Our black belt student, Stephanie Lamm has some wonderful insight that we could all learn from. I am pleased to include her black belt essay in our blog. Enjoy!
My Experience With Appalachian Service Project
Over the summer I participated in a powerful organization that changed my life. ASP, or Appalachian Service Project, takes work teams of teenagers and adults to help make living conditions in Appalachia safer. I spent the majority of the year preparing myself for the week long trip. We practiced using power tools, which was new to me, and we did community service in local areas to raise funds. I was told I would see things that would change me once I got to the work site in Perry County, Kentucky. I wasn't so sure what to expect, but I knew I was in for a shock. Perry County is a rural mining community with few luxuries other than the local Wal-Mart. Our group was staying in an abandoned high school. The first night was spent figuring out which bathrooms worked, which staircase wasn't flooded, and what rooms had the best ventilation since there was no air conditioning. On the second night we were running around trying to find a room that wasn't flooded with insulation and water. We finally fled the building during a storm when electrical wire caught fire and the bedrooms had caved in on top of us. The third night we showered in the rain, because a water pipe burst in front of our shelter and we officially had no water for showering, cooking, or drinking. Day four we wanted to see the culture of the area, so we went to a coal mine. Our vans got stuck in the mud for hours. The day we were leaving we got news that the man that led us out of the coal mine had died in a rock collapse at the mine. Even with all these obstacles and tragedies there was one thing that kept us going- the family we were helping.
The first night, I was selected from my group to go meet the family we'd be working with for the week. I got a quick briefing on their situation, but was told I'd get a better understanding of what they're going through if I talked to them myself. It was a long and winding mountain road that led to my family's corner of the mountain. The family lived in a trailer next to their mom and brother. Their family had lived there for years, and the two small boys even took me up to their historic gravesite on the top of the mountain. "She was my great aunt," said Cody, age 6, "whenever I come up here I ask if it's ok for me to sit on her tombstone." I had never seen a family with such a sense of their heritage and pride for who they are. After the hiking adventure they took me into their trailer to tell me their story. The house had 3 kids, Cody, Paige, and Katie, who was 12 and blind from birth. The dad was a carpenter and a volunteer firefighter. He had tried to build Cody his own bedroom so he wouldn't have to sleep in the bathtub anymore. However, he wasn't able to finish it before winter came. The addition was mostly complete, but the entire thing was being held up by 5 mailbox posts. It was our job to finish the foundation.
At this point I was determined to help this family. I would do whatever they needed me to do no matter how hard it would be. We dug holes for days, and then we mixed concrete and built cross beams all in the 2 feet of space under the house. Our family would come out to assist in the process whenever they could. Katie would wake up early just to try to hammer a nail into the posts. At first I was afraid to let her, after all giving someone who can't see a sharp object and a heavy stick is never a good idea. With a little practice Katie was helping as much as anyone else on our team. She told me one day that "if there's something bad going on, I say that I don't mind because I don't have to look at it." Katie is one of the sweetest, funniest, and smartest girls I've ever met. We became closer with each day. During the days that were hot and tiring after not getting any rest at our sad excuse of a shelter, Katie is what kept me going. When the family learned about the hardships we were facing at the old school, they offered us food, showers, and prayers. I was so touched by their kindness to us. In order to finish the foundation of the house faster, people from the community had come out to help too. Pretty soon our work team of 6 had grown to 12 adults and children all working from 6 in the morning to 7 at night. On the last day, we climbed the mountain again, past the gravesite and over a lake at the top of the peak. The view was amazing. I looked down and saw our family's house. I thought about how happy they were and what a difference they had made in my life. I felt like they had given me more than I could ever give them. Despite every obstacle and conflict it was all worth it.