Destination 2011: West Virginia

Destination 2011: West Virginia
The crew during a visit to the New River Gorge Bridge

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Beautiful Day in a Beautiful Place

   Starting off with a full pot of coffee we got ready for the day ahead. Finally sunny outside, we headed for the housing rehab project we've been working on for the week at full speed. Today we finished putting in all new windows in the home, 'mudded' the walls with plaster, and tried to finish up all other odd projects around the house to make everything come together. As we've been working more with the SALS crew the level of appreciation of each other has grown and we are having a blast working with the team at Berta's home. The day turned through a loop when we got the opportunity to have one of the workers take us on a long lunch to the New River Gorge Bridge, the longest arch bridge in the northern hemisphere, and third largest in the world. We hiked down a mountain and felt accomplished with the photos we were able to take, along with a great appreciation of nature. In honor of Saint Patrick's Day, we are wearing our green 'Destination' t-shirts and going out for a night on the town enjoying a dinner at a local restaurant. We can't believe tomorrow is our last day and we will yet again be on an 18-hour road trip back to our lovely Wisconsin, and 'the riv.'
   Collectively, as a group we have learned more than we ever expected during this trip. We have all gained a great appreciation for the things we have available to us. The ability to go to school and get an education is something none of us will ever take for granted again. The residents of West Virginia are strong minded and intelligent people, despite the shortcomings they have to go through due to poverty. Being able to speak with them and listen to each individual’s story has opened our eyes in more ways than one. From the kids at SALS afterschool program to 91-year-old Berta we have gained a lot of respect for each individual and this state as a whole.
   In the words of Berta, “If you impact one person in your life, then your life is complete.”
We hope to have impacted some people in West Virginia, and we know they sure have impacted us.

See you in Wisconsin!
Your Destination Bloggers

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wisdom from West Virginia

Greetings from those of us volunteering in the Wild & Wonderful state of West Virginia!  A day in the life of our Destination: Rural Poverty experience has included many new experiences that have exposed us to a culture often unknown by those of us in the Midwest.  Today we met Bert, owner of the house we are helping fix up.  He turned out to be more knowledgable than we had anticipacted.  He told us incredible stories and offered us many life-tips that we hope to implement in our own lives.  One of the pieces of advice Bert shared with us was that literacy/education is a gold nugget.  Also among his stories were those of his time as a sale's clerk when he met famous people such as Eisenhower! 

Again our day consisted of waking up early to battle for the bathroom.  Then we drive forty minutes to our work site.  The majority of us worked hard sanding dry-wall mud, smoothing it out and "antiquing" ourselves.  Elise, Joe, and Kelsey certainly won the award for that!  Then we were able to spend our lunch hour in Bert's company.  After lunch it was back to work for another three hours in which many primed the walls, Robbie and John finally got that garage door fixed, and we spent more time soaking up information from Bert.  At four we headed back to SALS to play kickball with the children.  Then we get to compose our blog and head back to "The Church" for down time, supper, and reflections.

We are also able to spend time with people from other schools.  Last night, after a deep reflection, our group headed to the school building for a dance.  However, upon arrival, we found that it was cancelled.  But no worries!  We started our own!  With the group from Maine, we played Catch Phrase, Knights and Dragons, and had a Red Wagon dance off.  Overall, we have learned a lot, had a lot of fun, and hope to continue that streak in our remaining two days here!  :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

YooHoo Man

Today was another adventure filled day. We went back to the Mount Hope rehab site and continued to work on the projects we started from the day before. Before we started work, a neighbor man, we called the "YooHoo Man," offered some of us a YooHoo beverage to keep up our energy for the day. This gave us a sense of how friendly the neighborhood was. The most challenging task today was putting up a garage door. John and Robbie gave a tremendous effort into putting up the garage door, but after everything was up, they found out it wasn't working correctly. This will be continued tomorrow. Before leaving the rehab site, we discovered that Jim, our site manager, will be running for mayor of Oak Hill this coming June. It's amazing to see the passion and devotion of the people from this community. Another game of kickball was played with the students in the after school program when we got back this evening. Now, we are just waiting for dinner to be made. Tonight we will be having rockin' tacos!

Monday, March 14, 2011

We Made It!

Hi from Taylor :)   (a 4-year-old girl from SALS after school program wanted to say hello to all of you)

We are working with SALS (Southern Appalachian Labor School) in Beardsfork, WV. This organization has programs for youth in the area, and provides housing rehabilitation to homes in need. Today, we helped with a house rehab project for a 90-year-old man. We felt like real construction workers! Some of the projects we worked on today were replacing windows, putting in new doors, sanding and 'muddin' walls, and insulating the basement of the home. We worked with four of the members who are employed by SALS through the YouthBuild USA program. After construction, we came back to the after school program located at SALS home base and played games with students... including an intense game of kickball! Tonight, we are going to make some gourmet grilled cheese with tomato soup - boy are we hungry after a long days work! 

Until tomorrow, 
Destination: Rural Poverty Bloggers

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spring Break? Let's Make the Most of It.

Today, myself and ten of the UW-River Falls faithful will embark on a journey to West Virginia over our 2011 Academic Spring Break. This journey is the culmination of several months of hard work, learning and preparation for our Destination service experience. We will travel to West Virginia and dedicate a week's worth of time and effort to aiding the Southern Appalachian Labor School.

Rural poverty was not something that I have ever been familiar with. Living in the suburban Midwest, I have had little experience with anything like what I plan to experience over the upcoming week. Upon hearing a proposal to provide service in West Virginia, I had to do my own research to find out exactly how severe the impoverishment was. Over the past two months, our group has met weekly and dedicated themselves to learning more about the area and social climate that we intend to encounter when we arrive tomorrow. We've heard stories, crunched numbers, asked questions in preparation for the upcoming week and I, for one, am excited and ready for this opportunity to continue our learning experience and aid the community in which we will spend our Spring Break. 

I know that there is no way to completely prepare for the Destination experience, but over the past few months, I've become acquainted with the ten individuals on this trip and believe that they are ready to make a difference. Since becoming a Destination Trip Leader, I have had the nagging worry that our group would return from our trip either without making a lasting difference at our site or without having a meaningful experience and returning as more informed and active citizens. After working with this group, I can't imagine either of those things happening. Only time will tell, but I look forward to working with the other Destination participants and Southern Appalachian Labor School over the next seven days.

During the week, members of the group will blog with the intention of giving readers an ongoing overview of our experience. Readers can expect to learn more about our group, the organization that we will be working with, and what it feels like to dedicate a week towards service. We will also share how we've changed and been impacted by our time in West Virginia. 

"Don't count the days, make the days count."
     - Muhammad Ali