Wild and Wonderful: Working with and Learning from a Youth Empowerment Organization in Rural West Virginia
Rosemary Cohen '18 recounts a service learning trip to High Rocks over fall break.
Nine other Haverford students and I drove down to Hillsboro, Pocahontas County, West Virginia over fall break for a CPGC-sponsored service learning trip at High Rocks. High Rocks Educational Corporation is an organization that works to educate, empower, and inspire youth in West Virginia. High Rocks offers free summer camps for local girls and offers year-round after-school tutoring, community events, and classes at its main offices and its satellite youth centers. It is an incredibly important community organization for Southeastern West Virginia, and hundreds of young people benefit from High Rocks programming.
We stayed in High Rocks’ cozy guesthouse in downtown Hillsboro, a couple doors down from McCoy’s Marathon gas station, and a few more doors down from Pearl S. Buck’s birthplace. We cooked communal meals in the tiny kitchen and relaxed on the porch in the October mountain air. Our group met with High Rocks’ executive director, Sarah Riley, as well as her mother and High Rocks’ founder, Susan Burt, and Susan’s other daughter, Joanna Burt-Kinderman ‘98.
For the group, our meeting with Joanna was one of the most important parts of the trip because she gave us context about the Haverford-High Rocks partnership. Joanna grew up in Pocahontas County, attended Haverford, helped found High Rocks, and taught at High Rocks camps for years. Now, she works on education reform in West Virginia.
For one participant, Shewit Zerai, “I was especially touched by Joanna, who spent some time talking to us about her experience at Haverford and how that informed her decisions post-grad and what kind of work she wanted to engage in. She was really incredible and changed a lot of the things I thought about Haverford while affirming me in other ways.”
We volunteered our time to help out at High Rocks’ campground site, which needed to be fixed up and winterized, especially in the aftermath of the tragic flooding in the area last summer. We repainted the pods, cleared paths, and helped rebuild the fence around the horse arena. The group spent time shoveling manure in High Rocks’ garden, digging up potatoes, planting garlic, and tilling the soil. Some of us made salsa, contributing to High Rocks’ feeding program, which offers free meals to children after school on a regular basis. We worked on building a high tunnel for High Rocks, so they can continue their garden program into the winter. The weather was gorgeous every day, so working outside was a treat.
When we weren’t working with our hands, we were volunteering at the satellite youth centers: The Hub in Lewisburg, Greenbrier County, and Steele Studio in Richwood, Nicholas County. We met with young people who dropped by after school for snacks, homework help, and games. We played rugby, ping pong, pool, and football with some of the kids. The group answered questions about Haverford College for some older high school students.
Sophia Abraham-Raveson, another participant said, “I really enjoyed getting to know a community different from anywhere I've ever lived--people welcomed us in and allowed us to listen and learn. Additionally, building as a group (of Haverford students and High Rocks staff) felt fun and supportive, and it was great to see how much progress we made throughout the week. “
The group had some free time to go out to a nice dinner with some of the High Rocks staff at the Greenbrier Grille and Lodge in Marlinton. We treated ourselves to McCoy’s ice cream and biscuits from Biscuit World. Some of us drove out to the Scenic Highway for the amazing mountain views. Another highlight was a stop at Little Levels, a church thrift store in Hillsboro where everything costs twenty-five cents.
For Vanessa Morales, a participant, “Being in nature, without wifi, without cell phone service, allowed me to fully disconnect from everything else in my life and be connected to the present moment with my fellow peers. It was a renewing and transformative experience being in a new environment, as well as meeting new, dynamic people who taught me to be more open-minded.”
—Rosemary Cohen '18
Rosemary Cohen '18 is a junior History major with a concentration in Gender and Sexuality Studies. Through the CPGC, she spent the summer of 2016 working at High Rocks, and was able to visit High Rocks twice with Haverford groups on fall break trips. She also participated in the CPGC’s Migration Field Study in Mexico City and Philadelphia over winter break.