Staying Connected

A good community insures itself by trust, by good faith and good will, by mutual help. A good community, in other words, is a good local economy.    -Wendell Berry

By now, we all are aware of the tolls taken from being isolated from our social spaces, deprived of the ability to forge new relationships, the stress of Zoom fatigue, and the difficulty retaining new knowledge during the pandemic.

Despite the difficult year, I am increasingly grateful for the commitment of our student leaders as well as the the creative and inspiring space that our virtual meetings have been for the students in CASL (Community of Appalachian Student Leaders).

Students shared their own practices of maintaining resilience in a year of chaos: regularly going to the university gyms, being in nature, listening to music, lighting candles, getting back to the country. Spending time to understand our own identities and communities serves as a consistent and productive space of gratitude and validation.

Fellow Appalachian students meet biweekly to discuss a variety of topics related to the larger region and hone in on these relatable topics and how they have manifested in their own counties.

Most recently, the group screened the film Moundsville which focused on the rise and fall of a small West Virginia town during the ebb and flow of industry in the area. It was beneficial to learn and understand the nuances of local economies and the tension that rises when jobs leave the area. Some of the conversations stemmed around learning a trade vs. obtaining a higher education given the rising student debt; the social changes and cultural progress made through increased diversity through race, sexuality, and ethnicity and indigenous history in rural areas. Others critiqued the practice of extractive industries and their promise to bring jobs to an area in order to boost economies. The truth is that despite efforts to construct new buildings, and increase scholarships for local students, these corporations often employ those outside the area, adversely affect the housing market for county residents, and create changes that are unsustainable in the retail market.

A relatable discussion took place after screening the documentary, The Devil We Know, whose story also inspired the environmental horror in Dark WatersThese films discuss the devastating public health crises from the spill of DuPont chemicals which was poisoning the water systems in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

Each meeting, we all learn more about the systemic ways that our local communities are affected by policy, industry, and economies. In turn, we appreciate the richness of our homes, families, oral histories, humor, and the abundance of natural resources where we grew up. During a time when Appalachian communities are often plucked for soundbites from outside journalists looking to understand national politics, it’s much more interesting and helpful to dive into meaningful and complicated conversations based on lived experiences.

The connectivity and affirmation are critical for making sense of the world around us. I continue to be in awe of the resiliency, compassion, and commitment to the greater good that these students convey and exhibit in their daily lives. It is an honor to advise such an impressive group and we’re looking forward to recruiting the next cohort as well as sending our seniors off later this spring. Thank you all for the commitment you make to yourself and each other.

If you are from Ohio’s Appalachian counties and/or would like to get involved to learn more, please sign up to learn more and to join us on our virtual meetings every other Wednesday! We’ll be waiting on you.

Lynaya Elliott, Advisor

Care and Caring: It’s an Appalachian Thing

Kay Halasek

Care. This is the sentiment I recall most clearly, the memory most palpable to me as I reflect on my years living in Flatwoods, Kentucky, and the now nearly forty years my mother has continued to live there since I left to go to college in Georgetown, Kentucky, and later graduate school in Arizona and Texas. Such a memory of care, philosopher Nel Noddings tells us, is integral to the ethic of care that springs from “natural caring,” those acts motivated not by duty but by a desire to “act on behalf of the other because we want to do so” (“An Ethic” 699).

I found my sentiments about the care that permeates and defines relationships in Appalachia echoed by Kendall Bilbrey, a native of Wytheville, Virginia, who is quoted in the “Millenials Return” page on the “Saving Appalachia” website: “‘The people I met [when in college in the greater Washington DC area] didn’t have the same sense of caring and support and neighborliness that people back home did’ Bilbrey said. ‘I never thought of that as an Appalachian thing.’” Like Bilbrey, I never thought of the sense of caring I experienced in Flatwoods as a teenager as “an Appalachian thing,” either. It was just how people were. It is, though, I’ve come to realize, decidedly and perhaps uniquely an “Appalachian thing.”

Flatwoods—a town of about 7500 residents located just to the north and west of Ashland—is more affluent than most comparably sized Appalachian towns such as Pikeville, due in part, I imagine, to its proximity to the Ohio River and affiliations with historically strong regional steel, coal, petroleum, and railroad industries. But like Pikeville and other smaller towns in eastern Kentucky, Flatwoods (and neighboring Russell) is a community whose citizens are actively involved in their churches and volunteer organizations. It has its share of evangelical and Pentecostal churches as well as mainline Christian denominations and a growing LDS community. The churches—along with area social service agencies and organizations—collectively comprise a network of what Noddings terms communities of care (“Language” 54), institutions that support “carers” (those who give care).

I was reminded of my own deep personal connections with Flatwoods and Noddings’ concept of an ethic of caring this past June when my mother suffered a stroke. At the hospital and rehab facility, she was in the hands of professionals (many of whom are natives of the area) who embodied Noddings’ concepts of receptivity and relatedness, who enacted caring as a relationship through their attentiveness to her (“Language” 53), not simply as an obligation imposed on them by their professions. Although by early August my mother was back in her own home and by the end of the year driving again, the stroke had put her in the hospital for several days and then in rehabilitative care for nearly eight weeks. During my mother’s hospital stay, my family and I were able to be with her, but as the summer progressed, our visits to her at the rehab center were limited to only three or four days each week. And after her return home in August and the start of the fall semester at OSU, our trips became even less frequent and limited to a couple of days (at most) on occasional weekends.

Although our trips became less frequent, the attentions of my mother’s neighbors and friends were unfaltering. Karmen and Jim had her over for dinners. Doug still puts her paper inside her storm door each morning and takes her trash to and from the street each week. Denny plows her driveway—as he has for years. Roger and Toni bring over soup and help with home repairs—and Roger built the ramps that lead to her front door. Peggy and Leon (backdoor neighbors from the 1970s and 80s) bring in Meals on Wheels. She is surrounded by care and carers. These folks’ gestures of care are second nature, common (in the sense of familiar and ordinary), done without flourish. They’re not instances of “paying it forward.” They do not anticipate return or repayment. Caring is not a contractual exchange or transaction. These folks are not stockpiling good works against some anticipated future drought or meager harvest, times when they may be in need. They simply tend to others.

I do not myself conduct research in Appalachian studies, but Noddings provides me a means through which to reflect with my own sense of care on my life and relationships and those of my mother. Noddings’ concepts of natural caring and an ethic of caring provide me the means through which to characterize just one element of this Appalachian community and her people.

My mother, Erma Halasek Slavens

Kay Halasek

Kay Halasek


Kay Halasek is an Associate Professor in the Department of English whose research specializations are rhetoric, composition and literacy. 


References Advameg, Inc., 2016. Web.

Noddings, Nel. “An Ethic of Caring.” Reprinted in Ethical Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Russ Shafer-Landau, ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2013: 699-712.

Noddings, Nel. Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Print.

Noddings, Nel. “The Language of Care Ethics.” Knowledge Quest 40.4 (2012): 52-6. Print.

Weisser, Ryan. “Saving Appalachia.” 17 March 2016. Web.