Remember, way back when, how parents would ask their eight year old kids "How was school today? What did you learn?" and the children would always reply with a "Good. Nothing really" and the sharing would just end from a lack of elaboration? Now, remember a couple weeks ago when family members and friends would inquire "How was ASP? What did you do?" and most, if not all, teens reply with "it was amazing, but I just can't put into words how it was... you had to be there" and the conversation comes to a halt. After some personal reflection, I realized that labeling the trip as “unexplainable" didn't do ASP justice. So here's my attempt at describing the indescribable: You know the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when your grandma fixes up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and pops them in the oven? And you inhale the deep, aromatic air, indulging in the chocolatey goodness that fills the cozy kitchen on Christmas Eve. And your whole family gathers around the granite counter, stuffing their faces with the sweet baked goods and you're just happy.
Now take that scene, and replace your grandma with the hopeful hands of teenagers, and interchange the batch of cookies with a home in need of being warmer, safer, and drier. The kitchen is gone and replaced with a single room where the oven is broken, the water heater is in dire need of repair, sawdust and the smell of sweat fill the air, and the sun is beating down, amplifying the heat of the already humid weather. But there is one constant: a joyous homeowner bubbling love and kindness, making it impossible not to smile.
A couple teens work under the home for hours, just to make sure the side of the house doesn't cave in. Two girls put up supports on the porch so the wooden frame doesn't falter under the snowstorms that are sure to arrive in the winter months. A boy carries and installs a 150 pound water heater just to make sure a woman has warm, running water. The clock strikes four and the workers are fatigued, hungry, and struggling to keep their heads from swaying above their necks because of the long day. But beneath the exhaustion and sweat, is a heart full of hope, conversations filled with laughter, and a sense of self-fulfillment.
Because of our work, a woman, by the name of Lillie, is able to live comfortably, share her stories, and open our eyes to the works of God. And because of that, all of the struggles we faced that week were worth it.
It's the feeling of standing on top of the mountain in the beautiful country air, of witnessing poverty and faith collide, of seeing God at work in every single moment of the day, of witnessing love in action that makes the trip indescribable. The internal feeling of being useful and appreciated, of being at an all-time high, of belonging to another family... that's the feeling that makes mission trips flow through your blood. The one that fuels the ASP addiction. The one that makes talking about the trip so hard. The reason people return.
ASP has been something that I said I would do eventually. Every year since freshman year, Howard would ask me if I wanted to do ASP this year. My answer was always no because my end of the season softball tournament always fell on the week of the trip.
This year was different, the tournament was a week later than normal and it was finally my year to go. It was an amazing year to go and I could not have had a better experience on the trip. The first day going to the cardinal’s game was outstanding, it was my first time in a major league baseball stadium that wasn't the Cubs. Then another first happened the next day, when I zip lined for the first time and somewhat conquered my fear of heights. This first weekend prior to arriving in Breathitt County really set up for an amazing week.
I was the teen who got to go on the Sunday home visit. Sadly, my family wasn't home but I did get to meet their puppies and kitten. Monday was an exciting day arriving at the house with the whole team and able to meet the family for the first time. The whole week flew by from going on the handle bar swing on Monday with Valerie, painting her nails on Wednesday, and having Dylan take us on his four-wheeler on Friday.
The whole week didn't even feel like work, but that doesn't mean we didn't get a lot done. Our team worked amazing together and finished the laminate and trim in the living room and VCT tile in the kitchen, while starting to put down the
laminate in the hallway. It was filled with laughs with the team and memories I will never forget. ASP is one thing that has changed my summer. I wish I could be there the whole summer with our family. I now understand why everyone is drawn to come back every summer, ASP is really a relationship ministry with a little construction on the side.
One of the hardest things about going on ASP is not the physical work or working in the heat all day… honestly the hardest thing is coming back home and having to readjust. I know for myself at least, within 10 days I found myself having two new families and experiences that truly changed my life and remind me why I do this.
Backtracking to Sunday, the first night that we were at the center, I remember Kaylie, Jena and I running up to Nicky and Tom when they got back from the initial home visit. We couldn’t even begin to contain our excitement to hear about what the upcoming week held for us. But when we found out that our homeowner Mary, had a heart attack prior to us arriving, and that there wouldn’t be a family at the house, I think we all took that kind of hard. I knew coming into this year not to have any expectations, but wanting to have the “perfect” last year selfishly sat in the back of my head. I wanted that perfect balance between bonding with the gold team, the family and accomplishing our roofing project. Little did I know at the time, that it would all work itself out.
