Coming Full Circle


Over the past few years, there have been two or three occasions where I've been required to write one of those broad essays detailing why I was pursuing a social work degree, what inspired me, etc. You know, like a college application essay. My essays always focused on a service trip I went on in high school, with my youth group, called Appalachia Service Project (ASP). While I didn't recognize it at the time, these trips to Kentucky and West Virginia really changed me in a profound way, and both directly and indirectly lead me to where I am today. Here's a little blurb from one of those essays:

..."Looking back, I suppose I can pinpoint the exact event in my life that sensitized me to social injustice and inequality, and made me realize that I wanted to help others. It was a week-long volunteer trip called Appalachia Service Project that I participated in during the summer of my freshman year in high school. The mission of the service trip was to spend a week repairing families’ homes in the most rural and impoverished parts of the Appalachian Mountains. In preparation for this trip, I spent weekends volunteering for Habitat for Humanity learning the skills of home building and repair, and washing cars to raise the needed funds. Once I finally arrived in Kentucky that summer, I could not believe that I was still in the United States; the poverty and dire housing conditions were way beyond any training or expectations I had. I could not believe that 11 people lived in a two-room house with no running water and no electricity! How could people, right here in the United States, be living in such unbelievable squalor?

At the end of the service week, I felt empowered by my contribution to one family’s quality of life; however, I knew it would never be enough. I knew that their problem was not merely a leaky roof, but rather a representation of the deep inequalities that persist in our nation. I didn’t know it then, but a fire was kindled in my heart that week in the mountains of Kentucky that is still burning strong today.

I returned home from that experience with a new awareness of my own privilege and it forever changed how I saw the world. I could not understand how I lived in a house where the foyer was larger than the actual homes of most people I met in Kentucky. It did not take long before I realized that I didn’t have to travel to Kentucky to experience vast inequality; it became clear to me that it was occurring in varying levels all around me" .... yada yada yada.

I say all of this because yesterday I went to Temple's Career Center to have my resume reviewed and when I took out a copy of my old resume from years ago, the woman helping me pointed to where it said "Appalachia Service Project" in the volunteer experience section and said, "I used to work for them!" We got to talking about the specifics of her work with the organization and my experiences as a volunteer. She was based in Kentucky, my first trip was to Kentucky. She asked me what group I went with, and I couldn't remember the name of the church, so I just said, "It was a group from Ridgefield, CT". Her eyes got big and she said, "I had a group of people from Ridgefield, CT working under me, um let's see, yeah, Mark P., Kelly G., Laura F., and Paul F., yeah", and I'm like, "are you kidding me? Not only do I know those people, but those people are all significant in some way. Mark P.? I had a major crush on him that started on ASP. Kelly G.? She was a good friend in high school, and again, we shared some good ASP times together. The F. family? They were my neighbors for years, we lived on Nursery Rd. in Ridgefield, CT."

It was an amazing coincidence, and it was the first time that these two distinctly different worlds connected. Well, they've always connected for me personally, but for them to connect via other people, all these years later, was really amazing. Especially because my visit yesterday was essentially my last visit to Temple, and will serve as the springboard for my post-grad career. So, since my experience with ASP was ultimately a guiding force in my decision to pursue the social work path at Temple, it felt serendipitous that my last experience at Temple should happen to involve a little ASP, back where it all began. Like a perfect circle.


Rachel said...

Hi Jen,

I work for ASP Headquarters, and your blog post came across my Google Alerts. Thanks so much for sharing your story -- I am always so inspired when I hear about people who go on to live their lives in service to others because of their ASP experience. And you would be surprised how many of those "small world" stories we hear. ASP people are everywhere! Would it be alright with you if I posted this to our Facebook page?

Many blessings on you and your work!

Take care,
Rachel Gossett

Jen said...

Hi Rachel,

Wow, thanks so much for taking the time to read my story and for your comment. It's true, ASP'ers are everywhere! I am proud and grateful to have had the experiences I had on ASP, and love to see how far those experiences ripple out. Feel free to let the story ripple out on the ASP facebook page.

Thanks again for your kind words,