Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Date Night!

We finally got out to our worksites today.  We are split into two work groups.  Work group 1 was assigned to a home that was abandoned by its owners after they received a mortgage foreclosure eviction notice.  Work group 2, my group, was assigned to a home that was recently purchased by COAP and needed a new coat of paint.  We got started taping off trim, dusting cobwebs out of corners and off of popcorn ceilings, mixing paint and getting the hang of rolling with extender poles.

We were led on the site today by Jason, one of the COAP contractors.  Jason is a really interesting guy.  He’s young, born and raised in Harlan, with some very clear opinions.  He said that it’s really difficult to speak out against coal here in Harlan because so many people are dependent on it through jobs or identify with coal and coal mining as part of their culture.  But many of the coal mines are closing because of stricter regulations from the EPA.  He says that the changes have been coming since the late 90s, but most of the coal dependent towns didn’t try to diversify their economies in preparation for the decline of the coal industry and now the poverty that was already rampant in the area is intensifying even further.  Jason talked about shows like Justified and how a lot of people in the area think that they’re making fun of the people.  He sees it as an opportunity to showcase what the people of Appalachia are really like.  In fact, he builds beautiful, high-end furniture and would love a reality show to exhibit his life and work to boost sales!  TV producing friends, this is your invitation!

After lunch a group of us headed into town to use the bathrooms at the tourist center because the water in both of the houses we were working in was shut off.  We made a pit stop at a store called the Shirt Shack so that the coordinators could get group pricing for t-shirts and sweatshirts for everyone.  The owner of the shop, Eddie, was an incredibly friendly man.  He’s worked with La Salle students in the past and shared stories with us about his faith and all of the other groups he’s had the chance to work with through his screen printing business.  He says that they ship shirts all around the country and even to China for a group of missionaries.  In true Harlan fashion, Eddie refused to take payment from some of our group members when they wanted to purchase t-shirts from his store. If you or a group you work with are looking for somewhere to order shirts from and you'd like to support the local community in Harlan reach out to Eddie.  Great customer service, product and prices!

Both groups worked incredibly hard, though work group 1 did seem to get the more difficult project.  The house they were assigned to clear out literally looked as though the people who lived there just disappeared.  There were clothes, photo albums, and personal items left behind, food in the kitchen and medications in the bathroom.  There were even toys left sitting in the bottom of the bathtub and books strewn about the bedroom.  The owners never came back to get their things and so the students were asked to throw everything away.  It was clearly a challenge for many of them to see so many memories of this family, through letters, photos and greeting cards, and put all of them in the garbage like the lives of those people never existed.  Besides the emotional difficulty of the project, the home was FULL of stuff, so it was certainly more laborious than our painting project and the smell was beyond anything anyone would want to tolerate for a full day of work.  In addition to clearing out belongings, the students gutted the kitchen and ripped up the carpets.

Those bandannas came in handy as smell minimizers

Who doesn't love these overalls??

We returned to the cabin to find that a water main in town had broken and there was no water for showers or toilets.  This was a pretty big bummer because tonight was date night.  Despite the hiccup, we all did our best to clean the paint off of our hands and out of our hair and look presentable.  Dates were chosen earlier in the week and the goal is to get to know someone on the trip that you don’t know really well already.  On date night we go to a restaurant in town called Harlan Station where they have a $20 for two deal on Tuesdays, which includes a shared appetizer and choice of entrée.  I was overly excited about eating sirloin tips since we’ve been eating PB&J and other white carbs most of the week.  Yay protein!

Staff leaders Sean, Katie, and I

Social work ladies rockin' out date night

We clean up nice, don't we??

During reflection tonight we were asked to tell one thing that we learned about our date and give encouragement to one person that made an impact on us at the worksite today.  One of the student coordinators, Lexie, was my date and I shared that her favorite romantic movie was PS, I Love You and she’s really interested in getting a master’s degree to do work in health care advocacy and policy.  Lexie is a great leader and she transferred out of nursing and into health sciences because she felt like she wasn’t serving the patients in a way she found beneficial to them through the nursing field.  I think she’s a little bit of a social worker at heart and I want to try to bring her over to our side!  I gave encouragement to Sam, one of our other coordinators, because she struggled a little today to embrace her coordinator role.  Sam has been on Project Appalachia for several years and truly loves the people of Harlan.  She’s so passionate about volunteering here and it was clear that it was a change for her to lead and coordinate other volunteers in their service instead of doing a lot of the work directly herself.  Despite her personal struggles, she was so encouraging, patient, and uplifting on the site and I thought that it was really important for her to know how successful she had been in her new role this year.

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