This week, Sarah and I decided to finally tackle the WV counties. We wanted to set aside a few weeks so we could cover the state in one sweep and have some time to soak in all the state has to offer. As I am sure y’all who have read my blog before know, West Virginia is my home state. So, I was quite excited to spend some time in my home state with Sarah so I could show her around. So far, we have tackled Tudor’s Biscuit World and shared a pepperoni roll which is good progress in my eyes. Spending the week in WV has also opened conversations about the state with fellow staffers, volunteers, and community members.  

Obviously, when someone asks where I am from while in WV, I take the opportunity to say, “Oh, I live about (insert travel time) hours away!” This icebreaker has led to further questioning on a few occasions this week. Most of these questions I am used to, “do you like it here?” or “do you want to stay in West Virginia?” These evoke a whole swirl of feelings, so my answer is normally a bit complicated. Ultimately, the answer is of course I love it here and never want to leave but living that truth doesn’t come without a fight. ASP gives me, and other Appalachians, the chance to stay and work to improve our communities.  

After being asked if it is weird for me to be back home working in this capacity, I began to wonder how a situation like this could be uncomfortable. It certainly makes me uneasy to face the existence of struggle in WV. The idea that there is such a need for an organization like ASP in a place I love so much is sort of weird, but nothing I haven’t already come to terms with. Being home is always a bit weird, right? There are all these reminders of memories and issues that you have solved without the means to change them. For me, ASP is an outlet to chip away at these issues. It keeps me grounded in my community and reminds me every day why I choose to stay.  

Although, interacting with other West Virginians who have hope for the state is always the most grounding experience. I spoke with a volunteer, Bill, who is from Cabell County, WV. He came down from his current home of Connecticut to Clay County for the week. Bill has volunteered for several years, so we wanted to talk with him and learn his story. Before we sat down for an interview, we didn’t know Bill was a West Virginian. He slipped his home state into one of his answers and took me by surprise. It hasn’t been often that I’ve run into other West Virginians involved with ASP. Instantly, I knew Bill and I understood each other on a different level than those around us. I had to ask what it meant to him to come back, knowing he must feel similar to me. He spoke about how good it feels to travel home and serve in the state he was born, tears pooled as the words flowed. Afterwards I revealed our commonality and he replied, “Oh, you’re a West Virginia girl? You get why I am choking up, then.” I understood completely. Growing up here can be tough, but you always want to come back and make it better for those in the thick of it.  

Witnessing the work ASP does in my home state brings me hope that there will be less hardship soon. West Virginia is the place I want to be, but it isn’t always easy existing here. Eradicating substandard housing and uplifting West Virginians creates a chain reaction. We have all heard this while volunteering. If someone no longer has to worry about repairing a roof or affording outrageous utility bills due to poor insulation, maybe they can save up for a car and get to work more reliably. A local shop owner may be able to keep afloat because of the business ASP brings. In my eyes, the ripple effect goes beyond this.  

As more and more West Virginians are relieved of stressors like housing concerns, the broader community can start to move forward. This is not to say we don’t need serious government action and efforts to build up infrastructure, but the work that ASP does makes it easier for me to stay in West Virginia and exist. Just knowing that an organization like ASP is out there and provides an outlet for me to help my state in a tangible way keeps me going and rooted here. The possibility of a healed, prosperous West Virginia becomes more feasible with the presence of ASP’s community. Until that time comes, I am fine with the discomfort that can come from living in WV if it means having the privilege to call these hills my home.  

Taylor Beam
Story Gathering Intern