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McDowell County This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     My trips to McDowell County, West Virginia havebeen some of the most beneficial weeks of my life. I first heard about these worktrips in ninth grade after some friends had volunteered there. They returned fullof exciting stories and glowing with the satisfaction of serving others. I signedup immediately.

During the year we had several organizational meetings andfundraisers. We discussed basic rules of carpentry like the oh-so-important"Measure twice, cut once." We also covered service guidelines, whichstressed the importance of sensitivity, taking time to get to know the family,and never throwing away anything without asking. We raised money by hostingdinners, auctions and selling "McDowell stock," where people donated$25 and in return were invited to a slide show and dinner.

June finallyarrived, and it was time to go. I was so excited! I was also a littleapprehensive, since I had heard stories about the extreme poverty of the area.McDowell County is four hours away and I had plenty of time to get nervous. Whenwe finally crossed into McDowell, my fears eased. I was still surrounded bymountains and rivers, things I was used to. We passed a few houses that lookedfairly neglected, but not any worse than other parts of my state. It felt likehome.

We arrived at the school where we were staying and set up camp.There were no beds, of course, so we slept on air mattresses. There was no airconditioning either, so we had to make due with the few fans we'd brought. Theevening passed quickly, and I had my first taste of teamwork when we divided intocrews for the evening's meal. Some unpacked food, some cooked, and others washeddishes.

I awoke at 7 a.m. to begin what may have been the most importantday of my life. After breakfast, we split into two crews. I was part of the porchcrew. Driving to the work site was an eye-opening experience. Almost every housewe passed needed repair work. First we talked to "our" family, whoseemed nice. Being new to the work experience, I was a little unsure of how toact around them. My awkwardness soon disappeared, however, as I talked to themother about her children, who were our age.

Their porch was reallyfalling apart so we were to tear it down and build a new one. We had to becareful not to take the house down, too. We solved this by hoisting support beamsup and taking out the rotting ones. Actually building the new porch was awesome!It was great to try the techniques we had learned. I loved using power saws andthe other tools. I already knew how to hammer, and I definitely did my share ofthat! We worked on the porch every day for the rest of the week. Seeing ourprogress was really encouraging. When we saw our finished product, it wasimpossible not to feel a tremendous swell of pride. It was amazing tolook at a real porch that I helped create!

My first year at McDowell wasalso the year I met Corey, a 10-year-old who lived near the school. We invitedhim to eat with us. At first, Corey was violent, actually pinching and hittingsome of us. Several got annoyed and yelled at him, but I calmly talked to him,creating an instant attachment. Corey started behaving and he was at the schoolwhenever we weren't working. We talked and sang songs. Tearfully I said good-byeto Corey at the end of the week, which was the hardest part ofleaving.

The following summer I returned to McDowell County. A huge floodhad swept through, destroying hundreds of homes in the already impoverished area.Our work that year was dedicated to flood relief. We dug mud from basements andremoved ruined floors. We had to have tetanus shots, but it was worth it to knowthat because of us, the residents didn't have to do these jobs alone.

Iwent again last summer. This time we fixed up a community center, installingwindows and air conditioners. As a veteran, I was in charge of insulation. I havenever been prouder of myself as when I climbed that ladder and installed theinsulation myself!

I plan to return to McDowell County every summer I can.Through these trips, I have gained a better understanding of myself and my placein the world. I have realized I could just as easily been born into a poorcoal-mining town. Where we start in life is chance, and because of this, serviceto others is essential for true fulfillment.

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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