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Big Laurel Learning Center
In case you missed our winter print newsletter, here are some highlights about our wonderful volunteers, plus a few new stories! 
Joe and Justin serve as Notre Dame AmeriCorps

        Joe is no stranger to AmeriCorps or to service. After serving for two years in Cincinnati, he is serving a year here at Big Laurel.
    Before joining the Big Laurel community, Joe kayaked the entire 981 miles of the Ohio River in order to raise awareness for mental health. Joe describes his voyage along the Ohio River as a “spiritual journey.”
    Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Joe worked as a nurse with the Navajo Nation for eight years. This year, he is an assistant teacher for the Kermit Pk-8 middle school English classes and a mentor for high school students.
    In his free time, Joe enjoys playing disc golf, fishing, hiking, and riding his four wheeler.

     A recent graduate from Wheeling Jesuit University, Justin participated in annual wood cutting trips to Big Laurel as a college student.
    After earning his degree in criminal justice, he decided to join the Big Laurel community by serving as a Notre Dame AmeriCorps member.
   Justin spends his work days as an assistant teacher for the third and fourth grade classes at Kermit Pk-8.
    He is also assisting with the new high school mentorship program at Tug Valley High School.
    Originally from Costa Rica, Justin grew up with his family in Maryland. His favorite hobbies include drawing, skating, and storytelling.
West Virginia Chose Me
By Jacob Zondag, Big Laurel Volunteer and former AmeriCorps
    In August of 2016, I arrived at Big Laurel prepared to spend 11 months serving here with AmeriCorps. Little did I know that 11 months would quickly turn into 4 years. In the words of the old folk song, “West Virginia chose me.”
    During those first two years, I experienced true community. I received a warm welcome from the Kermit community while volunteering at Kermit PK-8. At Big Laurel I learned the struggles and joys of living in a small intentional community. I knew the joy of sharing my home with many guests.
    I saw in each one of those guests the same excitement for this place that I felt when I first visited as a student in 2014. I was able to relive that special moment over and over again through the delight and amazement of our guests.
    Every time a group comes to Big Laurel we want them to feel as though this is their home for the week. For the duration of their stay we create our own unique community together.
    Each person who comes to Big Laurel leaves a small part of themselves here, and takes a small piece of us back with them.
    I discovered through my years of AmeriCorps that I actually liked teaching children! As my AmeriCorps service came to a close, and I began to near the next bend in my road, I decided to stay here in Mingo County and become a teacher.
    During the 2018-2019 school year I taught 7th grade math at Lenore PK-8. This year, I am back at Kermit PK-8 teaching music and loving every minute of it.
    As an AmeriCorps, I volunteered at ABLE Families after school program. I have remained involved with that organization.
    I am thankful to be able to spend time at Big Laurel whenever I wish. I now have a home a few miles down the creek, but rarely does a week pass when I don’t visit the ridge.
    I cannot even begin to articulate all the things I love about living in Mingo County. Recently, while talking to one of Big Laurel’s former students, she gave a knowing smile and said, “It just gets in your blood doesn’t it?” It definitely has!
    I am thankful for the opportunity to still share in meals and fellowship with guests at Big Laurel. It is a huge blessing in my life that I can remain part of the vibrant Big Laurel community!
 
Jesuses All Around Us
By Grace Williams, Big Laurel Director
    There’s a story about Thomas in the bible. He’s a skeptical person. He doubts that the one before him is really Jesus until he sees the scars and the cuts, until he sees the proof of the pain that Jesus has gone through.
    Thomas told the other disciples, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands, and put my finger where the nails have been, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
    In my daily work at Big Laurel and in the community, often times I lose track of what we’re working towards – justice, change, respect, education, opportunity, healing, hope. I start to doubt the presence of Jesus. I become skeptical about the potential. That’s when my eyes are opened to the wounds in the Jesuses all around me.
    The flattened mountains, barren hillsides, and acres of timbered forests are the wounds in the side of Jesus, our Earth.
    The undrinkable water and crumbling infrastructure in our communities are the cuts in the hands of Jesus, our home, and Jesus, our future.
    The burden of mental and physical illness, disability, and addiction are the scars in Jesus, our brothers and sisters and ourselves.
    The loss of loved ones is the deep wound in Jesus, our family.
    Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:27-29)
    We put our hands in his side. We put our fingers on his hands. The wounds of Jesus are all around us. We see and feel the pain and we know that we belong to each other.
    Letting these painful moments and realizations lead me into a deeper faith and a stronger commitment is difficult. Sometimes it seems as if there is so much dysfunction and pain that Jesus has abandoned us. And yet, that is also the pain that Jesus felt. “My god, my god why have you abandoned me.” (Matthew 27:46) And we know now that God did not abandon Jesus. He was right there with him all the way.
Join us at ABLE Families on March 17 at 6:30 p.m. for a community conversation to discuss how we can improve our town. 

Donate Online
Ready to make a contribution?
go to biglaurel.org/donate
Or send check by mail to:
PO Box 266 Kermit, WV 25674

Board of Directors
Sr. Lillian Jordan, President
Lydia Noyes, Secretary
Elizabeth Collins
Rebecca Hooker
Pat Mosunic
Jennifer Sartin
Jeff Varney
If you or someone you know would make a good board member, fill out an application at biglaurel.org/board

 

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PO Box 266 Kermit, WV 25674 | 304-393-4103 

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Big Laurel Learning Center · PO Box 991 · Kermit, WV 25674 · USA

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