Sunday, March 26, 2017

Day 7

Day 7 – March 24, 2017

The day was pretty warm throughout even from the morning. First we went to the Cumberland Hope Center for their community meeting. Their community meeting is a group discussion where they all begin by saying how many issues they have along with any concerns they have about the other women. They focus on one woman throughout the discussion and help her come up with a plan to help her overcome her problems. This plan is called a “contract” that lasts for a certain amount of time.  We were honored to be asked to be part of community and to be able to vote on the contract.  
Later in the day we went to Portal 31. Portal 31 is an old coal mine in Lynch, Kentucky. We got in a cart and rode in and throughout the coal mine learning its history and history about coal mining in general from the early 1900’s to modern day.  Marvin, the Portal 31 staffer, said they hoped to have 10,000 visitors in 2017.  
There was a coffee shop across the street where we bought a coal dust latte which was a dark and white chocolate flavored coffee drink. Some of us bought shirts that said “on the third day, God made coffee.”  The shop is in the old lamp house, where miners picked up equipment for their work.
We next headed to the coal mining museum. We learned about the different kinds of coal, equipment, and the advancement of the coal mining technology. Don showed us around the museum. He used to be a miner for 40 years and has been retired from it for 10 years now. We went into a mock mine and learned that there were no actual bathrooms underground so there were portable seats that no one actually used.  Don was so enthusiastic about his life that he could have kept us at the museum for another hour.  He said he believes coal mining will come back to a certain extent but more in the West than in Kentucky.  

To end the day, we went to El Charrito, which is a Mexican restaurant. Many of us ordered the Tres Amigos dish which consisted of steak meat, chicken, and shrimped covered in cheese along with grilled onion and pineapples, with rice and tortillas on the side.   We enjoyed the spring like weather by siting and chatting on the church steps and trying out dance moves on the lawn. 


Day 6

Day 6 – March 23, 2017

The day started cold, as we traveled to COAP in downtown Harlan for demolition. We were all given hammers, crowbars, masks, and an overview of COAP by Blake. He talked about how the goal for the place we were helping tear apart was to be an arts and education center for Harlan and inspire further downtown revitalization. Blake also talked to us about the importance of the Appalachian Regional Commission, which is where COAP gets a significant source of its funding. He explained how it was important to be an advocate and encouraged us to reach out to our local and state politian’s about issues we don’t agree with and also to be an advocate for the recent government proposed budget cuts which will affect Appalachia.
For demolition, we mostly spent our three hours tearing down wood support planks and removing nails from the wood. I was amazed by the amount of trust that Jason and Odell had in us. By hour one, I was standing on a ladder, using an electric saw to cut up the corners of the wood.
By the time we had finished, the weather had warmed up. We walked through downtown Harlan to the Harlan Center, which had a large chalkboard out front with one question: what do you want to do before you die? That board inspired a nice conversation about national parks as we ate lunch.
We went back to Christ’s Hands one more time. Bryan thanked us for the work we did and gave us the task of beautifying the outside of the building by shoveling gravel and picking up trash. Apparently during this time Shalom and Michelle picked up pieces of coal to be used as a later surprise. When we finished, we laid down some beats and I may have poorly freestyle rapped along the railroad tracks.

After that, we travelled back to the house and most of us took a quick nap. Then, we travelled to Harland County High School (go black bears!) to learn about education in Harlan. Scott discussed how three high schools consolidated into one – HCHS – in 2008. He touched on the socio-economic factors facing rural educators, such as how uninterested parents and lack of housing affects student prioritization of education. However students are given incentives to attended classes, like money reward for perfect attendance.The high school was extremely modern, with a large auditorium, gym, cafeteria, and library.

---Evan + Charlotte

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Day 5

Day 5: Wednesday, March 22

This morning we returned to Cumberland Hope Recovery Center for Women to continue our furnishing projects from yesterday. We started by making nightstands for clients’ bedrooms. The staff and community at Cumberland Hope value the lifestyle of their clients, and want them to be comfortable and enjoy the space. Bobby, the Operations Manager who we met yesterday, goes above and beyond to help clients decorate their rooms. One of the clients recently mentioned that having a nightstand would be helpful, as state funding only provides the clients with the essentials. Today, Bobby came in with plywood and tools, and we build and painted 12 nightstands. As we were working, many of the clients came outside to chat with us, share their stories, and ask us about our lives.
We then enjoyed lunch with the clients, getting another chance to hear their stories. Throughout lunch, they sang songs to promote unity and positivity as well as made announcements about their progress in recovery so that they could hold each other accountable and support each other. The women were interested to know what we were doing there. They seemed happy that we are spending our Spring Break volunteering and understanding Harlan.
After lunch, we returned to Christ Hands to continue our work with sorting and packing equipment from the donation drive. We worked efficiently and quickly finished, so we also had a chance to help tidy up the dormitory area for both individuals with homelessness and another visiting volunteer group to stay in.

