Thursday, March 13, 2014

Say What You Need To Say

Staying in a cabin made for 20 people with 38 other people has finally caught up to my body and I am sick.  And it really wasn’t the day to be sick because we had an extra long day at the worksite followed by volunteering at the soup kitchen and dinner at the Huddle House.  Despite the frequent breaks and feeling like I wasn’t doing my part, it was a really productive day.  On the house we’d been painting all week we managed to remove all of the siding and the students removed all of the shingles from the roof. 

Removing the old shingles

Continuing with siding removal and cut-down

Lots of clean up!

Lining the roof in preparation for new shingles

What else to do when clean up is complete and you're getting ready to leave for the day??

With the first work site 1 house complete, students moved on to two new projects.  Some helped to insulate pipes in a crawlspace on a third house while others worked on digging holes for fence posts that would create a dividing line between the COAP house and the neighbors.  Our worksites have involved several animals that we’ve come to name and love.  At the fence house the neighbors have two dogs which we have named Lucy and Tiger.  Both are so frail and it’s clear that a lot of animals in the area are not well taken care of.  We’re not sure if the neglect is intentional or just a byproduct of poverty rates, but in any case some of the students ended up sharing their PB&J lunches with Lucy and Tiger.  In addition, there’s a yellow lab across the street from our painting house that we’ve dubbed Baxter and two roaming cats named Marcus and Gerry.

Lucy is in the far background on the left

For lunch today we left the worksite and went just down the road to a park.  We spent time swinging on swings, exploring the banks of the creek (or crick if you’re from Harlan), and getting to know each other even better.  The rest of the afternoon was spent continuing to paint and beginning to construct the fence.  When the work day ended our group was supposed to head into town and walk around for a bit before we volunteered a the local soup kitchen, Christ  Hands.  BUT, what we did instead was head over to the local hardware store and pick up tons of duct tape for a Project Appalachia tradition called Quack.  Quack happens by surprise every year on the trip and consists of everyone on the trip catching the student coordinators by surprise, duct taping them into submission and then duct taping them to each other.  I had the honor of sneaking the contraband back to the cabin in my backpack where the students caught the coordinators completely by surprise.

But, before I get ahead of myself, let me return to our Christ Hands experience.  Volunteering in a soup kitchen in Harlan is very different from a Philadelphia experience.  We often find lines down the block and around the corner, and sadly sometimes have to close the doors before everyone has been served.  In Harlan when the doors open there are just a handful of folks and everyone seems to know everyone.  One of the soup kitchen volunteers, Glenn, shared with us many stories about the history of different hymns and then invited some of our students to sing to the people waiting to eat before a prayer was said and food was served.  The students sang Amazing Grace and it was a beautiful moment to share the song with the students, volunteers, and people waiting to be served.

Our student servers with a regular volunteer

The dishwashers

I just really loved this building, which happens to be right outside of Christ Hands

I spent much of the night talking to Glenn who, based on a story he told me about being in high school when WWII broke out, had to be in his late eighties.  Despite this, he talked about how he volunteered with several nursing homes in the area singing to the older people.  He told me about his daughter who is a professional photographer and his work in photography, advertising, and service in the Air Force.  When I told him that I would be returning to KY in a few weeks for a conference in Louisville he told me all about this great Norman Rockwell inspired art exhibit at a local hospital that he photographed once and how I had to check it out if I had time.  His stories warmed me and made me feel like I was having a conversation with one of my own grandfathers, both of whom passed before I was old enough to have such conversations with them. 

When the meals were complete and one of the older volunteer women had to flash the lights on and off to get us to close out our conversations with each other and with the people who came for meals, we slowly departed and headed off to the Huddle House for a long-awaited southern diner meal.  I had southern smothered biscuits with eggs and a peanut butter milkshake….sounds strange, but it was delicious!

Huddle House deliciousness...Waffle House, you may have met your match!
Back at the cabin we welcomed two officers from the Sheriff’s Department who talked to us about what their days are like and the major issues that they see in Harlan County.  They talked about the devastation of drug addiction and poverty, but were clear to talk about the exploitation of these issues in the media.  They referred specifically to the 20/20 episode I referenced in my very first post and how many people in Harlan and the surrounding areas were upset that despite their efforts to show all angles of Appalachia, the show had chosen to only highlight the extreme poverty and drug addiction that affects a small portion of the larger population. 

After the officers left one of the students asked the coordinators if he could share a song he had written with the group before reflection.  They happily agreed not knowing that the song would end with the word QUACK and chaos ensued.  There really aren’t words for Quack, but I think the pictures and video speak volumes.

Reflection tonight focused on saying what you need to say.  All week long I’ve listened to students kind of belittle their own feelings or experiences in comparison to how they see others’ experiences, particularly the lives of those in Harlan.  I listened to a TED Talk once where the speaker asked the audience who was stressed and dealing with a lot.  Then she asked everyone to look at the person next to them and determine if their situation was harder than that of the person to their right or left.  Her point was that hard is hard and everyone’s experience is relative.  I told the students all of this and said that I hoped they could figure out a way to give themselves permission to feel how they feel without the need to compare themselves to others.  That I hoped they could see not only the struggles of others, but the strengths as well….I suppose the social worker in me showed up big tonight, but I felt like it was what I needed to say and that was the point of reflection after all.

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