The Cult of Cohasset This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

     It'sironic: one of the most affluent towns in Massachusetts is one of the best at providing volunteers for the Appalachia Service Project. My seaside town and its neighbors use this project as a reality check to interact with some of the poorest communities in the nation. Almost every high school student here experiences it.

The Reverend Gary Ritts brought the Appalachia Service Project here 19 years ago. The first group consisted of only a few work crews, but has grown into five centers with five work crews per center, totalling around 175 volunteers. This project focuses on West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, and the trip is usually wet and muggy.

Everything from painting walls to digging ditches to repairing roofs must be done in these counties, and teenagers sacrifice summer vacations to help families in need get it done. Sure, it is fun to be with friends and hang out at night, playing cards and listening to music, but if you ask anyone who participates in the project, they do it for the families.

There are months of planning before the journey actually begins. Car washes and the Cohasset Road Race are two fund raisers that get students involved in their own community before moving on to a bigger project. Stock sales (donations given by adult sponsors of student volunteers) are also important and bring in the most money.

When school is over, the journey to the heart of poverty begins. I have gone to Appalachia the last two summers and volunteered in Leslie County, Kentucky and Summers County, West Virginia. At the centers, the volunteers are welcomed by the four excited staff members and other volunteers from around the country. Each work crew has a family or person whose home they help improve. In Summers County, my work crew had a family with two young boys and a baby. How these folks live and interact with each other changed my feelings on the importance of family, humility and forgiveness.

In both counties, the family's relatives dominate the street or lane where they live. Even though there were few phones, they were not necessary because whenever they needed something, a brother or sister or father was just up the street and ready to help. This family connection can also be seen in another aspect of these people: their humility to allow such different teenagers into their homes. Many people I know would be embarrassed if anyone were to see their home in a less-than-perfect condition, so it is amazing that these people accept strangers into their homes.

There are a lot of "Oops" and "Sorrys" involved whenteenagers work on a project for the first time, but the homeowners are still cheerful and forgiving when it comes to a little, or even a big, mistake. I actually had a problem with the roof my work crew was mending: it was not covered properly, and when we arrived at the site after a wet night, water had leaked into the kitchen. I felt terrible, but the owner said it was alright, there was no need to worry. This level of forgiveness is rare.

There are many amazing things to be learned from this project. Maybe that is why students from my town can't wait to get their hands dirty and boots muddy. This trip doesn't just change the lives of the families who get a refurbished home, it also changes the lives of the volunteers. The Appalachia Service Project is almost a cult because it controls how the volunteers view the rest of their lives. The cult of Cohasset lives on for 2003, when masses of teenagers will again show up for the beginning of a changed life.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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