We ended our day with a fun little train-tracks photoshoot (featuring train track yoga) and making breakfast for dinner!

---Becky + Linwei + Melissa

Day 4

Day 4- Tuesday, March 21, 2017

This morning we drove to the Cumberland Hope Center to provide service for the community. Bobby was running a little late so we decided to play some games outside. We played wizards, elves, and bears which involved some running and Osama tried really hard to run away from Shalom and me (Gina). He ended up falling on his knees and he made a couple of holes in the ground, which made everyone chuckle. Once Bobby got to the center, she told us about her background and involvement with the rehab community. She gave us a tour of the rehab center and showed us the ladies’ daily routine in the morning. One of the first things that she showed us on the tour was the big bulletin board where it lists all of the people who have passed away after leaving the rehab center. This part of the tour was especially emotional because Bobby expressed her sorrow and described her relationship with each of the deceased. We toured the bedrooms where the ladies stay (there are 27 beds available) and it really reminded me of a sleepaway camp because there were bunk beds and shared showers. After the tour we went outside and helped Bobby with some carpentry. She wanted to fix the new door to the shed outside by installing a different panel on the inside so the door would close properly. Bobby and Osama were able to take down the previous panel and drill in the new one. Charlotte, Melissa and I painted the board white and it felt great to help Bobby finish a project. She also wanted to make night stands with leftover wood so Osama took the initiative and helped her assemble the wooden boards. Some of the ladies came out to smoke by the picnic tables and we were able to converse with them. It was great talking to this one lady about how she has OCD and how at the house they have challenged her to live in a messy room 2 times a week for 4 weeks. Bobby then encouraged her by saying that she just has to channel the OCD into something productive and useful such as cleaning a kitchen or organizing the freezer. I was inspired by Bobby’s words because everyone has insecurities and flaws but you can always turn them into something good. I loved how Bobby was able to put a smile on her face by encouraging her and just telling her words of wisdom. Bobby is a breath of fresh air and she has a great sense of humor. I can see why she is the operations manager of the center and why the women look up to her.
Bobby told us about one of the main issues that the women face at the rehab center: alcoholism. I should say that Bobby was a professional chef and an addict before she came to the hope center. However, she loved the community and thought she could really make an impact for these women during their rehabilitation process. I thought it was interesting that she pointed out that you don’t have to be an addict to be able to empathize and help these ladies in their journey. And I think this is true for a lot of other things too when it comes to helping people. If you have the mindset and the heart to serve and to share your experiences, thoughts and love, then you will be able to make an impact in someone’s life.
Without even realizing noon passed by fast. It was time to go to Christ’s hands. We promised Brian we will meet at 1pm. We said goodbye to Bobby and promised her we will be meeting again the next day to build a wooden bed and to have lunch with her and Cumberland hope community. We scurried to our vans and headed to Christ’s hands. By the time we arrived, Brian was there unloading a large truck full of donations. He noticed us coming excited in our vans, so he came to meet us at the main lobby where many piles of cloths were waiting for us. Without any questions or inquiries, our team grabbed set of boxes and started loading it with all sizes of cloths. From kid’s spring tops to women summer skirts and men’s winter bottoms we enjoyed our time trying some of the cloths on ourselves. It looked it was going to take us hours to pack that much of clothes. However, with 14 member (12 of them being females) folding took less than an hour. By the time we were done moving the tens of boxes full of cloths, a lady showed up asking for Michael our leader.

Fearless ideas lead to interesting chili. Kudos to Team B for your kitchen innovation. 

