All posts by njones

Discover Together

After studying several different components of life in Appalachia, I believe some in the class found themselves wondering- “Why are we learning all of this again?” Introducing the class to the Discover Together collaborative enabled us to remember the answer to this very question.

We have looked at the history, the land, the people, and the ways of Appalachia. We have noted the area’s beauties, advantages, and blessings; as well as its misfortunes, hardships, and chronic problems. Understanding and respecting a community is the first step toward initiating change among a community. Over this course, as we have looked at all the aspects that contribute to the sustainment of this region, I feel as though I have developed a close relationship with Appalachia. Like any relationship, this one has allowed me to grow and develop.  I began as an “outsider” under the belief that I understood, and have grown into an “insider’s friend” with the faith that what I have been led to understand is true.

The popular saying “knowledge is power” applies in this instance. Knowledge has given us power; the power to connect and the ability to contribute. Knowledge has bridged the gap between us and Appalachia, and now that we have been granted access we have been given the opportunity to influence. This relationship, like most relationships, can be one in which each entity helps the other grow, achieve, and become something better.

How can we initiate change, and help solve Appalachia’s ongoing problem? By approaching the problem before it has even begun. The future of a community lies in its youth. If we can steer the young malleable minds of Appalchian children in the right direction, perhaps we can prevent them from falling to the vicious cycle that is this problem.

Whether or not this approach immediately eliminates the problem, is not really important. What is important is that it can better its enormity. By helping children develop a sturdy foundation of experience, we cannot know where they will end up; but, we can feel assured that all of their subsequent experiences will be ones that build upon the support that we have instilled in them.

The Discover Together program does just this. Camp Discover provides children a place to explore, ask questions, try new things, work together; and, ultimately, build strength.

Dr. Lister

Dr. Lister’s exercise encouraged us to consider every possible approach to resolving the two healthcare scenarios. We all had a lot to contribute. The perspectives that one could take in considering the two healthcare dilemmas seemed endless. Interestingly enough there was not one person in the class who took a hard and fast position on either of the two controversial healthcare problems. I, for one, found that attempting to solve these hypothetical scenarios felt like trying to solve the unsolvable. I think, in a sense, this was exactly what Dr. Lister wanted us all to realize. Providing equitable, affordable, fair healthcare is not easy. Each individual case is like an onion. You have to peel back each layer (each level of control: National, State, Community…) to get to the core or rather the reality of the individual’s situation. 

Although I often felt quite stuck, I really enjoyed Dr. Lister’s class. The exercise was eye opening. I think I have a much better understanding of the complex components our country battles with in attempting to fairly provide good (affordable, accessible…etc) healthcare to as many people as possible. Dr.Lister presented us with the realities of our healthcare system, which I found both enlightening and daunting.

When looking at a community or a region and considering what can be done to better the community or region, healthcare is often one of the first areas recognized as needing improvement. Perhaps this is because the benefits of an improved healthcare system are so far-reaching. In Appalachia, in particular, healthcare is lacking; and, it’s insufficiencies seem to contribute to several other prominent problems across the region (drug abuse, low education, undiagnosed psychiatric disorders…etc.). Yet, what Dr. Lister’s teachings allowed me to realize is that before the immense dilemma of healthcare in Appalachia can be addressed, several complex contributing factors need to first be addressed (i.e. funding), and an optimal balance between total costs and total gains (taking into account all levels: National, federal, state…etc) needs to be found. Consistent with my previous analogy, the process of improving healthcare in Appalachia is like peeling a giant raw and un-rip onion; peeling back the first layers (national, federal, state) is the most challenging; but, once past the outermost shell (moving into the county level, community level, and family level) the job becomes much easier.

First meeting with the Johnsons’

Our visit with the Johnson family went very well. Beth, the mother, is a kindergarten teacher at Tracy City elementary. She is very sweet and eager to help us with this project. We met Beth, her husband, and their three sons: Austin, Jackson, and Carter, at Papa Ron’s for dinner.

