Here’s the cool thing about blogs: They can preserve a specific moment and place in time.

Even though you may read it on a different day, or only read the first paragraph, for a moment you sit with me, by the confines of the memories that I’m copying down.

Currently, I am writing to you from Charleston, West Virginia. More specifically, I am sitting on the (totally safe and flat) roof of the Kanawha Staff Center because that’s one of the best places to get cellular service. At this moment, I am blasting “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers, enjoying the wind, and missing home.

Here’s why that’s weird: Home has been a weird subject for me recently. In the past year, my family and I moved out of my childhood house to a new place with my family in Raleigh, North Carolina. Two months after we moved, I left for my Freshman year of college at UNC-Chapel Hill (Go Heels!). I left for ASP about three weeks after coming back from my second semester and am now about to spend the Summer attempting to stay in 19 counties over 11 weeks.

So, it’s safe to say that home can feel like a four-letter word right now. How can I miss “home” when I’m not even sure what that looks like for me?

This week in Virginia, Isaac and I had the pleasure to speak with Belinda, a homeowner whose home is as warm and full of knowledge as her smile. Just about every inch of her living room is covered with framed family photos who’s stories she loves to tell. Belinda moved to Virginia at 12 years old, and despite a few detours in her adult life, has lived in her childhood home for most of her life. For her, that house truly is home.

The photos featured in this week’s blog post are actually from when ASP first visited her family when Belinda was a teenager. Belinda said her mom loved the volunteers that worked on her house. I’ll admit that I hope her mom is smiling down at the volunteers who will once again love on her daughter this Summer.

Belinda said that to her, it “means a lot” to stay in her house because of the memories and comfort it brings. She remembers Thanksgiving dinners in the living room when her Dad would cook Turkey, homemade rolls, and potato salad for her family and her neighbors. She told us about a candy shop that used to be down the road, the neighbor that was growing zucchini for her, and the rocks she sat on as a kid.

“I love my pictures,” Belinda told us. “I love my memories.”

The entire time that I was speaking with Belinda, I was reminded of my grandparents, Sandy and Lester Rhodes. A quick introduction for you: My grandma is not only the best cook in our family but has an amazing twinkling laugh. My grandpa is the hardest worker you’ll ever meet, and always greets me with a gruff “How’re you sweetie” whenever I see him. They live in the same house my Grandpa moved into when he was 8 years old, where my dad and Uncle Johnny were raised, and where I grew up spending summers and holidays.

When you live in a place for that long, your very existence soaks into the walls until they bend with the weight of your memories. Your roof sags with late-night laughter and your floor creaks with the legacy of early mornings. Like Belinda’s house, every square inch of my Grandparent’s place holds memories that I could never even begin to unravel.

When we touch homes, we uncover these memories and hold space for them in our hearts. We put up siding so that the walls can hold more laughter and we fix roofs to protect us against tears. Belinda taught me that home is never about the physical space, but the memories that we hold.

Funnily enough, when I look back at the places I’ve stayed, they all felt like my home for a bit. As it turns out, home isn’t a feeling or a place or a person— it’s all these things.

It’s memories of using a table saw with my dad, it’s late-night car rides with my friends, and it’s the feeling of the extra squeeze my Grandma gives when she hugs me. For now, it’s being welcomed at a new county, trips to Tudor’s Biscuit World, and Kanawha’s Center Director Ty banging a wooden gavel during a staff meeting. Next week, it may be entirely different. But at least I’ll have this place in time, this home, to revisit. See what I did there?

My takeaway this week is that my mom was always right— home is where the heart is. Home can be a collection of memories, a place that you know so deeply that you are quite literally embedded in a landscape. It can be a feeling of safety and comfort, where you know others will welcome you with open arms. It can be the feeling of your own independence as you barrel toward your next adventure. At the risk of sounding like the narrator of an early 2000s coming-of-age movie, that’s kind of beautiful.

I don’t know what your situation is like right now. Whether you’re a staffer sleeping in a county with no power, someone reading from a home that ASP has helped preserve, or somewhere in between. Close your eyes, breathe in, and rest in the knowledge that your home is where you make it.

So, call your family, your friends and your staff. Thank them for making a house into a home.

There’s no place like it.

Lauren Rhodes

Story Gathering Intern