---Gina + Osama

Day 3

Day 3 – Monday, March 20, 2017

We started off our first day of service in Harlan, Kentucky bright and early at the Appalachian Regional Hospital (ARH). There, we met up with Mark Bell, a Harlan native who has been working at the ARH for over forty years. Mark was able to shed some light on the history of Harlan as well as provide us with some information on the most prominent and pressing health issues of Harlan today. While touring the nursery section of the hospital, we learned that 80% of the newborns in ARH are born already addicted to some kind substance because of the mother’s poor prenatal habits. Mark described Harlan’s struggle with primarily what he called “behavioral health issues”.  These issues include but are not limited to diabetes, addictions, obesity, COPD, and various respiratory problems (black lung, lung cancer, etc).  Mark also spoke to us about the general attitude of “emotional fatality” that many Harlan residents seem to possess.  He explained how naturally people do not like to be told how to live their lives and especially do not want to hear that the things that they take pleasure in are dangerous, so issues such as smoking and overconsumption of sugary sodas persist despite intervention attempts.
After our tour of the hospital, we walked just a few hundred yards over to the Southern Kentucky Community and Technical College (Harlan Campus) and had the opportunity to speak with some of the faculty and students there. First, we explored the autobody shop and listened to Bobby Ray, collision repair instructor talk about the projects they work on as well as what types of career path many of his students end up taking. A number of the students were actually local high schoolers who are able to take advantage of the technical college’s proximity and also get college credit and a head start on their career. We also had the opportunity to sit in a class on Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigerating Systems, in which many of the students were former miners looking to find new work while the mining industry is down. We were able to conduct impromptu interviews some of these students, who shared their experiences working in the coal mines as well as how they are adjusting to this new lifestyle.  The mines were where these men had built their strongest friendships and the culture fueled a comradery that they clearly still hold close to heart.
In addition to hearing each student’s unique story about their involvement in the coal industry, we also gained a good deal of knowledge about the industry itself.  One student explained how much of an influence mining has had on employment—for every one worker working in the mines, there are at least eight other support workers operating behind the scenes. However, at its peak, there were about 50 underground coal mines and 45 surface coal mines in the Harlan area, and the number is now down to about 20-30 total. Many of the students admitted the life of coal mining is all they have ever known. 
It was interesting to see the wide range of ages of the students at this college, varying from high school students to older adults seeking higher education in a new field. In fact, speaking with one of the older students, we learned that many their age were really nervous about coming back to school as being the “oldest guys there.” However, in reality so many adults have been coming back to school because everyone needed to learn new skills after the decline in demand for coal mining. While at the Appalachian Coal Academy, we also learned that despite its massive declines over the years, many of these former miners are still hopeful about the industry’s outlook, as demonstrated by the spike in enrollment at the academy since the recent election back in November.
We also had our first day of service at Christ’s Hands which serves the community with their soup kitchen, food pantry, meal distribution and delivery, bicycle shop, and overall ministry. We first helped to sort out their generously donated inventory of cleaning supplies, clothing, books, gardening tools, etc.  The director of Christ’s Hands, Brian told us about the organization’s mission to serve the direct community, especially the disadvantaged and underserved.  We worked alongside other volunteers there who also shared about their extensive commitment to the organization. We look forward to learning more about Christ’s Hands mission to serve and empower the Harlan community over the course of the week, especially as this is our primary service site.
Team Harlan 2017 is just one day into direct service, and it has already been incredibly eye-opening.  Every individual we had the opportunity to speak to had their own unique experience and story about living in Harlan, and we can’t wait to learn more about the complex culture of this city.
For dinner tonight was Team A’s fajita bar. It was an explosion of flavors, a sensual dance of pepper, bean, zucchini, salsa, and refried bean. Delicious. 

---Cynthia + Gabrielle 

Day 2 - Cumberland Gap

Day 2 – Sunday, March 19, 2017

After awaking at the crack of dawn to “run” (sorry Gina & Evan), we headed over to Cumberland Gap to explore the outdoors.
From the guide at the visitor’s center, the little museum, and the educational video, we learned a lot about the history of the area. Very neat!
After, we strolled up the trail to the Tri-State Peak, where we feasted on our packed lunches. Although a couple of our team members stayed in Kentucky for lunch, the bulk of us opted to eat in Tennessee, with the odd few venturing out to Virginia for the occasional spin.
We drove over to the Pinnacle Overlook after.  Many quality photos were taken. In safe locations, for the most part.
And finally, with lungs full of mountain air and minds painted with images of Appalachian wilderness, we headed home.

And then Team B positively WOWED us with their green lentil curry. Excellent work. 

---Michelle + some others

Day 1 - Travel Day!

Day 1 – Saturday, March 18, 2017

Travel day!               
We ate. (Bagel Place)
We drove.
We got gas.
We drove.
We ate. (Sonic)
We got gas.
We drove.
We stopped to pee.
We drove.
We discovered we were in Tennessee.
We drove.
We saw the Kentucky sign.
We drove.
Little van arrived because they have no sense of waiting for the slower folk.
We drove.
Big van arrived.
Marjorie welcomed us most kindly to our home for the week.
The most amazing EL + staff advisor trio went shopping.
And then. DINNER! After a whirlwind of frenzied kitchen activity, Team A presented us with their final masterpiece: a stovetop ziti paired with lettuce salad and rolls. And oh, what an experience indeed!
The ziti, simmered in a tangy tomato reduction, yielded delicately to each bite in al-dente perfection. Generous amounts of mozzarella thickened the sauce to a luxurious cream and clung lovingly to each noodle.
It was warm, it was rich, it was hearty.

Most of all, it was the gentle fire we needed to warm our weary traveler’s hearts, a reminder to be grateful for all we have, and a miracle hidden in the little things of life.

---Michelle + Evan 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Description of our Experience

Harlan County, KY used to be one of the largest coal-mining towns in America. The coal industry, which had been the very core of the town’s economy since its beginning, has left a declining job market and strained resources behind. The county, like many other Appalachian counties, has had to seek solutions to unemployment, food insecurity, struggling educational systems, and aging populations amidst a history of socioeconomic isolation. Harlan County is a self-sufficient community of warm and supportive people just trying to keep their struggling economy alive. This year’s AB trip will seek to address issues in education inequities, health disparities, and economic struggles of its residents in the wake of the fallen coal mining industry boom. This region will have a lot to offer as we journey to Harlan, KY for Alternative Spring Break 2016.