As I sit down to write Avery County’s first blog entry, the sun is setting, its blood orange rays fading behind the mountains surrounding our home. Today we completed our first day of work. By 9 am all 15 volunteers were either using a shovel to fill in trenches or using a hammer to nail in the final nails of the walls of a new house. This summer AJSS is working with the Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Avery County, North Carolina to build two new houses. Habitat has never hosted a volunteer group for more than a week and having us under their roof for six weeks initially was an overwhelming project for them. However upon our arrival they immediately opened their doors to us and we have seamlessly become a part of their community.
Habitat recently bought 40 acres of land and are currently building their 28th and 29th home, with the foundation for the 30th scheduled to be filled in mere months. At two to three homes a year, they are right on schedule to fulfill the five applicants that have already been approved to be new Habitat homeowners. Our abode for the summer is located on the 40 acres; by day we work along side these homeowners, helping them build their houses and, by night, we hang out with them, playing with their children in the neighborhood. Although there is plenty of work to do with Habitat, we are also immersing ourselves in the greater community of Avery County. In addition to building houses, we will also be tending to the senior center’s garden, cleaning up the gym at a nearby church, and working at the Restore, a Habitat partner that sells new and used home appliances, in which all proceeds go to building new Habitat houses.
When not breaking sweat on the worksite, we are enjoying our beautiful, mountainous location. The High Country (as the region is named) is famous for its bluegrass tunes, music festivals, and wilderness. On Monday night we drove down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Linville Falls for a picnic dinner. While saying the “hahmotzi” before the meal, a fellow tourist joined in the prayer and then introduced himself as a Jewish Floridian on vacation. Earlier in the week the staff met a Jewish woman, Pat, who lives in Avery County with her husband from April to October and in the winter they reside in Philadelphia. She and her husband will be joining us for Shabbat dinner this week. So although we do feel like a minority as Jews in Western North Carolina, we are also creating our own Jewish community here. There is a great divide between the vacation folk who primarily live in resorts in the neighboring towns and the people we are serving through our work this summer. While the vacationers own multi-million dollar homes, we are working with people who need the assistance of Habitat for Humanity to become first-time homeowners.
After only three days together, it is clear that this group of people is special. Tonight we had an open and honest dialogue about Jewish identity, that was completely teen organized and facilitated. I don’t know how to fully express this in blog form, but our group is phenomenal. They each understand why AJSS is here in Avery County and as individuals they understand their personal role and responsibilities. Moreover, they are able to contextualize all of this within Judaism. The staff are overwhelmed with positivity and are very much looking forward to a wonderful summer with your children.
Until next week,
Anna, Jenny, Danny and Willa