This past summer I was blessed with the opportunity to experience a life that I had never known.
I was not alone. Each year a group of 80 people form three groups and join other Americans to go to the Appalachian mountains. My group, all of whom were from Cohasset, Massachusetts, journeyed to Buchanan County in western Virginia.
Once we reached our destination, we met two other groups, one from Virginia and the other from Tennessee. All groups and our leaders slept in the Hurley High School gymnasium in our sleeping bags with our baggage piled around us for eight nights.
The following day we awoke at seven o'clock and met our "families," the group of Appalachians we would be working for.
When we reached their home, they embraced us as their friends and neighbors. We sadly learned of the loss of their home by fire. All their belongings, prized possessions, and family pictures were irreplaceable due to their lack of ability to pay their insurance bill. The 28-year-old mother and her two young sons (8 and 5) had gone through much tragedy including the loss of their father by a gun. Yet it seemed apparent that they were dealing with it extremely well. I truly respected them for that.
When we began work on the house, it was merely a foundation that stood naked except for of a few tall planks that supported its roof. By the time we were finished, the walls and insulation had been installed, and the roof was entirely shingled. We often stepped back to admire each others dedication to the house. We had accomplished something far greater than a house: we'd found unity.
I found that the families of Appalachia possessed much love and respect for each other. At first, the sight of their homes and the conditions of their belongings seemed unreal, yet we all learned to look beyond that and into what they really possessed in their hearts. It was then that we learned to love and respect them too for what they had and with that we learned to look and bring the best out in each other.
I heard many stories, much of what you would hear about families' children leaving home in search of a better life. Instead of what you usually heard, the ending for these families was different. It was a beginning. They could leave only for a short time. The beauty of the mountains, and the love of their families allowed them to travel only so far. Generally, the majority always find themselves coming home again.
On account of the many stories, each year the group grows. I find that each who goes is blessed with a gift ... or even better, happiness and memories for a lifetime. fl
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.