Published: Oct 09, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Oct 08, 2011 04:23 PM
Hope for better times
What does Orange County have in common with Scott County, Tenn.? My first impression was absolutely nothing.Scott County is extremely poor. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 25 percent of the county was living below the poverty level in 2009 (compared with 16 percent in Orange County). It currently has the highest unemployment rate in all of Tennessee.Unlike the academic atmosphere of Orange County where almost 54 percent of people have a bachelor's degree, only 8 percent of Scott County residents have achieved that level.There is also considerably more obesity there, due in part to the cost of healthier food. And compared to Orange County, there is not much ethnic diversity: more than 98 percent of the population is white.This summer, I went to Scott County with a group from our church, New Hope Presbyterian. Each year, our youth group participates in a program called the Appalachian Service Project, or ASP. Founded in 1969, more than 260,000 volunteers have repaired the homes of 14,000 people through the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.Our group, which consisted of five adults and six teenagers, was divided into two smaller work crews, and each crew was assigned to a family. In the case of our family, lots of people, including cousins and the occasional homeless person, lived in a small, poorly built trailer, on an income of $600 a month.Almost everybody seemed to constantly have a cigarette in their hand. Something else that stood out was how everybody drank Mountain Dew all day, including the 2-year-old girl we saw feeding Mountain Dew to her pig, Gordy. Gordy was joined by an array of dogs and cats.We spent the week installing underpinning to the bottom of their trailer for better insulation. Randy Sellars, our crew leader, did a fabulous job showing us what to do, as well as doing a lot of the hard work underneath in filthy conditions. With his guidance, I became more comfortable with everything from working a circular saw to pounding rebar.I had certainly heard about these kinds of living conditions before, but it is really something else to see them up close. Some ASP staff and volunteers said they believed this was all part of God's plan. I wondered exactly what would best help the people of Scott County.Is repairing their houses really going to help them in the long run? Are there things that they and we can do to make their lives better? I haven't found an answer, but I can't imagine God would have a plan like this.In the Appalachian Mountains, people tend to stay where they are. What does the future hold for people who live there? How do we address extreme poverty?When I first arrived, I couldn't see much in common with the people of Scott County. But looking back, I see similarities as well as differences. It is clear they love and care for their families and community. We all feel gratitude to others; the matriarch of the family we served offered us drinks and cantaloupe.They hope for better times. We all hope for a brighter future, even if we go about it in different ways.A Yiddish proverb summarizes it well: "Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven."
Lucas Selvidge is a 10th-grader at Carolina Friends School. Contact him in c/o The Chapel Hill News at email@example.com