agricultural communication student
COLUMBUS, Ohio – “This organization, since the first time that I came, has obviously changed my life in more ways than one,” said Annalee Posey, center director fellow for Appalachia Service Project. “But this year-round program, specifically, has offered a whole new dynamic to that and has provided me with such personal growth.”
Appalachia Service Project (ASP) is a faith-based ministry with a mission to eradicate substandard housing in Central Appalachia by offering free home repair to individuals suffering from poverty.
ASP facilitates a summer program that requires the help of approximately 200 staffers and serves more than 25 counties. Each center and county vary in some way, but the work ASP does, over the course of this eight-week volunteer program, is only part of the organization’s efforts to fulfill its mission.
Jonesville, Virginia is one of ASP’s year-round centers, which hosts volunteers and continues construction throughout the rest of the year, offering a completely different pace and perspective compared to that of the summer program.
Posey said that while working for ASP in the summer, volunteers and staffers don’t necessarily get to experience the negative effects that families go through during the winter months.
“Going into my first fellowship year, last year, that was the biggest thing that stood out to me and stuck with me the most,” said Posey. “I didn’t expect to see the real struggle through winter. It was very difficult. You see a lot of reality behind the work that we do and the effect that it can have.”
The year-round program also allows volunteers the opportunity to see positive effects that come along with making a home warmer, safer and dryer.
“You don’t just see the numbers and the statistics that we give our volunteers about the projects,” said Posey. “You see those in action a lot more and why it’s important.”
Posey said ASP’s year-round program is also different because the demographic of volunteers includes mostly adults, whereas summer volunteer groups tend to bring more high-school aged individuals.
“The pace is different, as far as the energy levels, but also very different as far as seeing construction and relationships happen way faster with all adults,” said Posey.
Kristina Rowles, regional coordinator for ASP, has now worked full-time for this non-profit organization for nearly 3 ½ years, with an additional five summers on staff.
Rowles said the year-round staffers or “Fellows” are able to tackle more difficult and complex projects too, due to the skill level of volunteers generally being higher.
“Sometimes a roof is just too complex for our summer volunteers to tackle,” said Rowles. “If we know that we have a very skilled adult group coming in, we’re able to tackle that and then that provides a dry home for someone who otherwise would not get that opportunity.”
Rowles said similar to the summer program, projects are chosen based on budget, skill level of volunteers, distance from the center and timeframe. Each project and the program, as a whole, is predominantly funded through volunteer fees, independent donors and federal grants. ASP centers also occasionally facilitate special fundraisers for materials and projects that may be outside the initial budget, such as water heaters, septic systems and room additions.
Posey had a perfect example of what it’s like to originally turn down a family and watch them suffer for yet another year, due to safety concerns, budget regulations and skill level limitations. However, after lots of strategizing, Posey and her staff were able to accomplish one of their most impactful projects yet.
“It just wasn’t part of our scope at that point,” said Posey. “It took a lot of planning and a lot of preparation, and a lot of Adam Bean, our home repair coordinator, coming in to explain things, and a lot of prayer. But we’re able to see something cool, a really high impact project happen that is normally completely out of ASP’s scope.”
Not only does ASP touch the lives of individuals by simply offering free home repair, but the staff, volunteers and organization work to build strong relationships with the homeowners and help in any other way they can.
Posey said they met a family in need of home repairs that directly correlated with ASP’s scope and skill level, but these repairs were required in order for the family to stay together. Needing a new HVAC system and bathroom floor could have soon been the cause of these parents losing their children, if ASP hadn’t stepped in to help. Through different conversations with Social Services and having the right volunteers at the right time, ASP was able to fulfil their needs and help this family stay together.
“That was a whole new type of relationship building that we got to witness and were able to be very directly involved in,” said Posey. “Not only our volunteers getting to know them, but helping them continue getting to know each other, as a family, was just really cool. That was definitely high impact that was unexpected, but that’s God.”
After volunteering for eight years and working as a volunteer coordinator in Cocke County, Tennessee, I can attest that there’s something to be said about the relationships built through ASP.
In 2013, I attended my third ASP trip and served in Knox County, Kentucky. The family that my crew worked for couldn’t live in their home while ASP was doing repairs, due to limited space and safety concerns. The married couple chose to live in a camper, on the same lot, with their 7-year-old grandson, Ethan, who they seemed to take care of regularly.
On the day we met, I was wearing a Champion Show Feed t-shirt and Ethan said, “I’m going to call you Champ.” After that short conversation, I immediately knew our relationship was going to grow very quickly.
Within a couple days, the whole work crew had nicknames. Ethan loved turtles and “Call of the Wildman,” so naturally he became Turtle Man for the week.
Every day, Ethan wanted to help with the projects we were given. Due to his own ambition, he even learned how to hold a hammer, but as the week came to an end and projects came to a close, it was time to say goodbye to Ethan and Knox County.
On our last day of work, we gifted the family with some useful items and gave Ethan a set of Legos, which he would potentially cherish for years to come.
While we were hugging and saying our goodbyes, I asked Ethan if he was going to miss us.
Without hesitation, he looked up at me, arms still wrapped around my waist, and said, “I ain’t ever letting go.”
It was in that moment that I realized how much of an impact we truly had on Ethan, over the course of just one week. My relationship with that 7-year-old boy is something I will hold close to my heart forever, but it also serves as a symbol that we don’t meet individuals by accident. People are meant to cross our paths for a reason, especially those we meet through an organization as impactful as ASP.
This feature story was written by Bailey Pees, an agricultural communication student enrolled in the Agricultural Communication 2531 course during the 2019 Autumn Semester. Dr. Joy Rumble instructed the course.