Appalachia Service Trip - Greensboro, NC

By Catherine C., Age 21

For my Spring Break this year, I went to Greensboro, North Carolina on a service trip through the BC group Appalachia Volunteers. Because the organization has grown so much in the past years, trip locations expand well beyond the Appalachia region ranging from Ohio and Pennsylvania all the way down to Louisiana. Preparations for the trips begin early in the school year and we met in large meetings weekly discussing different social justice issues and learning about the regions to which we would be traveling. All trips are funded by donations so many different activities, such as the sale of raffle tickets, were used to generate the money required. There are two different types of Appalachia trips: habitat and community. Habitat trips are similar to projects by Habitat for Humanity where the group contributes to building or repairing homes while community trips involve various projects around the town such as park clean ups, working in a soup kitchen, or just getting to know the local citizens better.

We left for our trip in the evening in buses and made the long drive down to North Carolina during the night. Because our group had just met only a few short weeks before, no one really knew each other yet so we played lots of fun games on the bus to break the ice. No one slept much, but we had a great time and made the best of the long ride growing close much faster than I had anticipated. The day we arrived, we went to the church where were staying for the week and set up camp. Compared to other trips, our accommodations were very luxurious. We had basically an entire floor of a giant youth center to ourselves with access to many rooms and fun activities such as air hockey tables and a piano.

The first Monday that we were in Greensboro was our first day of work. We were on a habitat trip and were assigned to fixing up roofs. Unfortunately, because there were twenty people in my group, the builders helping us decided to split us up into two locations so we didn’t get to work together as much as I had hoped. When I found out that I was going to be spending the week on a roof, I was pretty nervous because I had never done anything like that before. However, I was also excited for the challenge. Each morning, our two leaders woke us up by blasting a fun song to get us moving before 7am. We would eat breakfast together, make our lunches and head out to be at our sites by 8am. The home that I worked on was owned by a young woman in her thirties who inherited the house. She lived with her elderly mother and was having a difficult time taking care of both her mother and the house. She told us that at one point, only one electrical outlet in the entire house was functional. Her roof leaked when it rained and due to the holes, wouldn’t keep any heat in during the winter so her bills were extremely high. She also had many issues with her plumbing which caused major structural damage in the house. The crazy thing was that when we first pulled up to the house, you couldn’t tell that there was anything wrong with it.

We began on the first day by stripping all the shingles off the roof. This job was very messy and by the end of the day, we were all completely covered in dirt. It also took us a while to get our “roof legs” and to feel confident walking around on the roof. It was unbelievable to see how many holes we uncovered by removing the shingles. After stripping the roof, we measured the holes and cut wood to patch them up with. Once all the holes were filled, we then started to lay what our professional helper called tar paper. It helps to line the wood of the roof and keep the shingles in place. Measuring and nailing down the tar paper took a lot of teamwork (and nails!) but getting it down was such an accomplishment. After the tar paper came the shingles. The shingles all started in a giant pile in the ground and carrying them up the ladder to the roof was exhausting. Hammering in the shingles was a lot of fun because at that point, we had all started to get the hang of things and worked a lot faster. Another project that was going on at the same time was the rebuilding of the porch. Originally, we had planned to just repair it like we were doing to the roof, but it turned out that the porch was completely rotten and not structurally sound so we demolished it and started from scratch. It doesn’t sound too complicated, but the re-roofing process took us the whole week that we were there.

There was so much more to my Appalachia trip than just hammering a bunch of shingles. Each night, someone new hosted us for dinner. We went to an all you can eat buffet, a local man’s home, and a local Baptist church. Everyone we encountered was so hospitable, friendly, and really made us even happier to be there than we already were. It was so great to know that we were making such a difference in not only the lives of the homeowners, but the community members as well. We all thought with all of our hard work we would be losing weight, but due to all the Southern home cooking, all we did was it (and we weren’t complaining). After dinner each night, we would return to church we were staying in to play games like Catch Phrase or Four Square or to have an impromptu dance party and eventually reflect.

Reflections were a great way to end the day. We would talk about things we learned, were surprised by, or any other emotions we encountered that day. Our leaders had different themes planned for each reflection and my favorite night was the “special objects” reflection. Before the trip, we were instructed to bring something of special meaning to us on the trip. At the “special objects” reflection, each group member and leader went around in a circle discussing their special object and its meaning to them. It was a great way to get to know everyone on a deeper level and to learn something you might not ordinarily learn about a person. Every night we discussed things that disturbed us that we saw on site and also in our everyday lives in terms of poverty and inequality. Reflections were a great time to see and hear things from another’s perspective as well as voice your own opinion on many problems facing our world today.

Going to North Carolina for Spring Break not only gave me a new motivation to help improve life for others, but it also gave me the opportunity to meet a group of unbelievable people. I learned so much from my fellow group members as well as all of the community members we interacted with. The trip gave me the chance to meet nineteen other people from BC and get to know them on a level that is often difficult to reach in a college environment. The twenty of us, while we came from all different grades and social circles, share a bond that grew out of hard work, motivation, and love that overcomes everything else.