My service experience in Appalachia as a high school senior humbled me beyond belief.
Growing up in an environment where service hours were required in both elementary school and high school, I initially started out as a person who dreaded volunteering. Over time, however, I became someone who looked forward to forming relationships with those I served and felt humbled by my experiences. My initial attitude changed throughout the year as I began to recognize that the service I did actually had an impact on those I was serving for as well as their community. I finally came to this conclusion in the summer before my senior year of high school, where I encountered my favorite service experience thus far.
During the first week of July 2017, I, along with 20 other girls from my high school, drove to Auxier, Kentucky — also known as Appalachia — where we would volunteer to refurbish homes for four days through an organization called Hand in Hand Ministries. This organization provides necessary materials for those economically unstable and focuses on secure housing, education, and healthcare. Throughout my service experience there, I worked with one family, consisting of a single mother, her daughter, and the girl's grandfather. In my work group, we built a wooden porch, ramp, walkway, and stairs that would attach to the side of the family's trailer. The family we worked with was extremely grateful for our work and often offered us water and snacks throughout each seven-hour workday.
Though my time volunteering was an overall positive experience, there were some negative setbacks as well.
My four days in Appalachia consisted of cloudless and clear skies, but also heat and humidity, which caused each day to feel even longer than the one before. Our group would break for lunch at noon each day, but otherwise, the work never halted, creating sore muscles and a tired mentality and physique. Near the end of each workday, it was difficult to continue laboring without the relief of any shade, but it was through the motivation of my fellow volunteers that I was able to keep building.
After this experience, I also recognized how lucky I am to live in a city with wireless service, constantly running water, and two-lane streets.
What I liked the most about my service project was getting the privilege to develop a bond with the family I volunteered for. I got to hear their life stories, their hobbies, and their interests, which allowed me to open up to them as well. Though the service I did was important, I believe it was more important that I made connections with the people I met and served for.
It was through my high school service hours that I was given the opportunity to serve others beyond my own community. I hope to find another experience like this one where I can directly impact the lives of people in need, potentially in a developing country where my help is necessary. I believe volunteering and service work can enable individuals to form a more open-minded mentality towards the world and its misfortunes, which also allows for vulnerability when forming relationships with others. I aspire to spread this mentality throughout my community while volunteering.