A Welcome Surprise: Kentucky Worktour 2017
By Florence Almeda
The week was already over, and I could hardly believe it. Against the backdrop of the fog covered mountains, I looked around at the eighteen other teens and six leaders that now felt like family as we gathered for our final moments in David, Kentucky. Over the course of several days, we were brought together by a series of surprises; from realizing the reality of poverty in rural America, to experiencing kindness from the locals and each other. It was a week that was not only memorable, but incredibly meaningful.
Honestly, at the beginning of the trip, I felt like I knew exactly how the week would play out; after two amazing service trips in Missouri and Pittsburgh, it was hard to not compare. However, by the end of the week I realized how wrong I was. On this trip, I learned so much by simply talking to the people around me, making it such a unique experience. By driving through the winding roads of Eastern Kentucky, one would never expect that such a beautiful place would be ridden with so much hardship. It took a closer look to understand that only 9% of adults had college degrees, and over 30% live below the poverty line — a percentage that is nearly double the national average.
We worked with St. Vincent Mission, an organization whose goal is to help low income families with home repairs. Our work varied from repairing a roof to guttering an entire house, to weeding, mowing, and cleaning up an old playground. Each small group was assigned a supervisor, and my group had the opportunity to work with a man named Jim. With a Southern drawl, American flag bandana and cut-off shirt, I hate to admit that I made assumptions about him before we even spoke. However, after a few conversations, I discovered he was probably one of the most interesting people I’d ever met; not only a survivor of two major spinal injuries, but a proud grandfather and an extremely faith-filled individual.
On Thursday night we attended a Pickin’ Party — a typically Southern gathering where people bring their instruments,
play music, and dance. As we shuffled into the room, we were greeted by the sound of several guitars and a man singing country music. Elderly couples danced on the floor while we sat around the perimeter, trying to understand what exactly to do with our feet. Eventually, a woman must have seen us struggling, and showed me and a few other friends a few basic dance moves. It was obvious we were outsiders, yet this woman took the time to welcome us into a part of their lives.
Within the Worktour group, we also learned how to surprise ourselves. From shaving parts of our heads (myself included), to jumping into a lake, to singing music at the top of our lungs with people we’d just met, we took these risks and ultimately felt rewarded. While my final Worktour flew by, I feel so thankful to be a part of the Foundations community. It does break my heart that this is my last year, but I think this trip helped me to realize that there are ways to experience Foundations outside of Chicago, simply by keeping an open mind, and letting myself be surprised by both the little and big things in life in the years to come.
Florence Almeda is a rising senior at University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and has been a member of Foundations since her freshman year.
Going on Worktour was an amazing experience, not only because I got to make a ton of new friends, but I learned so much about the community in David, Kentucky. The kindness of the locals on the worksite, at restaurants, and at the Pickin’ Party taught me how to show compassion towards people who are from different backgrounds than myself.
The relationships I made on Kentucky ’17 are the most remarkable thing to come out of my Worktour. By being in an isolated area with no phone or distraction, I have been able to connect to people in just a matter of days. The people I met here have changed me forever and for the better.
Worktour was awesome because as a group, I got to help others in need and actually take action and get hands on. Being able to work with other teens who are passionate about the same things just makes Worktour fun, but what makes it awesome is that while doing this and helping others, I had the chance to make new friends and just enjoy my faith.
Worktour this year helped me come to understand that poverty in this country is different depending on where the impoverished are.
Worktour was amazing because I learned so much about poverty in Appalachia, in our own country, and it was so great to be a part of helping people in need. I also got to build some great friendships with kids I didn’t know before the Worktour week.
Worktour was an amazing experience. I really learned new things with the people I worked with and about Kentucky. I got to see how the people lived their everyday lives and their culture. We got to do so many fun things, go to a Pickin’ Party, swim in a lake, and build and construct different things.
Worktour is an experience in which you truly find yourself. You are given the opportunity to help those who need it the most in our country with hands-on work. The people I met and the connections I made will stay with me for the rest of my life.
The mountains and people [in Kentucky] really made me feel that God surrounds us all, and there’s a place for everything. The friendships I made on this trip I already know will last a lifetime. No other time am I surrounded by such a great community of people the same age as me.
The Worktour to Kentucky was so amazing because I got to get to know some great people. I came out of Worktour with not only new relationships with the friends that I went with, but with the people we met in the community. Without the great people of OSP this would not be possible, and I want to thank you for supporting us.
During Worktour, I found a new energy in service, and I think I have a strengthened desire to serve others and do good work in the world. Also, I bonded with so many incredible people, and Foundations is going to be exponentially more enjoyable with the new relationships.
I believe that every person has a piece of God in them, no matter if it is found easily or it takes a bit more searching. Here, I was able to find the humanity and love in not only my fellow Worktour participants, but I found God in the people of Appalachia that had completely different lifestyles from myself. I never expected this experience.
Wilke Daniel Macariola
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This Worktour taught me a multitude of life skills, from gutter installation to the importance of empathy when volunteering. This experience also allowed me to see the world from a new perspective, and more deeply understand an overlooked type of poverty: rural poverty.
Worktour was great because we were able to help a somewhat ‘forgotten’ community (Appalachia). We were able to connect with the locals and be able to help the areas and houses around us. Also, it was a great experience because I was able to gain relationships with other teens and make new friends.
This Worktour touched everyone here in parts of our hearts that we didn’t even know were there. Any Worktour for that matter makes such great connections with us and our friends. Not to mention all the service we did. Without this I don’t know where I would be!
Stuart Patton-Van Buskirk
Worktour was amazing because you come back with a new understanding of different communities, different people, and a whole bunch of new friends to go along with that. It’s a life-changing week that I’ll never forget about.
On Worktour you make so many genuine relationships with people who you probably wouldn’t have talked to if it weren’t for Worktour. You really become a family over the week while working together to help the community, whether it’s weeding, painting roofs, or replacing gutters. Worktour is truly an amazing experience.
This Worktour was incredible because it was shocking to see the levels of poverty in this area, and it is so fulfilling to come and try to help the people here. The people around [Appalachia] are all so welcoming to people they don’t know which is awesome to see, and they are always so positive.
Worktour was one of the best weeks of my life and I know I will be forever changed after this amazing experience. Helping such amazing people who face such incredibly unfair adversity helped me to really act in Christ’s name to the best of my ability. Thank you.
During Worktour, I saw a different world and saw truly reality. What I saw was painful but seeing the smiles on people’s faces throughout the work process was priceless. It was definitely a life-changing experience for me.
A WORD FROM THE LEADERS…
Kentucky Worktour was a unique experience during which we witnessed hardships many residents endured despite the natural beauty of the surroundings. I cherished the opportunity to spend a week with deep, insightful teens who push themselves to the limits to serve those in need.
My favorite part of Worktour is watching a group of teens who barely know each other come together as a true community by the end of the week. It’s a community that has a lot of fun and dance parties but also a glimpse into the kind of Christian community that we are all called to.
As an adult leader on Worktour, it was powerful to see teens experience a place so unlike their homes, and to so quickly adapt and grow because of it. I am constantly amazed by the ability of the group to build a community so quickly and so completely. Service work forges strong bonds and it was great to see Foundations teens embrace every aspect of the Kentucky Worktour.