Primetimers in Appalachia:
Learn about Mining, Help Henderson, and Renew the Spirit
by Kim Lehmann
“It is comforting to me to know that at almost 74 years of age I can still learn, be enthusiastic and work hard to accomplish something,” said Betty Davis of Littleton, Colorado. Davis was one of 26 older adults who came together at Henderson Settlement for a recent Primetimers event “The Life and Spirit of Appalachia”. Throughout the week, Davis and her fellow Primetimers enjoyed a time of learning, volunteering, fellowship and reflection.
This Primetimers event, sponsored by the Mission Volunteers Program Area of the General Board of Global Ministries and hosted by Henderson Settlement, was an opportunity for older adults to experience firsthand the ministry of Henderson Settlement and other mission schools and ministries in Appalachia, including Red Bird Mission and Pine Mountain Settlement School. Led by Jerry Lambdin, Henderson Settlement’s Mission Resources Director, the group traveled to and learned about various ministries throughout the area.
Established in the early 20th century as educational facilities for Kentucky children, Henderson Settlement, Red Bird Mission, and Pine Mountain Settlement School have evolved into the 21st century, adapting to a changing society and changing needs. In the 1970s, as public education became more accessible to children in the area, the settlement schools adapted to address other community needs such as: providing adult literacy classes, maternal infant health outreach, and recreation for youth.
For Lee Sowell of Chesapeake Beach, MD the Primetimers event was an opportunity to learn about an area of the country which generally receives little attention. Sowell was able to “understand a part of the country that needs more help than is known by just listening to the media.”
According to Executive Director, Tim Crawford, Henderson Settlement is located in an area “where 80% of the people fall into the low-income or poverty level categories and real unemployment runs between 40 to 50%.” Henderson Settlement strives to live up to its mission of “meeting basic human needs in Appalachia.”
Throughout the event, Primetimers participants learned about the context of the Bluegrass State, and in particular the role that mining has played in its economy. Through a visit to the Kentucky Coal Mining museum, Primetimers had the opportunity to learn about the strong mining history of Kentucky and to dialogue with coal-miners.
Throughout their travels in the region, the participants could see mining in the region. It was the experience of seeing the strip mining that was particularly powerful for Dorothy Rice, who described what she saw as “horrific.” In contrast to underground mining, which leaves overlying rock in place, strip mining removes the soil and rock covering the minerals.
Strip mining is more profitable to companies who practice it, as it usually requires fewer miners for the same amount of ore than underground mining. But for the local people this has translated into fewer available jobs. This has had a significant impact as these jobs were an important means of employment for most folks who had little alternative. According to Jerry Lambdin, “Since the reduction of those available jobs, an already impoverished area has gotten more so and the need for ministry in the area is even more important.”
Primetimers had the opportunity to learn firsthand about several of Henderson Settlement’s ministries, including one called the “Opportunity Store.” This ministry provides a place where people in the community can purchase donated new and used items, such as clothing, small kitchen appliances, and knick-knacks.
The Opportunity Store sells these items for a low-cost, allowing persons in the community to use their often limited income on other necessities. Several Primetimers helped in the store by sorting, folding, and preparing clothing for sale. For many participants, it was an opportunity to contribute to the mission and ministry of Henderson Settlement and to work alongside, and build relationships with, local staff and volunteers.
These times of learning and service were coupled with times of Bible study and reflection. Rev. Wendell Stoneburner, Mission Education/Chaplain at Henderson Settlement, led the group in devotions throughout the week based upon the Beatitudes. “The devotionals helped us center in on how God can work through us if we have the right attitudes” said Opal Wolff of Okeechobee, FL.
Overall, the week was a powerful experience for participants. As described by Wolff, “My life was enriched through the experience we shared and through the relationship which developed over the week. We came to a better understanding of the Appalachian people and their culture as well as the work of Henderson Settlement and the value of the staff and volunteers.”
Primetimers events offer older adults (50+ years) intentional educational forums, cross-cultural opportunities, time for faith-filled reflection on the purpose of ministry, and greater exposure to the work of The United Methodist Church and the church universal. For additional information on Primetimers, visit www.primetimers.info or contact Primetimers at email@example.com or tollfree at 1-877-882-4724.
Kim Lehmann works with the Primetimers program, a part of the Mission Volunteers at Global Ministries.