Volunteer in Appalachia – West Virginia Coal Country

Volunteer in Appalachia with the resilient people of Fayette County. We’ve worked deep in the “hollers” – memorialized by American songwriters – since 1999. Contribute your time and skills in West Virginia’s “empowerment zones,” characterized by high poverty and low employment. Work one-on-one with children, teens and adults and share a world largely misunderstood by casual visitors. Review a standard volunteer work schedule here.

FAQs: How to Volunteer in Appalachia

  • BUILDING REPAIR AND REHABILITATION

    Help rehabilitate dilapidated and energy inefficient homes, classrooms and other buildings in economically devastated rural coalfield communities.  Trades professionals are especially helpful, but everyone who can wield a paint brush or pound a hammer can work alongside and mentor participants in the local “Youth Build” program—young people who are working on-site to develop their trades skills and earn their GEDs.

  • AFTER-SCHOOL AND GED TUTORING

    During the school year, help children of all ages study and comprehend lessons, complete homework assignments and study for tests.  Help teens and young adults study for their GED tests and learn computer basics so they can successfully compete in college or enter the work world.

  • SUMMER ENRICHMENT PROGRAM

    Help kids in grades 1 to 5 practice reading and engage their creativity and personal expression at Energy Express, a summer school program in June and July.  This part-time project enables you to observe and work with local teachers to encourage students who may struggle in the classroom during the school year.

  • RADIO BROADCASTS

    Employ your technical knowledge and experience in daily radio broadcast operations! Or share the story of your personal career development on SALS’ own radio station at the Oak Hill Community Center.  If you’re willing to be interviewed about your professional skills, education and your experience on your service program, you have a ready audience!

  • COMMUNITY GARDEN

    Plant, weed and harvest in the local community garden. Assist with the maintenance and upkeep of a small demonstration garden.

Food and Lodging

Your health and safety as a volunteer in Appalachia are our top priorities. Lodging is dormitory style in the Beards Fork Southern Appalachian Labor School dorm, with large rooms and shared bathrooms divided by gender. Smaller private rooms may be available for families with young children if requested in advance.

  • Bunk beds with provided bedding
  • Shared bathrooms with showers
  • Community TV room
  • Industrial kitchen for meal preparation
  • Wi-fi available at some work sites

Breakfast is self-serve at the lodging facility, with packed or provided lunch at the work sites. Evening meals are prepared by a local cook at the lodging facility. Specialties are typical Appalachian and Southern American “soul food” – greens, fried chicken, sausage, cornbread, green and pinto beans, squash casserole, mashed potatoes and the like. Strict vegetarian and other restrictive diets may not be easily accommodated. Local water is safe; bottled water is available.

“I definitely know more about the Appalachian culture now – how black and white populations mix, and how customs extend back through many generations. I developed an appreciation for the challenges local people face in order to get ahead.”


Jefry Machesky West Virginia Volunteer

“When asking co-workers what volunteering means to them, I came up with the list of: educating, love, teaching experiences, useful, eager, caring, giving, generous, beneficial, humanitarian, free-hearted, and that they had fond memories of helping others, themselves, or of being helped by someone as a friend locally or abroad, but most of all, it is a service that is very needed in our communities.” 

Barbara PainterSouthern Appalachian Labor School, Community Partner

“In this community, everyone looks out for one another. They’re more than just neighbors, they’re family. We as volunteers have helped each other, embraced our neighbors, learned new things, had fun, and most of all, we’ve made a difference. Our new goal is to continue making a difference.” 

Baheejah MahdiWest Virginia Volunteer

Be The Change.

Through important, full-day volunteer assignments and free-time activities, you learn about Appalachian culture and the significant ways you improve children’s and families’ lives. Our time-tested and proven philosophy of service ensures your efforts help advance the host community’s development vision and goals. You contribute to genuine community-based projects, and in doing so, you’re accepted as family. Our commitment to engage short-term volunteers on long-term community projects in partnership with local people enables you, in just a short time, to serve as a critical link in a chain of volunteer support spanning three decades.

Request a West Virginia Program Fact Sheet