Zach, a Central Michigan University student, served as a West Virginia Global Volunteer over his summer break. His reflections, and those of his teammates, are extracted from the team’s daily journal, and describe the typical work on a week-long service program in Appalachia.
If you would have told me a year ago that I would be doing the ‘Hillbilly Shuffle’ in West Virginia with a room full of people that I had just met, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But if I’ve learned anything on this incredible trip with Global Volunteers, it’s that stepping out of your comfort zone every once in a while can lead to friendships, experiences, and memories that are simply impossible to forget.
Through its beauty, charm, and welcoming nature, West Virginia has made this Michigander feel like one of its own, like a friend inviting you into their home and asking you to stay a while. With five days spent here and two more left on the horizon, I can say for certain that I will miss this place when we hit the road.
By the second day, the team had settled into the work projects.
Once we arrived on the site, my lack of experience seemed trivial. The leader, Jim, patiently coached us through the “art” of laying dry wall. He didn’t seem at all fazed by our struggle with what I’m sure for him is an easy task. As the day progressed, the work became secondary to bonding with the locals and sharing stories. It wasn’t about getting the drywall done and going home, which for so many of us is the rhythm of our work days at home. The emphasis of the day was to work together, but rather than to work together to simply achieve a task, it was to work together to achieve a mutual understanding. It was genuinely inspiring to hear where these people, the same age as me, have come from and how through hard work they are reclaiming their futures.
By the time 4 o’clock rolled around, the work day was over; it was almost hard to leave. I walked away tired, grateful, and in awe that people as strong and resilient as B-More and Renee (our new local friends) exist!
“You can’t help but empathize with the plight of the people here,” said Zach’s teammate, Zoma. “There is so much to fix and we can’t do it in one trip or in a week, but I think the ultimate goal as our community host told us, is to build relationships and to bring hope to the people. There is a lot of wisdom in this approach, because sometimes that is the just the greatest gift we can give one another in this journey called life! We can build stuff and take away physical problems/barriers but the psychological aspects of our problems need more!!!! I can’t wait to see how our different backgrounds but unity in purpose will be part of the big picture of the work we do here but most importantly the hearts we touch here in West Virginia!”
“Let us use this gift during our stay here at Beards Fork to begin the process of returning to ourselves, to our relationships with others in this community.”
-Sharon Meixler, West Virginia Global Volunteer
Zach’s teammate, Jason, reflected on the third day of work in Beard’s Fork:
We spent the day at the house of an elderly couple and devoted our time to the remodel of their front room. We focused on repairing the walls that had been severely damaged by the shifting of the foundation and significant water damage.
Daniel was our project manager for the day, and he was extremely welcoming from the moment we arrived. As volunteers we all focused on being there to support him and the project that he was assigned. It would have been easy for us to have walked in and start on anything that we thought needed repair, but we all continued to keep in mind that helping the local residents become empowered to be a leader was much more important. I feel that keeping this as our “Number 1 Goal” lead to Daniel feeling a sense of accomplishment – knowing that he was assigned a project and by his direction and guidance his team was able to finish up a substantial amount of work, including removing the significantly aged wallpaper. Daniel knew that Steve had hated the wall paper but did not have enough supplies to sheet rock over those sections. Overall, I feel that it was a successful day for the project but more so for the project manager, Daniel.
“Thought of the day: We’re a far-fling group of people, from all over the western hemisphere – as far north as Canada, as far south as Brazil, as far west as California. We’re of different backgrounds, different nationalities, we have different political ideas, and none of us had met each other before Saturday. But, we all came here to Beards Fork, and here we eat together, live together, and work together – as a small community. And, as a small community, we’ve accomplished a great deal in these past few days for this larger community that we’re part of in Beards Fork and Oak Hill. It’s remarkable what can be accomplished when people put their differences aside and focus on the job in front of them.”
– Mike Meixler, West Virginia Global Volunteer
Learn more about being a West Virginia Global Volunteer
Global Volunteers has worked deep in the “hollers” since 1999. There are opportunities to work one-on-one with children, teens, and adults in Fayette County. Volunteer projects include: Building repair and rehabilitation, after-school and GED tutoring, summer enrichment program, and housing assistance.
Ample time is provided after the work day to enjoy local cultural and natural attractions: local concerts, museum visits, souvenir shopping, hiking trails, swimming, and participating in community events and celebrations.
“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.”
– Baheejah Mahdi, West Virginia Global Volunteer
Learn more about Volunteering in West Virginia on our website.