Creating Servant Leaders Through Volunteer Opportunities

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by Rachel Drummond, Program Manager—Recruitment & Hiring, Appalachia Service Project

When Rev. Glenn “Tex” Evans founded Appalachia Service Project back in 1969, he didn’t want volunteers to come for a week, go home, and return to their normal lives. He wanted people to be inspired by the work they did in Central Appalachia; he wanted to create servant leaders. 46 years later, we’re still working to ensure that all of our 17,000+ volunteers a year bring that ASP spirit home with them. We strive to create an environment where high school youth and adults feel that their potential is just starting when that week ends. Making Central Appalachian homes warmer, safer, and drier is just the beginning—at ASP, we’re committed to helping our volunteers find transformational experiences in the work they do.

Sometimes, ASP is lucky enough to see those high school youth transform into young adults who want to pursue servant leadership in their professional lives. That’s where ASP summer staff comes in. Every year, we welcome volunteers from all over the country to perform repair projects on local homes in over 25 counties throughout the region. It’s a huge undertaking, and to accomplish it, we hire 150 college-aged young adults to work full time. Many times, a large percentage of our hundreds of applicants were inspired to apply because they had an experience while volunteering that changed their life.

When staffers arrive in Appalachia, ready to serve, they’re confronted with one of the most challenging jobs many of them will ever have: being a staffer at ASP is filled with overwhelming moments. As their managers, we try to guide them in ways that will help them not only to finish the summer strong, but to take what they’ve learned and apply it to their own lives and aspirations. The professional development you receive at ASP, though, might look a little bit different than other jobs. When it’s the middle of the night, and your center starts flooding from a storm, or you’re on a worksite and none of the materials have been delivered yet—you’re constantly working on your communication skills, customer service, and positive attitude. We tell staffers all the time that there’s no one skill that will help you succeed, but flexibility is key.

When the summer ends, and our staffers head home with their hearts full from serving others, that’s when the real professional and leadership development can begin. We hear all the time from former staffers that they never thought problem solving a leaking roof could translate so well to a corporate job. But that’s the wonderful thing about servant leadership: you find yourself getting lost in the joys of it, while at the same time your whole self is being transformed by the struggles you have to overcome.

One former staffer, Beth Strader (2013 and 2014) summarized her experiences: “Being on staff taught me the ins-and-outs of all facets of nonprofit management. The nuts and bolts training of finance work and volunteer relations, combined with living in a professional environment and working with multiple supervisors, prepared me for the post-graduate job market. Every single day I use lessons that I learned at ASP, and it’s usually the biggest conversation starter on my resume.”

I also know from personal experience that one week in the mountains serving others can change your whole life: I started volunteering with ASP at the age of 14, and twelve years later I’m still pursuing that dream of being a servant leader. My volunteerism led to three summers on staff, which led to my full time position at Appalachia Service Project. I am now blessed to be in the hiring role—I get to see firsthand the ways that volunteering can change a young person’s life.

At Appalachia Service Project, we hope to provide youth with a life changing service experience, but we also have the opportunity to develop them into leaders that will someday change the world.

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COMMENTS


Chuck Kelsey7:34 pm

I first participated with ASP in 1973 and worked out of Barbourville, KY for a month. During that month, in addition to getting to know Tex, I was also got to know his grandsons who I cared for a couple of times. I was 18. 43 years later, after time spent as staff for two summers in the field and in Nashville (1977-1978), running a college springbreak work week with my wife Sue (1978), and 10-12 week-long trips with church teams, I still am warmed by memories of transforming experiences. Today I am a United Church of Christ pastor in Mason City, Iowa. I would recommend participating with the ASP in anyway you can. It will change your life in amazing ways. Chuck (C.D.) Kelsey

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