Global Volunteers Tom and Kathy Kromroy had already served together in the Cook Islands, India and St. Lucia when they decided their “gift” to each other would be to mark their 40th wedding anniversary volunteering in West Virginia. They said the opportunity to reflect on important moments together while they helped youth and adults brought into focus their commitment to each other and the world.
“Ever since reading the book Christy by Catherine Marshall almost 50 years ago, I’ve wanted to visit Appalachia, and in a role other than just a tourist,” recalled Kathy Kromroy. So, as she and husband Tom entered their year of retirement, and approached their 40th anniversary, the couple devoted their vacation to discover the West Virginian part of Appalachia by providing needed community service and friendship. It had been seven years since they served with Global Volunteers.
“During the interim, we wanted to spend more time with our kids as they started their own families. Also, our full-time jobs didn’t provide as much time off as we would have liked,” Kathy explained. Tom picked up the story. “As of January 2019, we are both retired, and in July, we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. We decided this was a gift to us!”
“As of January 2019, we are both retired, and in July, celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. We decided this was a gift to us!”Tom Kromroy
Tom and Kathy worked with students of the Southern Appalachian Labor School (SALS), an alternative high school focused on providing education and opportunities to disadvantaged youth in Fayette County, West Virginia.
Kathy contributed her mornings to work at Energy Express – a summer reading camp for kids living in poverty held at the Beard’s Fork School. “Reading, writing, drawing and outdoor play were daily activities for the elementary school-age children at the camp,” Kathy reported. In the afternoons, Kathy participated in a Read and Feed project. Free bag lunches, milk and books were delivered to children living in communities that is most needed. “We spent an hour at each location, during this time, we volunteers had the time to read with the children while they ate their lunch. Before leaving, each child could pick a book to bring home.”
While Kathy was encouraging and mentoring students, Tom put into use his 30 – year work experience as a contractor to help a crew of YouthBuild students rehabilitate a small home in the nearby town of Oak Hill. He shared: “Truly the most important and powerful aspect of this volunteering is connecting with the people, as individuals – working side by side, learning and teaching, sharing our stories, giving and receiving who we are,” said Tom. YouthBuild programs in the United States and across the globe teach low-income youth construction skills to help build affordable housing and other community assets such as community centers and schools.
“Truly the most important and powerful aspect of this volunteering is connecting with the people, as individuals – working side by side, learning and teaching, sharing our stories, giving and receiving who we are.”Tom Kromroy
Working alongside the local community members afforded Tom and Kathy a better understanding of the rich culture and everyday life in Appalachia. “The local people we met and interacted with were friendly, hardworking, and appreciative of our presence and interest in working with them. Family ties are strong, as is loyalty to friends and community. Those with a little more help those with less,” said Tom. Kathy added, “The folks in the community are lacking in materials and comforts, but demonstrate a love and concern for each other unlike anywhere I live or have visited. I will try to follow their example.”
The couple also learned about the challenges of the rural Appalachian people. Much of southern West Virginia is designated a federal “empowerment zone” because of high poverty levels and limited employment opportunities occurring in the past five decades. “Economically there are not many opportunities; it seems it has been so since the decline of coal mining, so many people do not have jobs or adequate paying jobs – and some work more than one job,” Kathy explained.
The opportunity to “experience other people while making a positive impact and do something helpful in the process” is what draws Tom and Kathy to Global Volunteers. They said service in West Virginia was a direct way to help an oppressed population in the U.S.
“The folks in the community are lacking in materials and comforts, but demonstrate a love and concern for each other unlike anywhere I live or have visited. I will try to follow their example.”Kathy Kromroy
Tom shared a bit of insight from conversations with local people: West Virginians are resourceful, industrious people who struggle to overcome the exploitation and subsequent abandonment of the large-scale logging and coal mining firms which dominated their economy in the early 20th century. At that time, these companies brought wage-paying jobs and modern amenities to Appalachia, but by the 1960s, had failed to confer any long-term benefits to the people. Many of the former “coal towns” – and the societies that inhabited them – now lie in ruins.
“Learning about the work and life of coal miners when our team visited an underground mine – we will never forget that experience and the feeling of almost awe that so many people worked in those dark, dangerous conditions and basically gave control of the lives of themselves and their families to the coal companies,” Tom reflected.
“Most of our time is scheduled, whether it is project work, team meetings or meals, and we are part of a team with other volunteers with whom we live and share some of the same goals,” Tom emphasized. “This experience definitely opened my mind and heart to a totally different life of different needs and concerns. Helped me to better understand motives, a different way thinking and an alternative set of behaviors,” Kathy added.
“This experience definitely opened my mind and heart to a totally different life of different needs and concerns.”Kathy Kromroy
The volunteer-spirited couple said they believe that as a part of a long-term focused effort, the short time they spend volunteering with Global Volunteers truly makes a difference. For that reason, they’re committed to short-term volunteering in their retirement. “Our experiences with Global Volunteers are now part of who we are – as individuals and in our case, as a married couple,” said Tom. “Volunteering is one of our retirement goals so it will help shape our annual calendar,” Kathy affirmed.
“Volunteering is one of our retirement goals so it will help shape our annual calendar.”Kathy Kromroy
Young and mature couples, newlyweds, 50+ anniversary couples, LGBT couples – all have joined Global Volunteers in service together. Most say they learn about a new culture and each other – bringing the world closer. Learn more about our short-term volunteer opportunities and contact us to register!
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