Posts Tagged ‘Appalachia’

Celebrating Appalachia

Celebrating Appalachia

Beth Collins, Director, Appalachian Institute at WJU

Too many times when the term “Appalac

Local community members and the WJU campus Celebrate Appalachia!

Local community members and the WJU campus Celebrate Appalachia!

hia” is used, a negative, almost sympathetic thought, is conjured up. At the Appalachian Institute, while we recognize challenges that need to be addressed such as health care, environmental exploitation, generational poverty, and access to quality rural education, we also stand firm in our belief that this region is one to be celebrated, even bragged about. For this reason, we recently held our annual Celebrate Appalachia event on the campus of Wheeling Jesuit University.

We kicked off the week of events by getting the campus involved in our new community vegetable garden. Over 40 people shoveled, planted, and began to grow the seeds of community and healthy living. Later that night, campus and community members celebrated some of our greatest Appalachian assets—food and music! An Appalachian feast complete with ramps, fried green tomatoes, venison stew, chicken and dumplings, and apple stack cakes were served up. Along with the dinner came some great music from a local bluegrass band and a quilting workshop.

Later in the week, Appalachia’s long history with the labor movement was highlighted by local musician and WJU employee, Tom Breiding. Breiding’s folk music told the story of the earliest labor protests, the role of WV in the start of a nationwide labor movement, and the current struggles for union coal miners.

Rooted in Scottish, Irish, and Native American influence, Appalachian folk tales reflect history and fantasy. During the week of events, local storyteller, Judi Tarowsky, performed her collection of ghost stories for local community children during our Appalachian Story Hour.

The Appalachian Pastoral Letters, specifically the original 1975 This Land is Home to Me, highlight the beauty and challenges of the region. The letters were a catalyst for organizations like the Appalachian Institute to be formed. Several philosophy and theology classes learned the impact the letters have had on the region and the “dream of the mountains’ struggles” that we still encounter today through a personal account from Fr. Brian O’Donnell, SJ and Fr. Jim O’Brien, SJ.

A key feature of the week was to not only emphasize the splendor of the region, but also modern challenges that the region is facing. The topic of natural gas drilling is one that’s literally taken over regional news. Many of the news reports and academic journals focus on the environmental costs versus the economic benefits.  Brian Cohen, lead photographer for the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project, introduced a different category into the conversation—the community impact. Through an unbiased lens, the team wove together a stunning, and sometimes tragic, story of families that are succeeding and families that are forgotten. Several community groups, students, and faculty attended the evening presentation.

To end the week of events, Fr. Brian O’Donnell, SJ led a lunch discussion with employees on green theology and Appalachia. Using excerpts from At Home in the Web of Life and the model of the Franciscans, a clear question arose—do we have a vocabulary yet in terms of the dignity of nature to effectively argue the pros and cons of a particular intervention into ecosystems? As a Jesuit university, this burden of creating such a vocabulary and shift in mindset is particularly significant.

Here at the Institute we believe that praising a region is just as important as advocating for its struggles. The two must go hand in hand if empowerment is to happen. As Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ said during convocation at WJU this year, “Without kinship there is no peace. Without kinship there is no justice.” Delighting in our history, our culture, our kinship as Appalachians is the foundation for advocacy and change.

To Love and Serve

by Chris Sullivan, Boston College High School

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Our sojourn for service in West Virginia of April vacation had a significant impact on my peers, the chaperones, as well as myself during and after our efforts.  Despite the fact that the trip was a school required trek, I felt that each one of us approached the trip with open minds and genuine hearts. Over six days in WV, we served the poor by working in soup kitchens.  We served the poor by helping organizations that recycle just about everything you can imagine and redistribute it to those in need all around WV. We served by tearing down and rebuilding homes that had been entirely flooded out. We learned about the struggles and injustices that the poor peoples of WV face each day.  I believe the combined contributions of our group touched those who were in need.   But what was most surprising was the way we all changed and progressed during our time spent in West Virginia.

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Through spending time with the people of West Virginia, we dispelled the previous stereotypes that we had of one another.  Everybody came to the realization that we are not all that different from one another.  We realized that being human unites us in a way we should be sure to consider while we live our lives.  We are all human and here to love and serve one another. This was the most remarkable characteristic of the trip for me. Everything else took the backseat as people began to help people solely because of this profound connection and calling. The  experience of breaking down and rebuilding houses in Logan, West Virginia was perhaps the greatest example. It was amazing to realize that at that very moment we all had the power to make a difference in this world.  The needs of this family were immense and we were called to be there to not only build a home, but to reform and build new relationships based on hope and love. Overall the trip took a physical and emotional toll on each and every one of the participants, myself included. However, undoubtedly it was a sincere act of kindness by a concrete troop of “men for others.”

