Service Is a Lifestyle

A Reflection from William, a One-Year Volunteer

I came to CAP fresh from college after graduating with a B.S. in Architecture and a Bachelors in Civil Engineering. While attending the university, I spent a great deal of my free time volunteering and taking part in community service, including multiple spring break mission trips. During those trips, I had learned a significant amount about serving, in all aspects of life, and had developed a love for volunteering. It seemed only natural, therefore, that I continue with volunteering by doing a year of service following my graduation. With my extensive background in community service, I believed that there would be a limited amount that I could learn during my year. However, thankfully, I could not have been more wrong. During my time in Appalachia, I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting so many new people and experiencing, in some small degree, what their daily lives consist of, up in the mountains. I have learned about significant cultural differences to that of the area in which I was raised, despite these locations only being separated by an 8-hour car ride. And, naturally, I have picked up a now pretty extensive knowledge of construction management and techniques, from having had the opportunity to work on so many homes.

From day one with the Christian Appalachian Project, I was immediately thrust into the world of constructing decks, applying siding, window installation, plumbing, finish carpentry, and practically every other aspect of home construction and repair. I was so greatly blessed to have such amazing mentors within CAP’s Housing program, who demonstrated and guided me in all the basics, and steadily taught me more and more with such great patience. I learn something new, every single day on the job site. I have learned how to use hundreds of different tools and materials. I have learned how to assess homes in order to determine the issues, and compile cost estimates based upon this information. I have learned how to troubleshoot site-specific problems as they arise, and how to think creatively to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness. And, I have had the opportunity to teach incoming short-term volunteers the methods, and further hone my own leadership and delegation abilities.

As much as I thoroughly enjoy and take pride in the construction and home repair process, the part of my service that I have enjoyed the most has been being able to interact with others, especially the participants. It has been my experience, that the people of Appalachia as a whole are some of the most humble, resilient, and hospitable people that I have ever encountered. Having been born and raised in Philadelphia, the culture in the mountains has been drastically different than what I have been accustomed to. For every home that I have worked on, the residents have met me with open arms, homes, and a smile. It has been commonplace for the participants to offer me lunch or beverages while I am working on the site, and some of them have even invited me to come back for dinner, though I was not able to take them up on their offers due to COVID-19. Some of the residents would call their families or friends to come over to meet me, making me feel so greatly accepted into the community. One of the participants from one of our longer projects would even refer to us as “her angels”. And beyond the fierce sense of community that I had the privilege to experience, I was thoroughly impressed by the ability of the communities to accept and deal with all of the hardships in life. 

Life in the mountains is not an easy one, especially when there is a great deal of poverty in most of the area, yet all of the people that I have met have had this attitude that they will continue to struggle onward, no matter what they are confronted with. The sheer determination and will to survive of the people of Appalachia has been nothing short of astounding. In the months of February and March, we were performing disaster relief to homes damaged by the severe flooding that afflicted the area. Many of the homes that I stopped in during these efforts were, in short, disasters. Some of the tasks before us, and especially the homeowners, seemed insurmountable. But the homeowners always displayed the greatest fortitude during these situations, and would somehow figure out a solution. And, usually, it was the communities that would come together themselves to address the most sever problems.

In short, this year I have learned a great deal, both in professional skills and about human nature. I have learned housing techniques, leadership skills, compassion, resilience, and the value of friendliness and community. In addition, I have also learned that service isn’t so much an action, as it is a lifestyle. Service is not like a switch that can be turned on or off, and it must be a continuous process to remain at all. I plan to take this considerable knowledge with me to the next stage in my life. Following the conclusion of my AmeriCoprs term, I will be returning to Washington DC to take a position as a Project Engineer with a General Contractor in the city. This company focuses on multi-family housing, and other residential buildings, so I will be able to put my knowledge to good use. Additionally, I will be continuing my lifestyle of service, by doing small, kind things for my coworkers, or volunteering at soup kitchens on the weekend. Ultimately, my long-term goal is to create my own construction and design firm that will focus on low-income housing, so that I will be able to fully integrate a life of service with my professional career. And though I am definitely not there yet, nor may I ever be, I know that my year-long experience with AmeriCorps has given me some tools and a great motivation in order to continue to serve in what ways I possibly can.

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