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