On July 8, youth and leaders from Peace and St. Albans traveled to Hurley in southwestern Virginia for our annual service learning trip to work on home restoration projects there. Hurley is an Appalachian town in southwestern Virginia, near the Kentucky and West Virginia state lines; it is a community that was built around coal mining and has seen a steady a decline in jobs for the past few decades. Many families there have been in invested in coal mining for generations and are now faced with health complications and an uncertain future. Nevertheless, we are met with warmth and the personal testimonies of those willing to share their struggles and triumphs of life in the beautiful wilderness of Appalachia
While in Hurley, we stay at the Community Development Center and work under the guidance of local leaders. We split into small groups and take on different tasks over the five days that we are there; projects this year included building a wheelchair ramp, painting exteriors, and building a deck.
Working in small groups and joining together as one community in the evening is a powerful learning experience for all ages – we not only learn practical things like how to use different tools, but we also learn firsthand about the differences in small and large group dynamics and how we participate in those different spaces. In the evenings we gather for a time of reflection and worship, recognizing the need to seek God in the work we are doing and in each other, which is not always an easy task! On our last night, there’s a big cookout at a local park where we get together with the community leaders and people whose homes we worked on.
The Hurley trip is a powerful experience for both youth and leaders. It is meaningful that Peace and St. Albans have been going to the same community for several years and friendships have been cultivated over time; indeed, the community leaders there remember those who return over multiple years. Perhaps what is equally meaningful is that those of us who reside or work in northern Virginia are struck by the reality that we live in the same state as our neighbors in Hurley, though it often seems like two different worlds.
If you are interested in learning more or in participating in next year’s trip (youth must be in 7th grade or above, leaders must submit to background checks and a few forms), contact Nadia.