of Philippi, and a multi-generational team of 26 journeyed west to conduct a children’s camp in a park and do home repairs and yard work.
Which brings us back to the middle-schooler walking beside me after our first day of service-learning, covered in mulch and full of questions. His inquiry remains valid: Why bother? Why give our time and resources here year after year when there are so many places of need? Why give up a week of summer vacation to sweat and serve in this small West Virginia town? Why this trip’s strange power to forge relationships across lines of location, denomination and age —relationships so strong that participants return every year and pick back up like they’ve been together all along? After all, rates of poverty and unemployment remain high in Belington and families continue to struggle. How could any of this matter? Yet amidst long-settled dust, scattered glimmers of hope make their way to the surface: the hand carved “Belington” sign placed on an abandoned corner by a 16-year-old participant a few years back, the focal point of what has been transformed by the community into a town square. The Civic Center, once rarely used because of its disrepair, now radiant with freshly painted sky-blue bleachers—one side redone by our group, the other side by the community. The women of Westside United Methodist Church preparing meals tirelessly for 150 people each day, playing their own part in the work of transformation. The young man, only two years of age fourteen years ago when he
RIGHT: Master Weaver Ibby Dixon, member of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Virginia, came to West Virginia carrying five looms on which children from participating churches and the Belington community learned to weave side-by-side.
Since that initial trip, countless others have gotten on board with Broadview’s initial vision of intergenerational, interdenominational involvement lived out in long-term partnership with a community. In 1999, Alliance congregation Broadneck Baptist of Annapolis, Maryland, joined the trip for the first time. When Minchow-Proffitt moved to the St. Louis area in 2002, his new congregation at Delmar Baptist was eager to participate. As the partnership completed its 14th year in 2011, an astonishing 101 participants from six congregations—Broadview, Broadneck, Delmar, Alliance congregation Northminster Baptist in Richmond, Va., Chestnut Grove Baptist in Earlysville, Va., and St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Purceville, Va., spent the week engaged in more than a dozen construction projects and leading a music and arts camp for children. The group remains radically intergenerational, with participants from ages 2 to 72—youth and adults swing hammers and climb ladders, while other adults and children from the churches and community engage creative opportunities ranging from weaving to drum circles to photography classes, from creating their own silk-screen shirts bearing original logos to crafting a mobile out of hundreds of paper cranes to be hung in the local elementary school. This summer, the worlds of children and construction even collided: For the first time, the oldest group at Music and Arts Camp hit the streets of their town to participate in creative work through daily service learning projects, weeding and mulching and painting to enhance the beauty of Belington’s landscape.
attended children’s camp for the first time, working now as one of the teachers in the camp. The Belington Revitalization Committee now working year-round to bring improvements and businesses to the town. The tops of gorgeous green hills lined by a power company this summer with energy-efficient wind turbines, signs of more potential new life yet to come. I looked up at the turbines, back at the flower beds, and down into a pair of remarkably old-souled eyes waiting for my response. “We’re here,” I said finally, “because we want to be here. There is somebody here—you’re here. Bruce is here…and Kasey…and Kelsey.” I spoke names I hadn’t known before, but that I now know as the young faces of Belington. “We care about this place—that’s all. That’s why we come back every year, just to be with you.” Hearing this, he kicked the ground with the toe of his sneaker in the way that only a 13-year-old can. The shake of his head made it very apparent that he wasn’t sure he believed me. Yet as we climbed a hill, he seemed unable to hide the fact that, somewhere in his head, wheels were turning. If those wheels take a while to turn, that’s okay. Perhaps next year when our churches come back, we’ll find him where his thoughts continued to roll, and pick up the conversation once again.