Following 3 yearly trips with our church to work at CAP, my husband and I finally made the decision to become long-term volunteers. We had planned to do some sort of service work after we retired, and the Christian Appalachian Project was a perfect place.
I have always felt at home in Kentucky. I was raised in a small mining town in central Oregon. Many of our houses were made with plywood, single-paned windows and vinyl floors. My dad worked in a nickel mine until it closed. When all of those jobs were gone, the local economy really suffered. There are lumber mills in the area, but even those have not filled the void of the loss of mining jobs. And, as the housing market fell there was less need for the lumber the mills could produce. But, just like the people in Kentucky, Oregonians are a resilient group.
Being an Elderly Services Caseworker for Johnson County is a great fit. The challenge of driving on mountain roads and trying to find my participants have been balanced with all the new friends I have made. At the moment I have only 15 participants, but they keep me busy. This month of January, however, has been frustrating. This unusual winter weather has forced the cancellation of medical appointments. Just this afternoon, I left Paintsville where it was just raining to go to Oil Springs. In just a couple of miles out of town, the rain turned to snow and sleet and the roads were quickly becoming slick. I had to return the car back to the office and cancel another visit. I put up a calendar in our office and am marking off the days until spring!
Before the weather turned bad I probably averaged about 2,000 miles a month in travel on the car. The little CAP Cobalt just keeps on running, and we have become good friends. The first couple of months included appointments in Pike and Boyd counties. One thing that is missing locally is adequate health care. The family doctors are overwhelmed. They prescribe lots of medicines and order lots of tests. Appointments for check-ups can take all afternoon, and specialist visits may require a trip to Pikeville, Ashland, or even Huntington, West Virginia. The people, however, are used to this and are so patient. They just accept what they have. While I would wish for more modern care, I could certainly learn from them to be more patient.
My husband, Jim, is serving in Elderly Housing. He has met many wonderful people who are so grateful for the projects they provide. Some people just need a ramp to get out of their house to go to the doctor. At one house, the paramedics had to carry a lady, still in her wheelchair, out to the ambulance, because the ground was too soft to push the chair across the yard. Some need a hole patched in the ceiling to keep out the weather. Lots of doors and windows have been replaced.
Some are day projects, but most are several days which allow the crew time to get to know the participants. Many of these people enjoy the company as much as the work they provide. The homes are usually several miles out of town. There may be other family and friends in the area, but many elderly do not own cars, or don’t drive anymore. When a work crew arrives to spend a few days, the participants not only gain the repairs on their home, but interaction with others. Quite often, coffee is provided and sometimes lunch or a piece of pie which just makes the day easier.
For anyone considering a long-term volunteer commitment, we would encourage them to make that choice. A year is a long time. Some days the weather is wonderful, some days, not. There are days when a conflict arises that turn your plans upside down. Not every person you meet is going to love you, but all of these issues are going to be there wherever you are for the next year. So, why not give that year to the people in Kentucky? I guarantee it will be a year you will always remember, and you can help someone else along the way. I believe that is why God gave us this opportunity.
Debby serves as a volunteer with the Elderly Services program in CAP's Sandy Valley Region. She and her husband live independently of a volunteer house.