A personal reflection on building relationships in Appalachia

Story and photos by Kylie Layman, Intern

Editor's Note: Kylie Layman spent last summer as an writer/photographer intern at World Vision's Appalachia field site as mission teams came to Philippi, West Virginia, to serve those in need. As the summer wound down, Kylie reflected on how the experience affected her. This summer's mission season starts in June.

A mom hugs her children in the Grimmtown community in West Virginia during a visit by a mission team last summer.

Throughout this summer, one of my main goals is to always keep an open mind. I'm not very familiar with any of the communities we work in, so I have no idea what to expect when I actually see a home World Vision will be working on.

Driving down Grimmtown Road, I notice houses with well-maintained yards. A little farther down the road, four trailers sit on a patch of land. Toys are scattered everywhere, trash is piled, dogs are chained up and barking, and barefoot kids are running around.

Kris Wamsley, site program manager for World Vision in Philippi, is aware of the trailers.

"In the summer of 2013, while going back and forth from where the [mission] teams were housed in central Preston, I would pass the Grimmtown community," Kris recalls. "I would tell the Lord, 'These people need help.' There are children that live here in these trailers."

Two boys play beneath a trampoline in the yard.

She had no idea that meeting with a new partner would lead to help for those Grimmtown residents.

"In January of 2014, I met with a new community partner to see about housing mission participants. During the meeting, we talked about how their church could get involved in identifying needs in their community," Kris says.

"When they told me they wanted to help some families in need in Grimmtown, I was floored. This is how God works. He was answering my prayers."

Kris had told me that the extended families living in the trailers put up a barrier because of the unfamiliarity of receiving help from outsiders and not knowing how everything would transpire.

A mission team member talks to children who live in trailers in the Grimmtown community.

I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to make a connection with the families. But when they saw how their children attached themselves to me, that barrier quickly came down.

I walk into the home of Debbie and Chris Moats to photograph the kitchen repair project. Within five minutes, their 5-year-old daughter, Megan, greets me with a baby rat to hold. I take the rat, and Megan's face lights up. I quickly realize that holding the rat means Megan accepts me.

Megan's extended family lives in the neighboring trailer, upon which a mission team would install a new rubber roof. Every day they sit under a tree, eat lunch, and talk or play with their kids. It's an awesome spot to get to know the family a little better.

"When I arrived at Grimmtown during the actual mission week, they were more open [than before] to receiving the help," Kris says. "I enjoyed going twice a day to visit during the week, and sitting under the tree with them just talking."

The next day I meet Dominic, Megan's cousin and neighbor. He wears one multicolored shoe that is about 10 sizes too big and just follows Megan around. I can tell he is an ornery kid.

A young girl sits on the trampoline ladder.

Under the tree, Dominic usually sits on his mom's lap and just stares at me. His big, bright, blue eyes are hard not to fall in love with. His family quickly dubs me his "girlfriend." Whenever I show up, they always say, "Look Dominic, your girlfriend is coming." He gets a big smile on his face, which puts a big smile on my face.

Megan and Dominic quickly become my buddies for the week. They make it hard for me to leave and move on to other projects. It amazes me how quickly I became attached to these kids.

Learn more about World Vision's mission trips in the U.S.