More Than Fixing Homes

SWAP means Sharing With Appalachian People. SWAP is a service and learning program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Great Lakes which provides week long opportunities for school, university, church, other groups, families, and individuals. SWAP has been a partner with the Hindman Settlement School for many years.  SWAP addresses sub-standard housing in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. Volunteers work in the name of Christ sharing the message of God’s love and building relationships that serve to enrich all involved.

As location coordinators we host groups of volunteers to keep homes safe, warm, and dry at the Hindman United Methodist Church.  During that week of service, we also provide opportunities for volunteers to learn about the rich culture here in Appalachia. One way to do this is through evening sessions using Settlement School resources like Randy Wilson and Brett Ratliff to tell stories and perform traditional songs of the area.  Between March and November of 2017, we hosted 177 volunteers at the Hindman United Methodist Church from places like Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  This year we have 189 volunteers signed up to serve. It is exciting to see friendships begin and thrive between homeowners and volunteers. Volunteers often go home with a clearer sense about Appalachia and say they got much more out of the experience than they gave.

Recently we hosted a group of Chinese and Vietnamese high school students from the Maumee Valley Country Day School in Toledo, OH for a cultural learning/ service week.  They lodged at the Furman House on the HSS campus. They served by going into the local elementary schools to give presentations about their home countries. They enjoyed the discussion with local students.  As one Maumee Valley student put it “We brought the eyes of the world to this place.”  Some of the students worked at the HSS Foodways farm, clearing the field and planting potatoes. Others helped a local farmer get ahead by clearing strawberries and planting seeds. These urban students commented how in the beginning they weren’t sure how they felt about this physical labor, but when finished felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment and wanted to do more. They experienced the craft traditions of the area by taking woodworking, blacksmithing and pottery workshops through the Appalachian Artisan Center. They learned about coal mining by going to Portal 31 in Lynch, KY and listening to a local speaker.

So, while SWAP does the important work of keeping homes safe, warm, and dry it can be a bridge to those living outside Appalachia.  Through relationship building and education SWAP gives others a picture of what a diverse, changing and wonderful place Appalachia is.