Have you ever had an experience so life-changing that it transforms not only your entire week/summer/year but who you are?

This is what Appalachia Service Project has been to me.

Consistently the best week of my year, each summer I’m blown away by the love shown by the homeowners, the staff members, the community we’re staying in, and by our own church.

My first year was spent holding ladders and putting up siding. Not the most exciting of jobs. On top of that, I was going through some personal struggles with disordered eating and a very messed up perception of myself. To my surprise, throughout the week I found myself opening up to this idea of embracing the unexpected and putting my own problems on hold.

This one last-minute decision to join my church on this trip to Kentucky had planted a seed within me. A seed of hope and a seed of love that I realize now had not truly sprouted until my second summer with ASP.

That year was different. We were working on a house for 12 kids. That's right, TWELVE. Twelve amazing and loving kids who made me realize that ASP is something that I am so passionate about, and I strive to continue it in my everyday life. Not only that, but I found myself working under the house. With SPIDERS?! And believe it or not, I think I truly found my calling that year, being small enough to fit in any hole or crevice. If you ever need someone to insulate your house from the bottom, I’m your gal.

Flash forward to the next summer. I worked on a team with some people I would soon go on to call my best friends. Working with two amazing and strong ladies who taught me to always stand up for myself and to not take life too seriously.

Each year at the “sob circle,” as we call it, reflecting back on the week, the work we’ve accomplished, and the relationships we’ve made, picking out one most-powerful moment to share is time and time again the most challenging part of the week.

ASP to me is not about one specific moment but about a lifetime’s worth of relationships and feelings all jam-packed into one week. Through this tradition, I’ve gotten to know the amazing people from my church so much better. I’ve made some of the best friends of my life, and I’ve gotten closer with my own family, my dad and my brother who now love this organization almost as much as I do.

I wish that ASP was not only one week a year, but it doesn’t have to be. ASP has changed my attitude when approaching challenges and even how I look at other people.

I’ve learned to be less judgmental and more accepting. Everyone has their battles. Even if it may seem like nothing to you, to another, it may be so much deeper than that. I’ll be the first to admit, that is not always the easiest thing to do. We are often so unaware of our own privilege. But even trying to be kinder and more helpful to others is a step in the direction of the life God intends for us to live, and, to me, that is what ASP is all about, learning to live how God wants us to.