ATHENS — Students from River Valley High School recently visited Good Works to see how their Neighbors Helping Neighbors initiative works both within the context of the Athens area and the greater Appalachian area.
After a yearlong course studying the beauty and hardship of Appalachia, students applied the class to this new context of the culture beyond their regular home or school scenes. After a brief preparatory discussion about different tensions that students may experience while at the neighbors’ homes, volunteers were split up among the Good Works volunteers and sent to three different sites.
“Some students mowed a lawn, some started a garden, and others cleaned up a trailer and laid carpet; the real focus and joy was the conversation with the neighbors that took place while the work was being done,” said RVHS Junior English Teacher Kaliegh Cox. “Good Works has known these people for years and years, and it is a joy for them to spend their time during the day to help people that need it. After working with the neighbors, we gathered outside to make sandwiches together, eat and break bread together, and then debrief the experience and what we can learn from the people around us despite where we all come from or how we came to be together.”
“Our students did research on Good Works and then Nick Smith, the director, visited our school to talk more with the students,” said Appalachian Studies and Senior English Teacher Aaron Walker. “Then, on Thursday, we were able to go to Good Works and partner with them. Our students were sent out in three groups; they mowed, weed-eated, planted a garden, cleaned up a house, and helped lay carpet. Our students worked hard, but what was so neat was that it was done in the context of building relationships with people… I think it was for our students to not just work, but to be part of an organization that has such a clear vision, serves and loves this area so well, and seeks to do so in such a humble, gracious way. What an awesome opportunity to see our students apply their knowledge in a meaningful way. It will be exciting to see how these students will continue to learn, lead, and serve in years to come.”
“We focused on learning about our Appalachian heritage and how to improve the community we lived in and wanted to apply it in some way,” said senior Cole Franklin. “I was honored to have the opportunity to help Good Works and the amazing people who run it. We engaged in helping neighbors in the community and learn about their experiences. I helped a humble, older lady named Billie Joe who shared different stories about her life. I mowed her lawn because in Athens you can get fined for not having your lawn mowed. Being from Appalachia it was nice having the necessary skills to help these people. We went back to the houses and had a lunch with the volunteers from the day where we sat around and shared stories from that day of work. A group of us talked to the founder of the organization and learned a lot about him. It was an amazing time where we can connect with people we have never interacted with.”
Good Works, according to its website, works to create to sustain a “community of hope” and assist those struggling with poverty and homelessness in Appalachia.