Serving in Appalachia, West Virginia
The highly rural region of Appalachia within West Virginia once was idealized as “Almost Heaven” by popular American songwriter John Denver. The reality is much different. 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. Because of this modern legacy, the people of West Virginia have been frequently stereotyped as “backwoods” and “hillbilly” in the political and entertainment media. In truth, the opposite is true. West Virginians are a resourceful, industrious people who have worked hard to overcome the legacy of the large-scale logging and coal mining firms which dominated their economy in the early 20th century. At that time, these companies brought living wage jobs and modern amenities to Appalachia, but by the 1960s, had failed to confer many long-term benefits to the people. Many of the former “coal towns” – and the societies that inhabited them – now lie in ruins. Improved education, health, and nutrition are state goals.
Global Volunteer’s host partner has developed many innovative community revitalization programs to help provide essential services addressing the significant social challenges of the area. This is where our volunteer teams have had a great impact since 1999. You can join this legacy of service enriching the lives of bright and eager youth and young adults while experiencing the resilience of their culture first hand.
No matter your background or skills, you’ll be treated as a valued resource for the bright students in this welcoming community! You’ll provide diverse examples of career options the young people we work with may never have considered.
Community Partner & Work Projects
Since our West Virginia service program began, our host has been the Southern Appalachian Labor School (SALS), working out of Beards Fork in Fayette County. John David, an educator and visionary, is SALS’ founder and director – and works closely with your team leader to facilitate the volunteer experience. .
In a unique, combined vision since 1977, SALS has provided education, research, and networking for working class and disenfranchised families and students – through rehabilitation of dilapidated and energy inefficient homes for low-income families in economically devastated rural coalfield communities. In a unified, integrated curriculum, “at-risk” youth and young adults complete their high school education and learn a trade through SALS’ YouthBuild program. Here, they study to complete their GED or other certifications while helping build and rehabilitate affordable homes for local families. As a Global Volunteer, you can further inspire SALS youth by modeling a strong work ethic at the service project sites, sharing your own failures and success stories, encouraging and enabling them to strive for high personal work and educational goals, and helping them envision a dynamic future. At once, you become a role model, mentor, and friend as you volunteer alongside these promising youth!
“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 Painter, SALS
Working with students in YouthBuild, you’ll help repair and renovate former coal-company houses and other community buildings while mentoring students on positive work habits and skills. In this way, you can help young people gain useful construction skills and learn how to excel in their careers. In the afternoons, you might also help them study for GED tests to gain entrance into the world of market employment.
SALS Community Center
During the summer teams, the Energy Express program provides local elementary and middle school children a free half –day reading camp. Volunteers can assist local staff, help with meals and work with area youth to combat “summer slide” and ensure kids are best prepared for the upcoming school year. Please note that Energy Express is not a full time work project and will likely be combined with other projects during your service program. A “bonus” service work site in Beards Fork is the after-school program from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily during the school year where you can also tutor local children and young adults in various school subjects. You need not be an experienced teacher to be a great resource! This service project is available during the school year.
Additional community work projects available with SALS in West Virginia:
Renovate and maintain homes for the elderly. If you can wield a hammer or paintbrush, you are needed! Help paint, install drywall, and make repairs on the homes of Beards Fork’s elderly residents.
Service Program Logistics
All programs are led by a trained team leader experienced in managing diverse groups of people. In cooperation with the community leaders, your team leader will facilitate your team’s orientation, assist you in becoming fully engaged in the work project, and manage all project-related logistical issues.
Three meals a day are included in your service program contribution. Volunteers eat meals in the housing’s dining room or at the worksite and the team leader purchases food locally for meals to be prepared in the center’s kitchen. A typical breakfast includes eggs, cereal, toast, coffee, and juice. Lunch is taken bag style to the work sites. Typically, lunches include sandwiches and other basic lunch items and snacks. Dinners are often prepared by a local cook and are served family style. Desserts, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages are available for an additional charge.
Traditional West Virginian cuisine is similar to southern-style soul-food, but it most closely mirrors Appalachian style of cooking, which arose as imaginative ways to prepare historically meager rations. In the early years, people here relied on whatever they could grow or obtain locally – at low cost. This style of cooking emphasizes wild or cultivated plants, berries, nuts, wild game, and corn. Foods like fried chicken, sausage, cornbread, green and pinto beans, greens, squash casserole, mashed potatoes, fresh cucumbers and onions, ripe tomatoes, pickles, and berry cobbler are commonly found throughout the state. If you’re craving a typical West Virginia meal, you may find that a coleslaw-topped hotdog, a side of corn bread, and a variation of greens may be just what you seek!
Volunteers are lodged dormitory-style in Beards Fork at SALS’ dorm – in five separate bedrooms with bunk beds (twin size, most are extra long) housing two to four volunteers per room. There are three bathrooms (a women’s, a men’s, and a unisex) with a total of five showers – one is disability accessible. There is a large common room and a large industrial kitchen with plenty of counter and cabinet space. The kitchen is equipped with a commercial refrigerator and a matching freezer, stove, oven, ice maker, sink, coffee maker, and microwave. The dorm is adjacent to the community center where you’ll have access to TVs, computers, and telephones. There are washing machines on site as well as heating, air conditioning, and ample electrical outlets. Both the dorm and the community center have Wi-Fi.
All onsite transportation is included in your service program contribution. You will meet your team leader and other team members at the Charleston airport and be driven to the work site – about an hour away – in a SALS van. You will also be taken back to the airport in the same way on the final day of your program. Transportation to the work sites varies from mere steps away to about 20 to 45 minutes by passenger van. Note: transportation for free-time activities is not included.
Free Time Activities
You’ll have ample free time in the evenings and on the weekends before and after the program to enjoy area cultural and natural attractions. All free-time activities are your responsibility. These activities range from hiking nearby trails in the hills and “hollers”, visiting the New River Gorge and taking the New River Gorge Bridge Walk, visiting old coal mining towns in the area, and taking trips into Charleston to visit the capitol and some small-town shops. You can also take the opportunity to go whitewater rafting on the New River and Kanawha River, visiting Babcock State Park and the Kanawha falls near Montgomery and Smithers on the weekend.
Service Program Contribution
Global Volunteer’s service program contribution covers all lodging, three meals a day, in-country team transportation, emergency medical evacuation insurance, all preparatory materials, onsite orientation, a full-time team leader, and administration costs. The West Virginia service program fee is $1,177 for one week. Please ask your volunteer coordinator about referral credits as well as discounts for students, companions, groups, and alumni volunteers. We encourage you to use Global Volunteers’ online fundraising tool where you can create a personalized webpage to request partially tax-deductible donations from family and friends to help cover your service program contribution. Airfare and free time activity expenses are your responsibility. The service program contribution and airfare are tax-deductible for U.S. taxpayers.
“In this community everyone looks out for one another. They are more than just neighbors, they are 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 Mahdi, Global Volunteer in West Virginia