A Different Kind of Class Work

Adrian College students travel to West Virginia help others.

On a crisp October morning, a van packed full of Adrian College students, faculty and staff departed for McDowell County, West Virginia. As part of an architectural art history class project, our group set out to assist families in repairing their homes in the Appalachian Mountains with the help of the non-profit organization Big Creek People in Action.

The BCPIA organization works to support the local residents in various ways including veteran support, parenting education, in school tutoring, after-school programs, and housing rehabilitation.

In May of 2002, a great rainstorm fell on McDowell County, causing streams and rivers to become raging swells. The copious floods damaged and even destroyed homes, businesses, and schools, leaving many people in despair. In an effort to help continue their rebuilding endeavors, our group from Adrian spent the weekend of their fall break in Caretta, West Virginia, repairing homes on the mountainside.

After an eight-hour drive through the foggy mountains, we arrived in the small town of Caretta and welcomed by a neighborly group of volunteers. We were given a tour and invited to explore the headquarters, painted with images of coal mining.The evening was filled with pleasant song and games with local residents. A small band played music while a local dancer, Manuel Collins, taught the students about flatfooting, a traditional dance from the mountain region.

Following a decent night’s sleep, we rose to pack lunches and to plan the days’ work schedule. The vehicles were packed with ample supplies for the work that needed to be done and we were on our way. Our first location was a blue, desolate two-story house, which was tucked into the side of the mountain. A family was to move in within a week. The outdoor balcony had rotted floorboards giving in to the structure and a great deal of missing vinyl siding.

Because our time was limited at this residence, our team focused on replacing the missing vinyl siding on the back of the house. Between the house and the mountain, three people had just enough room to work and add siding where it was needed. On the inside of the house, another group of students worked won patching the walls in a small office space. Following this set of tasks, we moved to another home in need of repair.

After a drive through various small towns and beautiful fall colors, we arrived in War, West Virginia, where our next projects awaited. The porch floorboards at the front door needed to be replaced to prevent children from falling in, guardrails to be added to the porch and earth to be removed from around the new staircase on the side of the house to prevent the new porch from rotting. The students broke up into small teams and each project received attention until great strides were made. The floorboards on the porch were ripped off and replaced, the tough dirt was removed from around the property entrance, and the new guardrails were placed from the stairwell to the front door.

By the end of the day, our hard working group completed a workload that would take the Big Creek People In Action community several days, maybe a week if there are not enough volunteers. The people in the organization, as well as the recipients of the work, were more than grateful for the company and assistance.It is not uncommon for “hill people,” people who live in the mountains, to be stereotyped as unaccomplished, ungrateful and isolated. For the entire duration of our trip, the people we encountered of McDowell County shattered all common assumptions about the region and inhabitants. Everyone was warm, neighborly and accommodating. We, as decent human beings, should give people a chance to show us who they are before we decide for them. Give peace a chance.

This article was written by Adrian College Alumna Hannah Warner with the help of Adrian College students Kevin Hernandez, Madelyn Losier, and Mason Simpson as well as Dr. Carissa Massey and Dr. Jason Hartz. Printed in Lenawee Neighbors Jan/Feb 2018.