Hello, my name is Mary Tierney and I recently came to Big Ugly with Earlham College. I am not only a college student that recently came to Big Ugly to work with Grow Appalachia as a part of a service trip, but also a member of the Big Ugly Community. I came with the first year group of Earlham College Bonner Scholars for a five day long service trip to Big Ugly. This was the first time many of the students had ever traveled to West Virginia, and it ended up being an exciting time to learn about activism in Appalachia and work being done in rural communities.
Coming back to Big Ugly brought me closure and a time to reflect on the changes that Big Ugly had gone through in the past four years, when I last came down for a service trip. First off, the amount of momentum that Grow Appalachia has in the community was an incredible thing to witness. Almost all of my previous work at the Community Center had been with kids and summer programs, and it was uplifting to see so many families and adults participating in programs at the center. All of the students from Earlham really enjoyed participating in the Healthy Hearts potluck dinner we had while we were there and learned a lot about gardening and the challenges families face in the area.
The most visible challenge that the Big Ugly community was facing when we were there was the damage from the flood the week before. I remember dealing with flood damage when I was younger, but I was floored by the amount of damage caused from one major rainfall. While driving in we saw one home that was hit particularly hard – the entire trailer was surrounded by water and a series of wooden planks had been set from the door to the road so family members could come in and out without being at least ankle-deep in creek water. It was heartbreaking to see the community hurting from damage that might not have even taken place if it wasn’t for the detrimental impact strip mining had on the land.
Looking back, it was a wonderful experience coming back home and having the opportunity to share that space and those experiences with others. We tackled the flood damage as a group and the community was already back on its feet, fixing up gardens and helping out neighbors. I had the gift of seeing how Grow Appalachia has brought families into the community space for a common cause and allowed a place where traditions can be shared.