Mary Beth Turner enrolled in LBAR 3910: Practicum in Liberal Arts during the 2011 spring semester. The course on Appalachian Community Development includes a week-long living and learning experience at the Clearfork Community Institute in Eagan, TN.
When I first signed up to take this course I thought it would be a fun, easy course. I honestly had no idea what the course was about other than that there included a trip over Spring Break to a community in Appalachia. In fact, I was convinced and had my parents convinced that our class was going to Richmond, Virginia for a conference and then to Tennessee for the majority of the trip. As we arrived in Richmond, Kentucky I began to realize that this trip was going to be nothing as I expected! It was then that I decided to toss all expectations and delight in the adventures that each day brought. Although chopping down stalks of cane to make cane fishing poles, square dancing, digging for fresh worms in the dirt, and walking on a train track where I could see the water below through the tracks were firsts I will never forget, I have two memories from the trip that I will always cherish.
One of the things I got to participate in was going to the Head Start in Clairfield. We were given a box full of construction paper, pom poms of every color of the rainbow, Krispy Kreme hats, foam stick-on animals and other craft supplies. Our job was to come up with crafts for the children to make each day we visited the Head Start and to come up with songs and stories to share as a group. The task may seem a little broad, but I had so much fun planning with the other girls what craft we would do and what songs we would sing. As we acted silly with the kids, I couldn’t help but notice the children’s sweet interactions with each other. We have talked a lot about what the word community stands for in our class. During those days at the head start I saw a community of preschoolers who not only enjoyed the fun crafts, games, and new songs, but who more importantly enjoyed sharing those fun things with each other.
The other memory I will cherish from our time in Eagan, Tennessee is the two hours we spent riding four wheelers throughout the mountains. The generosity of those men of the community to give of their time to show us a site of a coal mine, to walk through a graveyard to see the dates of the tombstones, and to tell stories of what the area used to be like, will be something I will never forget. I can read articles all day about coal mines, but I learned far more that day by seeing how coal is taken from the ground and after many steps ultimately dropped into a train cart and hauled off. Those men will never know how much it meant to hear their personal stories and get to see the mountains from their perspective.
My week in Appalachia was full of firsts, but it was a special week because of the relationships we made with the people of the community. As we heard the first day we were at the Clearfork Community Institute, Eagan would survive with or without us, but by offering of our time and energy we could help them take one more step as a community. After all, as I was constantly reminded, the trip was not about us as students of Auburn University, but it was about seeing the needs of the community and reaching out with a servant heart.