But here on The Porch, I can see the ASP of before taking root. A game of 4 square becomes 9 square. Someone’s chasing a rogue ball down the hill, and we all cheer when he retrieves the ball and holds it above his head. Wayward cornhole bags hit the ceiling and unsettle years of dust. ASP traditions may be new to a majority of the staff, but if this week’s enthusiasm is any indicator, they’re coming back stronger than ever.

There’s so much work to be done this summer. But, for a new staffer like me, there’s so much to learn too.

New words: degranulated, sawhorse, rake, gable, eave, cleat, shark bites (not the animal!).

Oh, and so many acronyms: IHV, EG, FC, GL, OC, SIT, CCW, HOSS… I have a lot of catching up to do.

This year’s theme is “Putting Down Roots.” While ASP has worked in Appalachia for over half a century, and this region is as old and storied as the country itself, the past two years have uprooted everyone. As we navigate the New Normal together, I welcome you all to follow my journey as I put my own roots down in Appalachia and tell the stories of ASP and the countless lives this organization touches. Stories of change. Stories of perseverance. Stories of spiritual growth. And above all else, stories of love.

Though I’ve only been here for a week, I already have one to share.

I tagged along with a first-year group of staffers during their SIM day, or simulation day. SIM day is where staff get a feel for how their day-to-day operations will work at their centers: hardware store runs, van driving, construction, and team-building exercises. Mid-afternoon, we were standing in the parking lot of the hardware store. I could see patches of overcast rolling across the sky. The sun would only poke out for seconds at a time like whispers of a greater promise. A man drove into the lot and rolled down his window. He had recognized the ASP logo emblazoned on the side of our van and spoke to us:
“I’m so happy to see you all out here,” he said.
“We’re happy to be here too,” Stephen, one of ASP’s returning staff, responded.
“Well, you know it makes God awfully happy too.”

Addison Pozzi
Story Gathering Intern