Welp, it’s certainly a bittersweet time of the summer.  

 After a fantastic and challenging last few weeks, we are reaching the end for a lot of our counties. Some of our centers are loading up their stuff to make the trip back to Johnson City. Others are welcoming their last week of volunteers, finishing up their projects, and praying nothing goes wrong. Staffers in Wise County, VA, are soldiering up for an extra week of volunteers as our only eight-week center.  

One of the things I’m going to miss most when I move home is arguably one of the biggest perks of working in ASP— living in Appalachia. Ask any staffer and volunteer about their favorite parts of the Summer and I guarantee they will talk about the beauty and love buried deep in the areas we serve. 

When I sat down to write this week’s post, I reflected on what I’ve learned about Appalachia during my time here. From the peaks to the hollows, from rural Kentucky to Charleston, WV, one of the biggest things I’ve noticed across Appalachia is a consistent and deep sense of community. Wherever you go, people will greet you with a smile and hug, ready to talk to you and learn your story. 

Funnily enough, one of the most common ways this community manifests itself is around the table, by eating together or the “breaking of bread” as those who grew up in church might call it. When we sustain our souls and our bodies with a simple act of love like cooking and eating together, our table becomes a proverbial place of peace.   

The simple things, the simple acts, are often the ones that matter most.  

The Bible tells us that eating together is Holy. Breaking bread with our brothers and sisters is such a simple act, but it is one of the most important. It’s a labor of love and a way for us to connect with others. I find that this is also reflected in our relationships, both with Jesus and with others. Even if you’re not religious or currently practicing, I think that there is still a draw to the idea of eating as a bonding experience. For some, cooking is a love language, for others, it’s a way to pass down their heritage.  

When I used to work for a children’s ministry, my favorite part of Sunday was getting to the church early to set up for volunteers. It was quiet before the storm of parents, children, and all of the chaos that would soon come. Setting out muffins, making coffee, and arranging snacks aren’t the most fun tasks, but I found them rather peaceful because I knew our volunteers both noticed them and felt noticed because of them. They talked and ate together and left the room feeling more nourished in some way than when they entered.  

Again, the super simple things mattered to us.  

 One of the things that most excited me about the Appalachia Service Project is getting to be a part of these simple things. Eating with volunteers, small conversations with families, and moments with friends among the kudzu. These small moments are where I have found peace in the chaos of the Summer, and when I look back those are the moments I will remember.  

A neighbor in Breathitt who stopped to help us get our keys out of a locked van. The tight hug from a homeowner I revisited in Bell. The family that cooked us lunch in Nicholas for their son’s birthday. Those moments are magical and holy in their own way.  

Most of us feel called to ASP because of its simplicity. Warmer, safer, drier. Meet people, love them, and serve. Sure, the details may become complicated and things may get challenging, but the goal itself remains the same. 

Whether tearing down black plastic, making your last hardware run, or finishing up a project, I hope that we are able to enjoy the mountains and find peace in these moments so that we can remember them when they are gone. 

To our five and six-week centers that have already wrapped up, congratulations, and get some rest! To those finishing up this week, I hope you find time to be present and embrace the joy of your labor. Lastly, a big shout out to Wise. You are strong, you are seen, and you are deeply loved. Go get ‘em tigers.  

My takeaway this week is to love people and rest in their presence. It’s that simple. 

Lauren Rhodes

Story Gathering Intern