Monday morning came and one of the staff members, Meredith, told us that we would be able to visit Mary in the hospital. After getting to spend 15 short minutes with her, none of us wanted to leave, knowing that
might’ve been the only time we would’ve gotten to see her, but that was all the motivation we needed for the rest of the week.
Fast forward a few days and, Jason told us that Mary was going to be coming home on Friday. So we knew we had to push hard despise some challenges that come up so that we could have everything done by the time she got back. I remember
Friday morning when we thought we had finished the roof, the 5 of us teens all had hands on the drill to put the last screw in together. This was until Riley, another staff member, had to come and told us other things that had to be done on the roof, but that’s besides the point. The point is that by the end of the work day, we finished and did more than our initial goals and we would get to see Mary later in the evening.
I don’t think anything could’ve prepared me for what the next hour of my life had in store. We pulled up and saw Mary sitting on her porch, still in her hospital gown. Then a few minutes later, Jason came from around the corner with Mary’s sister and two young grandsons that Mary was fighting for custody over, Colton (11) and Cam (9).
The most touching thing was that she was going to be able to get custody of them because we, ASP, were there working on her house. Getting to play with them on the trampoline and see them laugh made me felt so incredibly good knowing that they will get to grow up in a house that is now warmer, safer, and drier. Their entire family was beyond sweet and just loved on us so much. Getting to just talk and spend time with them was a moment I never wanted to walk away from. After that one hour, I never knew I could love a group of people so fast and so much, and was not at all ready for goodbyes. But in that moment I felt every feeling now realizing that if those two amazing kids were there, we would not have finished near as much as we did on the house.
The amazing thing about the ASP experience is that everyone gets something different out of it. Whether it's someone's first year like myself or fourth or fifth year like a couple people in my group, everyone gets some-thing out of it. It's not gonna be the same thing, but everyone's lives will be changed for the better. This year was about helping and loving the people in kentucky, but in doing so we helped ourselves and loved each other more.
By impacting other people's lives, we found a greater appreciation for our own daily lives. Not only did we strengthen our relationships with the family, we found a family of our own in the gold group. The experience really helped me realize to not take the little things for granted because we saw how little the people there had , but how much happier they were than people here. The experience was something I'll never forget and I can't wait to come back next year for a whole new experience as a returning teen.
These four years in high school are some of the toughest years of our lives. School, testing, grades, friends, sports, colleges, social life, study life, work, stress, etcetera, etcetera. A common question a high schooler is asked is "what do you want to do after high school?". Up until July 6th, I had no idea.
One year ago I never would have believed you if you told me this 10 day trip would change my life. Frankly, I don’t think anyone would. Because you can’t understand the real power of ASP unless you experience it yourself. Having friends do it in years past, I heard stories about the trip and how life changing it was, but never truly believed it. How could 10 days really change your life? But it did, and I'm forever grateful. ASP has shown me the true magic of selflessness, leadership, friendship, and faith in God. Throughout this trip, I developed such long-lasting friendships that I am eternally grateful for.
I also developed such a strong relationship with my homeowner. Her name is Lillie. Lillie is truly one of a kind. Lillie is the sweetest lady I have ever met. She is so welcoming, grateful, kind, honest. I could go on forever. But I will never forget the lessons she has taught me or the stories she shared. Lillie has gone through so much in her life, but not one thing has put out her hope.
Lillie's strength inspired me so much throughout this journey and continues to inspire me long after. She has taught me the significance of family. She has shown me the importance of having a strong faith. But most importantly, Lillie has shown me that even in the darkest of times, there is always life. She will always be part of my life. In just the five short days we knew each other, I already felt like we were family.
As we were walking out on our last day of work, Lillie said to us, “Now youngins’, you might not remember my name, but I hope someday something reminds you of that little old lady that lived up in that holler.” But how could I forget the name of the woman who left such an impact on my life?
This was my first year doing ASP and coming into this year I was very nervous and kind of excited. My sister did ASP for four years and every year she would cry on the way back home after we picked her up. She would say that she felt sad being back and didn't want to come home. I was confused and slightly offended that Michelle didn't want to see our family again. But I didn't realize how big of an impact ASP was on her life. She would tell me a thousand stories about it and how they built so many things and created a huge bond with the family. I was so nervous to do ASP because I didn't want to leave home and deal with the hot weather, bugs, and spiders. But I didn't realize that when I got on the trip all of those fears would be behind me.
