This blog was originally published on Disque Foundation‘s website and is republished here with their permission. We’d like to thank our participants for the time and dedication put in their service-learning week in Williamson, West Virginia alongside our community partners. 

The Disque Foundation team at the Williamson Fire House teaching CPR, AED & First Aid to locals.

While spending a week in the scenic Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, the Disque Foundation team was notified of one of our biggest accomplishments yet. We had just empowered 500,000 people to save a life on our 5 year anniversary as a foundation. This accomplishment is the halfway mark of our mission to empower one million people to save a life by 2020! As this good news started to spread, we began our week long volunteer trip with Amizade, a global service-learning organization serving in 12 countries. The Disque Foundation joined Amizade in the rural community of Williamson, West Virginia. While this area of the country is best known for the Appalachian Trail, outdoor sports, and inspiring natural beauty, Williamson is known locally as a “typical southern coalfield town” and not a tourist hot spot. It is located on the border of West Virginia and Kentucky, Williamson has a population of around 3,500. Coal has been the central pillar of the local economy, with approximately 40% of  jobs in the region directly linked to the industry. We set out to provide free CPR, AED, and First Aid training, community gardening and urban farming, trail maintenance, health education, and working with children.

On day one, the Disque Foundation empowerment team safely arrived in Williamson, West Virginia to volunteer with Amizade. They attended a welcoming orientation where they were able to meet the site director and staff and learn more about the Williamson community.

Empowerment Team members pull weeds and till the soil at the Williamson Community Garden.

Day two started with the team working at the Williamson Community Gardens, helping prepare beds for future planting and maintain those already planted. The garden was created to provide food and crop supplements for the nearby residential area. After some weeding, tilling the soil, edging, and watering the garden beds, the hard work paid off when the team got to try some fresh lettuce. While working at the garden, the team was able to meet several locals who stopped by to use the garden as a means to get fresh produce. The team was already realizing that the people they had met had given them such an amazing chance to change lives, while also changing their own.

Medical Educator of the Disque Foundation, Lauren Diffendarfer, teaching a group CPR, AED & First Aid.

By day three, the empowerment team felt like they had already go a lot accomplished. The day was spent holding free CPR training in the Williamson Fire Department. The team also offered a free health clinic, in which one could get their blood pressure checked. In order to engage as many community members as possible, team members spent the day plastering the town with flyers inviting the Williamson community to come learn how to save a life. The team also donated more than $500 worth of baby supplies to Jacob’s Well Mission and the Williamson Community Center, thanks to donations made from Empowerment Team members and families and our volunteers! They donated hundreds of baby diapers, wipes, lotions, bath wash, sippy cups, towels, strollers and food! “The folks working at the community center were incredibly appreciative of the donations, as many who rely on their services have nothing. In a city that has been devastated with socioeconomic struggles and environmental challenges; we encountered countless individuals that have not lost hope for a brighter future for Williamson,” said Clark Buss.

The flyers did their job, because day 4 consisted of several CPR trainings throughout the day. Several organizations brought their teams to learn how to perform CPR and potentially save a life. Various individuals stopped in to learn the skills, as well. One attendee, a Williamson native named Matthew Messerian, had a personal connection to the first aid training.”I was a choking victim at age 14. I’ll never forget that experience or the person who saved me. I came today to become CPR certified and get my son certified as well”. The empowerment team was able to learn more about the community through interaction with the locals and realize the difference they were making

During Day 5, the team members drove up into the mountains where they worked with Reclaim Appalachia and planted 50 lavender plants. Our goal here was to build replicable strategies in networks like community health, food systems, sustainable energy generation, and local sustainable tourism—is being achieved through different service projects. Working alongside local stakeholders, volunteers are not just helping to achieve long and short term goals, they are learning from and experiencing a culture and community from within. After our hard work, the group then visited the Hatfield and McCoy Country Museum where they learned about the feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families and the history of coal mining.

The empowerment team had such a great time working in the Williamson community with Amizade Group. On day 6, it was fun filled as they got to take a Pikeville tour, tour the Williamson Fire Department they helped earlier in the week and participate in a team bonfire. That said, the team took back a wealth of experiences from this trip back to their homes.

“As a group, we were continuously inspired and motivated to serve. The community reminded us all that there is a lot of good in the world if you just slowed down long enough to witness it. Better yet, be a part of it.” Volunteer, Avi Harris.

The empowerment team would like to give a huge thank you to the Amizade Group for this experience as well as all of the people we met on our trip. It’s been such a rewarding experience working with the Williamson Fire Department, Reclaim Appalachia and more, this past week!