            Beth, a mother/ schoolteacher with three children and a husband that works unpredictable hours, amazes me. She seems to do it all, and somehow still have time to be involved in this community engagement project with us. Beth is a bright and happy character, and is very easy to engage in conversation. At dinner we discussed Beth growing up in Tracy City. Beth and her husband went to high school together, but never knew each other until later in their life. Beth told us about how she came to be a teacher. She said that she used to want to be a nurse and considered going to nursing school after she graduated. We did not get into discussing why she never followed this career path through. Beth was easy to talk to. It seemed that we were often distracted, mid-conversation, by the three adorable boys.

            Jackson, the middle child, sat next to me at dinner. Jackson is in kindergarten. He likes racecars and baseball. Jackson was adorable and very outgoing. He always wanted to have my attention. At the other end of the table were Beth, her husband, and Meg (my partner). At times, I would be listening attentively to either Beth or her husband and little Jackson would poke me on the shoulder and ask which racecar I wanted to be (he had drawn a racetrack on the paper tablecloth and used the crayons as racecars). My favorite Jackson quote was said at the end of the meal: “Are you going to be following us around?” Although I laughed and said “well, I don’t know if we’ll be following you around…but”, Jackson said “no, you can follow us around.” I was delighted to have Jackson’s personal consent.

            Austin, the oldest of the boys, is in 5th grade. He was mature, talkative, polite, and witty. He talked about playing baseball, and the ill sportsmanship of some of his opponents. He joked about his teacher being the one that none of the kids wanted to get. He was well mannered and never interrupted conversation. I was surprised how willing he was to contribute to our conversations. When his mother said, in regard to the people from high school that she keeps in touch with, “well, I’m not much of a people person” Austin leaned back so he was out of her view and started shaking his head from side to side. She then said “I have my small group of friends” and Austin, still shaking his head, opened his arms to emphasize how big her group of friends are. Beth, of course, noticed and playfully told him to stop.

            Carter, the littlest one, was full of energy. He was adorable, rambunctious and loved having the attention. Carter had lots of personality; however, he was never quite comfortable enough to engage either Meg or I. Even when he had gotten all eyes on him, his eyes would never meet ours. Carter was shy with us, yet not a shy character at all. Beth and her husband joked about carter being a handful, and said “yah we always joke that if Carter had been our first, that would have been it”.  They said this when Carter had gotten up from the table, run around, and come back to say that “he has to go now” (referring to the bathroom). I am very excited to get to know Carter better. I am hopeful that he will warm up to us soon.

           

1/31/14

Our discussion, at the end of class today, about the issue of earning the trust of those that we interact with in the community really got me thinking. The woman from camp discover commented that unless you are associated with someone from the community; with someone that others in the community trust , it is very difficult to get the community to work with you. From my experience in community engagement in the area, I find this to be very true. I worked on the Healthy Bodies Healthy Minds program with Dr. Bateman. I found that it was difficult to get the children’s attention without the support of the school teachers. We went to several local elementary schools for the Healthy Bodies Healthy Minds program and each were very different experiences. However, in some schools I got the sense that the children viewed us as “outsiders” and that what we were trying to teach them was our way of trying to help their community.

I think it is important to keep this in mind for this community engagement project. My hope is that earning the trust of the community is not going to be as difficult for our project, as it may be for other community engagement projects. I think beginning by trying to build a relationship with members of the community will allow us to earn some of their trust. I also think that we can break away from the notion that we are interacting with them in an effort to “change” their community.

I think we should always consider how the people we are interacting with define community. In a sense we, as students, and our families share a community. We are both currently located in rural Appalachia and share a love of the land. In an entirely different sense we, as students, and our families are from different communities. Our families are from local counties, which include schools, churches, and other smaller communities within them. We think of ourselves as part of the Sewanee University community, which includes an entirely different set of smaller communities (i.e sports teams, greek associations…etc).  It may be difficult to bridge the gap between our two communities, but I think that it is definitely something that can be done. I believe that going into a new community with an open mind and with a willingness to learn how things work within that particular community is something that can be very helpful.