I remember leaving St. Marcelline in the white church vans that were decorated with orange basketballs, lights, flowers, towels, and more. It didn't seem real and didn't feel like I was actually going on the trip right there and then until we got to the center.
The center was always filled with so much joy and happiness. Throughout the whole entire week I would become so so close to every single one of the people that did asp this year. I made so many amazing friends through ASP that I know will be my friends for a long time. I grew so close to my group since I pretty much spent every second of the day with them. We worked together, cried together, and laughed together. I made so many amazing memories with everyone during those 10 days and they will stay with me forever. Now onto my home owner Lillie.
Lillie was a loving, faithful, happy, and wonderful person. She was probably the sweetest person I have ever met in my whole entire life. She taught me so much. She was always there to help, guide, and to talk to me. She always made my day brighter whenever she would talk to me. We made such an amazing connection and I will never forget her. One day on the worksite I had to go under the house to help build support for the underpinning, and I kept explaining how I have a big fear
of spiders and that I am slightly claustrophobic. So before I went to work under the house, she took my hands and started praying for me. After she prayed for me she started telling me that god will always be there for me and will always protect me. I will never forget that moment.
She cared for every single one of us. We made so many amazing memories in the span of 5 days. I felt so close to her even though I had only known her for a short time, I will never forget Lillie after this trip. This trip was my favorite thing I did this year. On this trip I learned many valuable lessons, it really impacted my life and I'm excited to do it all again next year.
Four years ago I embarked on a journey that would impact my life forever, and that was ASP. I remember how stubborn I was when my mom introduced me to the idea of joining, I told her without hesitation that I didn't want to, actually that I wouldn't. A few weeks after that conversation she picked me up from my dad's and told me that she had a surprise for me, and pulled into the St. Marcelline parking lot on the way back to her house. She ran to the mailbox and came back with a big manila envelope and told me that I was going on the trip with ASP that upcoming summer. I sat in the car infuriated and threw a fit, complaining that she signed me up after I'd
told her that I didn't want to do it. Little did I know, the decision that she had made for me would be one of the best things to ever happen to me.
ASP led me to meet and befriend some of the most genuine people I have had the pleasure of knowing, it has also given me the opportunity of bonding with families that I would have never known existed otherwise. This year especially opened my eyes to the importance of family and togetherness, and how so many of the families that we serve in Appalachia hold each other so close to heart. My group served a family in which a great grandmother was taking care of three of her granddaughters children. Shirley, the great grandmother, was one of the most kind-hearted, welcoming womenI have ever met. Her great grandchildren's names are Mia (5), Aaliyah (4), and Jaden (2.5).
Each and every day of service at her household was flooded with joy and love, thanks to her, the children, and my amazing work crew. There was one moment during the work week where I found myself drowning in love, that moment happened to be while my entire group was outside working and I was inside with the family. I was sitting on the couch with Mia in my lap and Jaden and Aaliyah on either side of me. Shirley and I were deep in a conversation and I kept getting distracted by all three of the kids reaching out to me for attention. I caught myself getting flustered because my mind was so jumbled with everything going on that I couldn't even get a word out. It was in that moment that I realized how much that family meant to me, and how badly I wanted to get the project done for them.
Our task for the week was to put up a back porch for them so that they had an accessible exit out their back door, which with a ton of hard work and determination we blew right through. We finished the back porch about halfway through the week and moved on to the front of the house to start building a new front porch for them, considering their front porch they had at the time was pretty much a wood frame held up on stacked cinder blocks with more cinder blocks as stairs. Our team set out to get as much of the front porch done as we possibly could in the two days left that we had to do it, and I'd say we accomplished a lot more than we expected. We had set all the posts for the porch and got her deck put on, the only things missing were guard railings and stairs, which the next group would take care of.
At the beginning of the week every member of St. Marcelline ASP wrote down three goals they wanted to accomplish for themselves by the end of the trip. My three goals were to: contribute a self satisfying amount of work to the construction, interact with the family in a positive and an impactful way, and to get to know my team members better and establish friendships with members outside of my team as well. I accomplished my goals, by constructing the porches and creating unforgettable bonds with the family and my peers.