Rebuilding with Graditude: Boston College High School

by Mike Goulding, Boston College High School

I hadn’t even heard of the flooding in southern West Virginia until about a week before our troop.  I had not seen it on the news, newspaper, or any media source.  I found out through a group leader as we were preparing for our trip, who had found out through talking with volunteer coordinators via phone.  This was extremely daunting to me and others going on the trip.  How could this be going on in my own country and not even hear a single thing of it.  We saw youtube clips of some of the devastation, but would not even compare to actually being there.

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We arrived at the first house, the entire area had been severely affected.  Every building or house in the area was damaged in some way.  But in this very hopeless looking environment, dark clouds, raining; one found shining hope in the large groups of people, all helping to make this place HOME again.  It was truly quite a sight.  We entered the house.  It was quaint, though a very beautiful place to raise a family.  The water levels had reached beyond five feet and its effects were noticeable.  We began tearing down walls, insulation; learning the entire time aspects of the skills our generation has neglected.  We met Tom and Dave, two very special individuals.  Tom is quiet, but an extraordinarily hard worker.  Dave definitely enjoyed talking and I loved talking with him all the more.  He spoke of how right when the floods happened he just came right down.  It seemed that it wasn’t even a question for him, he felt called.  He always speaks with a smile and is genuine to everyone he meets.  We continued to talk as we met again at another house.  The next was also badly, perhaps more.  We tore up a floor and put a new one in, something I have never done before.  I also met Mike, who loved to crack some of the punniest jokes I have ever heard, still making me laugh, none the less.  He taught me a lot about carpentry and importance of the craft.  I was able to work much one on one with Mike and enjoyed his many words of wisdom.  He told the group and I, as we left, “What you’ll learn in life is how YOU make sense of the world.”  Those words have stuck with me and always will, one among many others he spoke.

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I learned much on my trip and was able to experience a truly beautiful land and people.  WV is a place like no other and the people you meet are some of the most good-hearted and passionate people you will ever come across.  I am grateful for all the people and places that have touched me in my life, and West Virginia will always hold a special place in my heart.

Boston College Mingo County Service Immersion 3/4/12–3/9/12

Boston College is finishing up their week long immersion trip to Matewan, WV in Mingo County. Check out these two great blog entries written by BC students!

Lisa Bevilacqua: Wednesday

Before we arrived in Matewan, West Virginia, we did not know much about the Appalachian culture or how we would be spending our week. We knew that religion plays a big part in people’s lives here, and we got to experience this first-hand tonight when we attended a Bible study just down the road from the community center that has been our home for the past few days. We arrived late to the Bible study, but the half-hour we spent there had a big impact on us and our understanding of the religious values of the region. Everyone’s opinions were accepted in the service, and people were encouraged to ask questions and share any comments that came to mind during it. At the end of the service, we were lucky enough to join the community in song. Afterward, many of the people seated around us welcomed us and told us how glad they were that we had come to visit and take part in their Bible study. We were surprised that we were the ones being thanked, because we were so grateful to have been welcomed into such a private part of their lives. The experience gave us new insight into an aspect of the community that we hadn’t yet seen. Even though our faiths are slightly different, we found that we could still relate to the discussion and appreciate the messages that were being conveyed. We’ve really enjoyed all the time we’ve spent here in Matewan so far, but going to the Bible study helped us to truly understand the values of the Appalachian culture.

Melissa Donaher: Friday wrap-up

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect coming into the Matewan trip.  I had done a service trip in the past but it had not been very immersive and was more about ‘fixing” the community than being one with them.  This trip was truly one of solidarity, which allowed us to get to better understand both the inspiring and devastating aspects of the Appalachian culture.

One of my most distinct memories was talking with Smoothie on the first day about his life, especially hearing about all the struggles and violence he experienced in his youth and how they shaped his current outlook on the world.  He really wanted to impart some of his wisdom onto us, a common theme in talking with everyone we encountered.  What I took most from this experience was just learning about about the daily lives of Smoothie and the people he described.  It is one thing to listen to people talk about the Appalachia region or read about it but it a much more meaningful experience to  hear and see a firsthand account.   I know that Smoothie and all of his crazy stories are what will stick with me most when I return to my everyday life and inspire me to act with greater purpose and thought with regard to this region than I ever would have before coming to Matewan and meeting all these incredible people.