In the winter of 2021, I received an email from my youth director, Craig, asking if our youth group would be willing to go on a service trip to West Virginia the following summer and repair houses for one week with Appalachia Service Project (ASP). I was questioning whether something like this would be for me. Working in baggy, sweaty clothes, hot weather, and using heavy tools was not my strong suit. However, something was calling me to go on this trip. Whenever someone asks me how ASP was, I undoubtedly jump to how challenging it was, but honestly, it was one of the best experiences of my life. ASP effectively shaped my character as a whole, as it taught me to be grateful for everything I am fortunate to have, and it granted me the type of happiness one feels after knowing they’ve helped someone. Lastly, ASP showed me the simplicity of how having a genuine conversation with someone new to my life can truly build a strong connection.  

After our van arrived in West Virginia, we unloaded our bags and rolled out our air mattresses. As we got settled, the Summer Staff asked for a volunteer to go and see the site where my group would be working and meet the homeowners. I volunteered, curious as to what my working environment would be for the week. Since only one person went per group, the van was combined with another group that would be going to a different work site. We went to their site first, saw the condition of their project, and moved on to my group’s project. As we left their site and drove up to my group’s site, we made our way up this dirt hill. Looking out the left window, I saw a cliff with a coal train track below it. Their house was located at the very top of the hill on the wall of a mountain. As I exited the car, I started observing with a fixed mindset. As our small group continued looking around, we heard a voice coming from not too far away – it was the wife of the household. She was a lovely lady and told us that her husband was not feeling well. We talked briefly about what projects we would work on for the week, then continued observing the place. Reflecting, I learned that I take things for granted and do not appreciate everything I have. I go to a great school and have a safe and cozy home. I have a loving environment that I surround myself with every day. Simply by reflecting on my living state, a different type of motivation struck me to help restore life back into this home for this wonderful family. Even though I was aware of the challenge this week, I was ready to help this home with a growth mindset. On day one, this trip strengthened my character as I learned to value my life and became extra motivated to repair the home.  

ASP granted me the happiness one feels after knowing they have helped someone. I remember one time in particular when I built a gate for our homeowners. Walking out of their front door, there is a newly built deck that had recently been built by the previous work crew. Our homeowner had two concerns for the deck: he would fall down the stairs, and his little dog Jack would escape. I was open to his suggestions and started to take measurements. After about 2 hours, the gate was hinged up and accessible. I called our homeowner out to show him his new functional gate. It instantly brought tears to his eyes as soon as he saw it. Realizing that his house was becoming a home again gave him an overwhelming amount of happiness and left me feeling hopeful and accomplished. Going into this trip, I only expected to repair a house. I never intended to receive, only give, but I received so much by giving my all to this house and family for a week. So much joy, so much happiness. I finally understood the phrase, “Giving is better than receiving.” ASP shaped my character as a whole as I discovered the happiness one feels after they know they have helped someone. 

Going into ASP, I thought it would be all hard work. However, it shocked me that the times I wasn’t working and when I was spending quality time with the family we were serving were the times with the most significant impact. This service trip showed me the simplicity of how having a genuine conversation with someone new to my life can truly build a strong connection. This connection happened on Tuesday, our group’s second work day. It was very rainy and misty in the mountains of West Virginia, which were very pretty, but as the day progressed, the rain turned into a thunderstorm. It forced us to take shelter. At first, we were going to wait out the storm in our enclosed van, but out of the kindness of his heart, Rodger invited us into his home. We all sat on his family room floor, soaking wet. Rodger started to talk to us, sharing his life stories filled with emotion, the tragic events his house had been through, and sharing old images. By the end of the day, I had learned that he was a Veteran who was combat wounded, and he had worked in almost every type of construction, such as railroad, bridges, and coal mines. I learned that he had lost a farmhouse he had built due to a fire and had rebuilt his home three times. I learned that he is a very lonely man, although he always held the biggest smile on his face. I cherished how much he enjoyed our conversations and loved sharing his life. It was so simple, yet so significant. This conversation that lasted the whole day on a family room floor taught me how a genuine conversation with someone new to your life can build a strong connection.  

ASP truly shaped my character as a whole. I understand how grateful I should be for where I live, I understand the significance of giving, and I now understand how a genuine conversation will build connections. I hope one day they will pick up my phone call, even though it probably reports me as junk. I hope they receive the letters I sent them. I will never forget this family in West Virginia and their impact on me, even though they don’t know it. I will be returning to ASP next year and hope to receive another different point of view on life once again. 

Mackenzie Lueders 
ASP Volunteer