Since this is my first-time attending training at the Porch, I am catching onto all the rituals of the Summer Staffers. From quirky inside jokes to local spots to eat, staffers have built a culture that blooms here in Jonesville. Having the opportunity to share in these traditions with my fellow Summer Staff has been a heartwarming experience that has helped me get a feeling for the organization on a deeper level.   

It is beautiful to watch young people from all over the country come together and find a way to connect that is special and specific to ASP. All the little ways staffers connect, through references to the Pitch Perfect movie series or adding adlibs to traditional ASP songs that have been sung during the summer for decades, is what helps bring together the whole group and keep them going through a long two weeks of training.   

Unity and joy are the purpose of tradition. That’s why we still square dance in Appalachia! Even though the activity has dwindled in popularity, certain folks make a point to keep it alive, just like all the staffers who have kept up the familiar habits of ASP. Those in Jonesville for training this week had the chance to meet two of these people last night: Frank and Deb. They have been coming to training since 1998, they think, to hold a proper square dance.   

Entertaining us after a long week of sessions with square dancing and folk music, Frank and Deb share a part of Appalachian culture with a bunch of kids who are largely unaware of this world. Still, this activity brings the same joy to staffers that has been felt by those like Frank and Deb or my great-grandma Lovie, who played the fiddle and called square way back in the day. All those who have kept this tradition alive for decades in this region have done so because it is a hoot that rallies people together even in less fortunate times.   

Coming into a summer with ASP, an open heart and mind is crucial if you want to really experience Appalachia. You must want to do-si-do and eat chicken liver and partake in other Appalachian traditions. These experiences key you into the lingo of the people we are serving. Sure, we can relate to one another as humans, but sparking up a conversation about native plants like ramps or bluegrass music is personal.  

People connect with each other through common experiences, especially those connect regions and places that are miles away from one another like square dancing. It’s nice to be able to tell a homeowner you have, in fact, partaken in a night of swingin’ your partner round. Maybe their eyes will light up and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to hear a bit about the dance hall they would frequent in their younger years. Even if they don’t, it is always heartwarming to know the tradition you love lives on.   

All these traditions shed light on the heart of ASP, whether specific to the Porch or something learned while out in the service area. The mission not only helps preserve people, but their memory and culture. As the staffers leave Jonesville to go out into their counties for the summer, they can take this experience with them to share with volunteers and possibly hold a dance of their own. These gatherings spread the beauty of Appalachia beyond giving volunteers and staffers the opportunity to spend time in these mountains meeting all the inhabitants.   

Hopefully, those spending the summer with ASP can get the chance to share some of our traditions with others wherever they return to at the end of the summer, encouraging those who aren’t aware of ASP to come to the Porch and learn some more. 

Taylor Beam
Story Gathering Intern