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Proud to be Appalachian!

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

April 17, 2020 ~

During the summer of 2016, Tuesday Taylor and I decided that Pollen8 should host a summer camp for at risk youth. 

Tuesday has incredible experience with helping children so we created this amazing, fun-filled summer camp called, Camp Appalachia. 

Before I attended Appalachian State University and entered into the Appalachian Studies program, I did not identify as Appalachian.  Those were the “other” people, the “rednecks”, who lived up the hollers.  I lived in a small suburb of Charleston, the Capital of West Virginia (said with a sarcastic tone to mock ONLY myself).  However, once I started learning the Appalachian history and culture- I became more and more honored of my West Virginian heritage.  I learned how we, as a majority Protestant state, were the reason that John F. Kennedy (a Catholic) won the primary and went on to become the 35th President of the United States.  We were also the reason that the North won the Civil War - our willingness to help rewarded by allowing us to succeed from Virginia and become our own State (even though half the country doesn’t even know we are our own state) in 1863.  But most importantly, I learned how in 1921, 20,000 miners came together on West Virginia soil to fight their own government (Battle of Blair Mountain) to ensure equality, healthy living conditions, and safety measures were set to protect the rights of miners (UMWA) in a movement that would go on to spark unions across the entire country. 

West Virginians are pioneers - we are fighters and have shaped our country from settling the northeast to providing electricity to the entire country and all on the backs of our people.  When I returned home, I wanted to share that pride and empowerment I had developed with others and that is the reason that we use “Appalachia” in the names of our programs.  We do so in hopes that others will want to join us in changing the narrative around the negative connotations that surround our great state and turn that into becoming the leaders at making the most out of a bad situation and taking that experience to create programs that truly make a difference in the lives of our community.

As I was conducting my research for my thesis, I had to choose an avenue to do the work.  I chose, “inter-organizational collaborations”, which is just a fancy way to say “community partners”.  The idea was that I would conduct my work by pulling in other community organizations to compile resources towards a common goal.  For Camp Appalachia, we reached out to the City of South Charleston, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Kanawha Communities that Care, and the South Charleston Housing Authority.  Representatives from each organization came together every other week for two months to discuss what resources could be pulled together.  Everyone worked together to compile resources to help us succeed.  St. Paul’s United Methodist Church would provide the space at their Parish House for the camp and recruit volunteers to cook meals for the children.  Their minister, Rev. Cindi Briggs-Biondi, and I began having weekly meetings at Sheets to work on a grant that she would later write and be awarded ($7,000) to fund the supplies needed for the program.  Tuesday Taylor, Camp Director, and I met on a weekly basis to build out the program for the actual camp itself and to obtain all of the necessary licensure and certifications.  The South Charleston Housing Authority pulled funds and used them to cover salaries for Tuesday and two staff members.  Kanawha Communities that Care provided a week-long training for the children on “staying off of drugs” and because of the willingness of a community to come together, we provided an 8 week camp that summer for 24 children (ages 8-12).  At the end of the summer, the community members had one last meeting to debrief on the challenges and success of the program.  At the end of the meeting, members of the church said “if you ever have any other projects you’d like

to do, we’d love to continue working together”….and Café Appalachia was spoken into existence.  

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