The experience I had this year allowed me to see the world from a different perspective and help me grow as a person. After four years of ASP I have taken something new away from each experience, it has helped me realize my purpose through service.
If you ask anyone from ASP, the week goes by so fast and none of us want to come home. Of course we miss our parents and friends at home but we all wish we could stay in Breathitt longer than planned. Throughout the week, I had to pleasure to meet Shirley, and her three wonderful and joyous grandchildren. Mia, Aliyah and Jayden. Mia, the oldest was ambitious and welcomed all of us into her home easily. Aliyah, would open up to a few of us at a time by whispering a few things into our ears and Jayden was shy around us until around Thursday when he came out of our shell. I grew extremely close with Aliyah from the moment we came to home. She was absolutely precious and she would melt your heart when she would look up at you with her gorgeous eyes.
On Tuesday, Aliyah and I were inside and she wanted to show the team the book she got in the mail. So, I brought her outside to where the team and I were building her a porch. After she should the team her book, she looked up at me and said "I love you". She then asked, "Do you know why?". So then I knelt next to her and asked, “Why?” She pointed to the frame of the porch we were building her. She then ran away to go back inside to be with her grandma Shirley, leaving me there completely awestruck.
My parents wrote me a letter for the trip and they wrote, “After all, ASP is not easy. If you didn't do this, you wouldn't have to get up early for the meetings, put in all the work during the trip, not have to plan your summer around the 10 days...it would be easier if you didn't do this. So you have a a first-hand experience now choosing the right thing which is also the harder thing." ASP isn't easy. I had to leave a family who I feel in love with after just 5 days of knowing them. Saying goodbye to the family brought me to tears. And ASP is about making those type of connections. I couldn't have asked for a better year with ASP. I love my team with two amazing leaders. One of my leaders, Bob, said that he was climbing a mountain throughout the week of the trip, and I would love to climb more mountains with ASP St. Marcelline.
Coming into my second year of ASP I couldn't have been more excited. Last year I had such an amazing and impacting year and I couldn't wait to do it all over again. Something I promised myself was to not stress about trying to make this year live up to lasts. I wanted to have new experiences and to not compare. By the end of this trip I can honestly say I didn't find myself doing that at all. The past two years were so different from each other and each had their own ways that made them so special and as amazing as they were.
On ASP there are those specific moments where you will sit back and think that this is why I'm here and this is why I love ASP. I think one of the biggest moments that truly showed what ASP really is was when my team got to meet the whole family of the homeowner whose house we were repairing the day before we left Kentucky.
This year my team's house we were working on belonged to a women named Mary. A couple weeks before we got to Kentucky Mary suffered and heart attack and was hospitalized. Knowing that the house we were repairing for the week would be empty was tough for me because a huge part of ASP is making a bond with the family who you will be with for the whole work week and that's something I really wanted to have. We then got the opportunity to go and meet her in the hospital before we got to her house! Meeting her was
so amazing because she was one of the most kindest and caring people I have ever met even given what she just went through. Getting to meet her made us all want to work 100 times harder to fix what we needed to fix and to make her house warmer, safer, and drier.
As the week went on we worked very hard to accomplish what we were assigned to do. By the end of the week we did just that and it was absolutely amazing and felt so rewarding. We then found out that on Friday Mary would be coming home! So that night we went to go visit her back at the house and when we got there her whole entire family was standing right there with her. We started with having no family at the house all week to it being filled with some of the most amazing people I have ever met.
We talked like we've known each other forever and I couldn't have been more grateful to get to meet all of them and see how happy they were. Something Mary’s nephew Jason told me was I don't care if it is 30 or 40 years from now, if you are ever down here and need a place to stay you will always have one here. For someone who I just met to tell me that was something words can't even describe. The outpouring of love they all had in their hearts was so beautiful. After only seeing them for that short amount of time, having to them leave was so hard, but I remember sitting in the van on the way back to the center probably the happiest I've ever been and thinking that this is one of those moments I will hold onto forever.
This whole trip was full of so many of those moments and I wouldn't trade those for anything. I've also learned that yes it's hard to explain to people about your experience because you feel as if they don't understand but those are the types of moments that are for you to have and that make you grow as a person. Lastly I just want to thank my Gold Team and everyone on ASP or who was involved someway for making it another amazing year for me and I can't wait to do it all again next year!
