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Volunteering in the Appalachians - 2015
Posted on 10/31/2015 by Carl Sakovits
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Dear Friends,
I just returned from volunteering in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and cannot get the images out of my mind. Over the two hour drive from the airport I watched the typical American suburbs transition into some of the most horrid living conditions I had ever seen in this country. The endless stream of houses and trailers weathered beyond repair lead us to Grundy, Virginia.
Like much of Appalachia, the economy in Grundy was built on coal. Generations had relied on the mines and some even moved here for the high paying secure jobs, but then things changed.
One by one mines closed followed by most of the local businesses. Nothing moved in to replace the void in employment and homes could not be sold. People were trapped, and then devastation caused by floods just pushed the towns people to their breaking point.

This first weekend in October 2015, The Grundy Middle School was transformed into a temporary clinic hosted by Remote Area Medical ( ) . It became a highly organized facility offering eye, dental, medical care, social services, meals and even clothing. Volunteer professionals and support staff poured in from the surrounding states. Van loads of college students, many in the health sciences, arrived and settled in for the weekend. The total team of volunteers numbered over five hundred and there was an energy present like I had never felt before. After setting up the clinic Friday afternoon, we knew we only had the weekend to help as many people as we could. Accompanying me on this trip was my son Andy, who will be applying to optometry school this fall and my daughter Heidi, a high school junior also with an interest in healthcare.

It was difficult to see the people sleeping in their cars for days in advance. The huge lines forming at 3 am in the pouring rain just hoping to get "a ticket to get in". The carts maneuvering the jammed hallways offering free coffee, sandwiches, and crackers to families so patiently waiting whose last meal might have been yesterday. We began examining at 6 am and did not stop until exhaustion set in over twelve hours later. As tired as we were, we knew our hardship was limited and for us relief would come at the end of the weekend.

As much free care as we gave to the people of Grundy that weekend, they gave us so much back. Their polite determination to thank us, honesty, and openness about their dreams of a better tomorrow, and their kindness towards each other will not be forgotten.

During my decades of volunteering in Central America poverty like this was common and almost expected. To see this at home in the United States, one of the richest counties in the world, is painful and unacceptable. I was so proud to be working with so many outstanding volunteers and grateful to be able to offer some assistance to the wonderful people of Grundy, Virginia.

Thank you for your interest and concern.

Dr. Sakovits

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