Well, here we are. I can honestly say this blog is one I never thought I would have to write. For the past 3 years, I have had the great privilege of writing pieces for and organizing the ASP blog. I have been the woman behind the curtain of our social media, as I have traveled through our service area collecting stories. I have worked every day to bring you stories of our work. For the 3 summers prior, I served on summer staff. And for 4 summers before that, I volunteered with my high school youth group. The summer of 2020 would have been my 11th summer serving with ASP.
I don’t say this to brag about how many summers I have been involved. Many of you reading this have been serving with ASP much longer than I. I share that this would have been my 11th summer with you in an attempt to convey how engrained ASP is in my yearly routine. For 10 years, ASP has been the gravitating force my year revolves around—in the same way that Christmas, or your annual 4th of July family beach trip or the first day of school grounds you.
Every summer, I put on my messiest pair of overalls and dust the dried mud from my work boots and head out to a worksite somewhere in the hills of Appalachia. After so many summers, I admit I thought I knew what ASP would have for me this 11th summer.
I expected tools, lumber, muddy hills after a storm, gracious families, excited staff. I expected songs in a school cafeteria, the taste of a name brand hot dog at a Thursday picnic, and the peace of rolling my windows down while driving down a winding road. I even expected the feeling of spiritual closeness, the acceptance and love and understanding I would find sitting on front porches, standing in kitchens, walking in gardens.
These moments, these summer traditions, are where I feel the most myself each year; where I feel like I am in the right place, doing the right work. ASP is where I recharge. ASP is where I find myself. ASP is where I re-center my priorities. ASP is where I feel my faith the strongest.
And it never mattered how far I strayed from the path God had me on, because another summer would come around and I would dust off my work boots and I would find my way again.
Then came spring and the Coronavirus… and I, like so many of you, found myself in a totally new world. The expectations I had for the summer vanished in an instant.
Since then I have found myself grieving for the thousands of volunteers who would not travel to Appalachia for a week, more than a hundred staffers who would not live in community and effect change every day for 11 weeks, hundreds of homeowners who would have to wait for another year until their homes were repaired.
Today, our summer staff training would have concluded. Our staffs would be driving trucks and vans through our warehouse in Johnson City to collect shovels, field guides, hard hats, water coolers, ladders, merchandise, drills, paperwork, and all the things they needed to make ASP come to life in 24 counties across 5 states. This day is one I look forward to each summer, as a way to mark the official “start” of summer for me—the day our staff drives out to their counties, set up offices, arrange volunteer quarters, make plans for repairs. Today, our warehouse doesn’t look like that though.
It would be easy to remain in grief as I think about all that was lost this summer, but today, I want to instead share with you what do I see.
I see four work crews on work sites. These crews are made up of full-time ASP staff, completing outdoor repairs and building new construction homes, while practicing safe social distancing with sanitization guidelines in place. Our office staff are preparing virtual summer activities to help us unite with our ASP family, they are planning for a board meeting next week, they are raising funds to accomplish our mission this year, they are recruiting volunteers for 2021, they are preparing for the day when volunteers can safely return… they are making ASP happen in the midst of our current reality.
Today, my official mark of the beginning of summer, ASP looks different than I had expected. But that does not mean that ASP isn’t happening. Today, I will take a drive down a winding road with my windows down, I will sit on my front porch and call an old friend to just chat about life. I will look through photos of all the projects I have seen come to life in my last 10 years with ASP, I will dream of all that I will make happen in the years to come, I will raise funds to support this ministry that has become a pillar of my life and I will keep the ASP spirit alive.
I may still shed a tear today for what has been lost, but I will also smile as I think of the impact of this ministry. I will smile thinking about the ASP family across the country who are living out and sharing the love, acceptance, and understanding of ASP. I will smile thinking of the homes being repaired and built as I sit here writing. I will smile thinking of the energy surrounding this mission.
Just because it looks different, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It is still summer in Appalachia. I am going to make sure I make the most of it—will you join me?
Cara Nagy Schoettes, ASP Marketing and Communication Strategist