Appalachian missionaries tackle projects with enthusiam

Garrison Daly, Appalachian Missionary Reporter

Early flights tend to be the least favorable among travelers, but on the early morning of March 20, Tampa International teemed with excited AHN missionaries.  With color-coordinated shirts and suitcases twice their body mass, the 2011 Appalachia Mission team members showed their enthusiasm for their pre-dawn flight.  The group of sixteen women included math teacher Mrs. Edna Swafford, two chaperones, and the four leaders – Garrison Daly, Gabrielle Babin, Sarah Shepard, and Abby Lopez .

Abby Lopez said, “The excitement was contagious in the airport! Even travelers who aren’t part of the AHN community felt the energy!”

Upon arrival in Roanoke, the clan still had a two-hour drive through the heights of the Appalachian Mountains ahead of them.  With only three vans to accommodate their staggering load of baggage with supplies for the mission, the group managed to pile themselves into the vehicles for their long drive ahead.

As they rode over the foothills leading up to the mountains, Chandler Cartwright described the ride over the foothills leading up to the mountains, “Awe-stopping.  The mountains were right out of a painting!”

Inspired by the splendor of their new setting, the girls arrived at the Appalachian Folk Life Center in Pipestem, West Virginia, their home for the next week.  The Center is a non-profit organization begun in 1967 and receives no federal funding. Its mission is to preserve the folk-art culture and environment of the area while providing services to the residents throughout the region who rank below the national  poverty level. Each year Academy girls donate their time to repairing housing and providing services for residents who are too old or too young to take care of themselves.

The girls knew that this trip would require lots of hard work.  Some of their tasks included scaling buildings, scrapping paint, fixing the plumbing, and painting both the interior and exterior of the house and neighboring shed.  They worked diligently throughout the day, each girl just as dedicated as the next.

Despite the long days and hard work, the team found encouragement from their Charlotte, their host, who referred to them as, “My Girls!”  Her gratitude was overwhelming and her smile was ear to ear, rewarding the girls with acknowledgement for their hard work. 

After a hard days work, the girls still managed to find time to appreciate their surroundings.  With grandiose mountains and crystal clear waterfalls, a trip through the State Park found them surrounded by nature. 

Gabrielle Babin said, “The scenery in Pipestem is something that I will always remember.  Its purity and serenity could captivate anyone for hours!”

Other activities included seminars on the land’s history and the devastating environmental impact on the Appalachian area of mountain-top removal.  After each day, the girls would take their ice-cold showers and prepare their own dinner.  Later, they would gather around a warm fire, sharing stories and laughs,  creating a bond of service and sisterhood that is part of the Academy charism engendered by the Sisters of the Holy Names.