May I level with you?  

It may only be our sixth week, but I am running out of cool ways to begin each week’s blog. I fear I may be commandeering the conversation, so I thought I would open up with some classic conversation starters.  

Do you have any plans for the weekend? Any vacation plans? Have you been reading or watching anything good? This weather has been crazy, huh? I expect answers.  

I have genuinely loved hearing from the people that read about ASP. Seeing my family interact with my blog in the comments and hearing from people who reach out to say that they loved my recent post means the world to me. In a world where it’s so easy to feel lonely, it’s nice to be reminded people are thinking about you and a push to think about others.  

Sometimes, we meet people that seem to do this without a second thought. This week, I spent a lot of time with the Barton’s, a father-daughter power duo who have been a source of care for countless people in ASPland. Actually, I’m a little nervous to write about them because of how seriously iconic they are.

When I first met Butch Barton, I was on the porch in Virginia welcoming volunteers with the Jonesville staff. After introducing himself and asking for my name, Butch enthusiastically yelled “The Lauren Rhodes?” As it turns out, Butch worked with my brother, Tyler Rhodes, in Magoffin County a few years ago, and has been keeping up with the ASP blogs. Not only was it cool to know that someone on the porch thought I was special enough to be “the” anything, but I also immediately felt like I was somebody around Butch.  

Butch is a remarkable human being in general. He has been on a little under 20 trips with ASP and still takes the time to be patient with his volunteers and staff, explaining with thorough care. He has an innate ability to make anyone and everyone around him feel loved and appreciated. Even towards the end of another long and tiring week with ASP, Butch took the time to dance to “Ain’t No Man” by the Avett Brothers during checkout. He took me on my very first ASP ice cream run and made sure that the staff was settled each night before lights out.  

This seems to be a genetic trait. Funnily enough, a mere 40 minutes away in Wise County, Butch’s daughter Alexis is working as a Center Director for ASP. Alexis has been on many ASP trips and after her third Summer on staff this year, she is beginning a year-long fellowship with ASP.  

I want to be clear that Alexis is not simply Butch’s daughter— she is a force to be reckoned with. She leads her center with a strong yet gentle hand, always leading with kindness and empathy. When I went on runs with Alexis to visit different sites in Wise County, I discovered that Alexis also possesses a unique ability to make others feel deeply valued. She took the time to make sure that volunteers felt seen and connected with homeowners.  

Being a Center Director is not an easy job, but Alexis makes the hard parts run smoothly like oil. She excels at forming deep relationships and even when things get hairy, can approach with an open heart.  

While the Barton’s might be exemplary cases, they are by no means the exception when it comes to selfless action, both in and out of ASP. All around us, people choose to be the light in another person’s day and pause so that those around them can feel heard.   

After spending a few days with Alexis and Butch, I realized that I want to make people feel how they make people feel. If I can help someone push on with a simple text message or proclamation, why would I ever pass up an opportunity to do so? 

 My takeaway for this week is short and sweet— make somebody feel deeply valued. Let them know that they are cared for and that you are glad they’re there.  

So, may I level with you?  

 Thank you for being here. I see you and I hear you, and I’m grateful that you’ve decided to spend a few moments with me. You are important and even if it doesn’t always feel like it, you are valued. I hope that you can fill others with the light inside of you this week, even if it feels like that light is dim.  

Send your old friend a text to tell them you’re thinking of them, thank your stressed-out local staffer for all of the work they’re doing, buy your mom flowers and please put them in a vase. It’s up to us to take care of each other, so let’s do it with joy.  

 Thank you, Alexis and Butch.  

Lauren Rhodes

Story Gathering Intern