So because this was my first year doing ASP I really had my doubts. I wasn't sure that I made the right decision in joining, and I wasn't sure that I really wanted to go. That opinion changed on Monday morning when I met my homeowner Lillie.
She is honestly one of the nicest people I've ever met and I couldn't have asked for a better homeowner. I could tell right away that she was grateful for all of the work we would be doing in the upcoming week. That week was very hot, and we were all sweating, and at some points I wanted to give up. I was tired, sweaty, and overheated. I pushed through it all and by the end of the week I felt very accomplished.
I had no idea how hard saying goodbye would be until it was actually time. during that week I learned so much about the construction, my team, my homeowner, and myself. I am so grateful for an amazing first year. I couldn't have done it without my amazing team, so thank you guys for making my first year amazing.
In 1993, Jim Valvano, better known as Jimmy V, the famous North Carolina State head basketball coach and later broadcaster, gave a heartwarming speech at that years ESPY awards. In that speech he talked about his battles with cancer, and what kept him going every day. The original speech was eleven minutes in length, but this part stood out to me the most…
“When people say to me how do you get through life or each day, it’s the same thing. To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
… If you laugh, you think and you cry you’re going to have something special.
I believe I can speak for a majority of the group when I say that this year’s ASP trip was something special. It was filled with many laughs, lots of thoughts, and yes, tears. Boatloads of tears.
For me, this year is indescribable. Even after five years of ASP I still find it difficult to put the right words together, but I realized there is no perfect description – just one that is meaningful to me.
ASP has taught me a lot of things over the years. From how to make the perfect cut with a circular saw, to how to react and be confident in awkward situations, to speaking in front of large groups of people. This week was different. This week I didn’t learn how to use a new tool or a new approach at being sensitive to family. This week I was reminded of how much LOVE a person could actually feel.
The theme for this year was “Love In Action” and I don’t think there could have been a better fit. It is hard for me to remember a time during the trip where I didn’t feel surrounded by so much love, every moment of the day. Every member of my Purple Team was absolutely incredible. The amount of effort and dedication I saw these individuals put into each task they did, kept me going. They truly understand that ASP is a relationship ministry first.
An amazing part of ASP is how it has a way of creating a certain drive and motivation in oneself. It’s difficult to find this anywhere else. ASP is like an extended family where laughter is king, where relationships matter, and where changing the lives of families and volunteers alike is the highest priority of all.
I want to thank everyone here for providing me with another amazing year of ASP. Without all the laughter, the thoughts and the tears you have provided me, I would not be the person I am today.
Having been to 4 of these presentations before, I’ve heard the typical “I didn’t want to compare this year’s trip to last year’s because every year is different”. But that’s exactly what I did, although I wasn’t trying to recreate the same experience. Last year, I felt as if I didn’t put myself out there to make a bond with our family, as I was more focused on the construction. So this year, after hearing the phrase “You get out of something what you put into it” many times, I realized that getting that experience with the family was only something I could control.
So Sunday night after finding out we had 3 kids, 2 of them being close to my age, I was excited for the week. I thought it would be easier to make a connection with them. Though that was not the case for the first couple of days, they finally started to open up to us. It started with Dylan helping place tiles in the kitchen, which lead to him spending more time with us throughout the week, even taking us for rides on his 4-Wheeler. Valerie, on the other hand, was bouncing off the walls all 5 days. She was such an entertaining person to be around. She was very sassy for an 8 year old, and wanted things her way,
which led to some painted nails and me getting married. Twice. Bryton was more reserved, as it was not until Friday that he began to hang out with us while we were playing the game “Speak Out”, but those few minutes were one of the funniest parts of the trip.
There were 2 moments throughout the week that really motivated me in terms of the construction. After the first day of working in the living room, we had put about a third of the laminate. We arrived on Tuesday morning to see a pillow and blanket on the new floor. Brenda, their grandmother, told us that Valerie had slept on the new floor because she loved it so much. It really hit me that we take a lot of things for granted here, such as a living room floor.
The other moment that hit me was when Alex and I were putting in the tile with Dylan. She said,. "Dylan, let's sit on your new floor." And he responded, "it's our floor.'" That just sat with me for a minute. It made me want to do everything in my power to finish the floor, which we eventually did. It wasn't until we were pulling out of their driveway Friday afternoon that I realized I had gotten the experience I was pushing for. I didn't want to leave Kentucky or our family. I truly got a lot of this year's trip and I'm very glad I came back.