Hello, blog readers! I realized I hadn’t included much about our day-to-day as story-gathering interns, so I thought it would be nice to do a diary entry about my week. Sarah and I visit 2-3 counties a week, so we are always on the move. I love getting to see every part of our service area, but our fast pace makes the summer go by quickly. This week marks the halfway point of the summer. We are over the hump, and I want to reflect on my daily activities before it all slips away.  

I started off this week a little behind after going home to West Virgnia last weekend and making the 5-hour drive back to Jonesville on Monday morning. The drive was tiring, but bouncing around all summer has made long drives normal. Sarah and I spent Tuesday in Jonesville, visiting worksites, meeting some long-time volunteers and picking up Dutch Treat sandwiches for a late lunch before heading out. In case you have somehow missed out on this treasure, Dutch Treat is a small grocery store that also serves sandwiches in Lee County. The joint is a favorite of ASP folks, including Sarah and me who make any excuse to swing by. Filled with our sandwiches, we decided to stop at yet another Lee County classic, the water spicket, which is just a PVC pipe jutting out of a hillside that pumps out mountain spring water, allegedly. The water is so crisp and the perfect cool temperature, but I am still not sure what the true origins of this mystery are. Despite the mystery, we were hydrated for our long drive to Breathitt County, KY.  

Our stay in Breathitt was one of my favorite stops yet. After arriving on Tuesday night, we stayed up later than usual, spending time with the staffers and eating chicken tenders. Sarah and I spent all day Wednesday visiting worksites, meeting volunteers and homeowners, and taking pictures and videos before heading back to the center for dinner and community night. Breathitt hosts Sturgeon Creek, a local bluegrass band, for their weekly gathering. A night of banjo picking and lyrics about missing your lady was just what I needed. Bluegrass and country music just feel like summer to me. I was even more excited to find out that one of the members, Darren, works at the local hardware store owned by his family. ASP staffers have sourced their supplies from their store for decades. After the show, I talked with Darren and scheduled an interview with him for the next day. This conversation excited me, because he has such a unique relationship to ASP that is important to the community of ASP in many ways. As the evening went by, I was quite excited to sit down with Darren and hear his story. 

Although I was looking forward to our stop at the hardware store in the afternoon, the beginning of our day proved just as true to ASP’s mission to build community and kindness. We actually only stopped by one site, spending several hours talking with volunteers and the homeowner, Jeff. The group was building a porch and a ramp. We had promised them the day prior to stop by first thing in the morning to get a group picture for Jeff’s son, but didn’t plan to spark up a conversation with Jeff. After introducing myself, Jeff and I started talking about the Hatfield and McCoy feud after I mentioned being from West Virginia. I decided to continue our discussion by sitting down to talk about his experience with ASP. Our conversation went great and proved that his experience with ASP is improving his wellbeing and his home, but the best part was when Jeff revealed it was his birthday. Personally, my birthday is my favorite day of the year, so I was happy to be a part of his special day. After packing up and heading back to the center, Sarah and I realized we left a camera battery behind at Jeff’s house, which was the perfect excuse to bring Jeff a birthday treat! We picked up a small chocolate cake and headed back to surprise him. The joy on his face made me tear up a bit. I don’t always have the opportunity to give gifts to homeowners in my story gathering intern position like I do when volunteering with ASP, so I am glad we got to make this little connection with Jeff. 

Our next stop was the local hardware store to sit down for our conversation with Darren. He has worked at the family-owned hardware store opened by his grandparents since he was a teen. These were the years Darren first began performing at the various ASP centers in the area after being offered the opportunity by a staffer visiting the store. ASP has always been a huge part of their business. Darren’s relative even showed me a framed photo of a previous Breathitt County staff they keep by the register. Years later, he formed a successful band and made sure to leave extra time in their schedule to continue playing for volunteers on community night. Having the chance to talk with Darren and document his not-so traditional, but still very important, relationship to ASP was just what I had been hoping to do all summer. Community members are a huge part of the mission and show a different perspective of what ASP is.    

We ended our week in Sullivan County, TN, arriving on the (in my opinion) best night of the week, the evening of their weekly picnic. Their cookout is held at a nearby park with a beautiful lake. I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with more live music from a folk duo that the Sullivan staff has been hosting at their picnics. After heading back to the center, we were quite beat from the long drive and rested up for our jam-packed Friday.  

My morning started off with my official initiation into ASP staff, chugging an energy drink with the Sullivan County staff. Sarah and I then headed off to worksites for some interviews. Throughout the week, we had looked forward to meeting up with a trip coordinator who was previously on staff, Meredith, while in Sullivan. After hanging out with one of the work crews she leads, we sat down to chat. Traveling around our service area has led me to encounter some of the kindest people. Meredith is one of them. ASP Summer Staff selects young people with servant hearts, so I have come to accept that those I encounter will be kind and giving. Meredith’s journey from summer staffer to trip coordinator for her group that included students from the high school she teaches at and members of her home church is a testimony to her giving heart. Ending my week with this interview reminded me how grateful I am to be in a community that includes people like Meredith.  

The summer seems to finally have set in for me. This week was a perfect mix of all things ASP. My hope in this position is to capture all the ins and outs of the organization and my experience. Our journey this week seemed to provide the opportunity to do just that. We met amazing people, stopped by some essential ASP destinations, and put in the work to capture our experience and share it with all of you.  

Taylor Beam
Story Gathering Intern