Radical Reversal

2013-07-05 15.55.31


Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Inez, Kentucky with a group of 22 adults and youth to repair homes for the families of Martin County. I have been fortunate to make this trip for eight years, and these trips have had a dramatic effect on shaping and often reshaping my priorities. When visiting Martin County we are so removed from the pressures of our urban living we often in error will say something like “ hey, when I get back to the real world….”. We quickly realize that the lives of the people in Martin County are very real world, and these genuine, warm families have their concerns, and daily challenges the same as everyone else.

As a partner in a successful lighting design firm I have had the good fortune to work for or alongside the most creative architects, wealthy clients, actors, and royalty. Every summer I find myself contrasting these high end clients, and the upper scale projects against the impoverished homes that we repair on these work trips.

In our world of architecture, especially in my world of architectural lighting design, the goal is about the aesthetics, visual comfort, and the wow factor by creating some needed lighting drama. In Martin County, we do all of our work through a non-profit called the Appalachia Service Project. The project goal for ASP in Martin County is to simply make the homes warmer, safer, and drier. To drive this home as a comparison to my “real world” projects, I have walked homes in Kentucky that went through winter with a hole in the floor, covered by cardboard, or used old clothes as the exterior wall insulation. One home had dispersed 19 empty kitty litter buckets to help catch all the rain water coming through.

One myth about the impoverished families of Appalachia is that they are lazy and choose to be poor. My experience has been the opposite. These families will jump in and help, are very excited to make the needed improvements, and are very, very appreciative. No one wants to be poor. For some, it is a challenge for them to overcome pride, and accept the help. I am always moved by a family of four, that is living on less than $16,000 per year and insists on wrapping up the work week by making and serving the work crew lunch on Friday.

These families, and the generational poverty stems in part from challenges that include limited work opportunities in the region, and limited resources to pursue higher education. To their credit, one attribute that keeps them impoverished is their strong sense of family. This sounds odd when you read this, yet the families stay close and look out for each other. Only a handful of kids will grow up, and leave the area for a larger community to pursue a college degree and career. For our project the side road to our work site was also the location of four other homes that housed uncles, cousins, and brothers of the family.

The theme this year was Radical Reversal. This is a very interesting concept, and  I will not attempt to explain the religious aspect of the theme, not my area of expertise. From one design professional to another, I will encourage you, if you have not had the work trip experience, to find the opportunity to serve others in need. There are more opportunities out there to serve than there are people available to meet the need. Later this year, I will be returning to Appalachia with a group of adults to provide the labor to help ensure more homes are warmer, safer, and drier.


2 Comments on “Radical Reversal”

  1. weeberdoll Says:

    Well said.


  2. kerri spear Says:

    Well said, well done.

    Rev. Terry used to ask the question, “How is it with your soul today?” I think your sharing here gives an opportunity to say “ok today”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: