Voluntouring Students Find Floyd VA

This will be the third year that SustainFloyd has had a role to play with visiting students from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. It will be the first year I have been involved with VolunTours, and I am looking forward to it, and envious of the week-long experience that these 25 young people will have after they arrive at the Ecovillage tomorrow.

I’ll have a part in their orientation after dinner on Saturday, and then we will spend three hours together in Celebration Hall on Monday afternoon–a block of time that is more than I would have chosen for anyone to listen to the sound of one voice, but there it is. We’ll make the best of it.

One of the main outcomes the staff is hoping for is that these students gain a deep and clear understanding of their place in space and time; that they better understand the Appalachian mountains and especially the Blue Ridge; that they gain a sense of “Appalachia” in cultural context including the stereotypes versus what they experience on the ground in Floyd County; and that they see with new eyes with regard to their relationship to the natural and human community in light of the ties to the land. Sense of place is the beginning of this process. It goes on beyond that to become connection to and allegiance to place–the soil, air, water, forests and people of those places.

I will try to keep in mind that, when I was 20 years old like these students, I gave no thought at all to a grounding in such things. I wish someone had offered me, as I hope to offer these guests in Floyd, a way of seeing myself in place and time that points in the direction of what I call “a personal ecology.” It would have given me a framework upon which to hang so much of my photography, my writing and my sense of who and why I am.

I’ll share a Prezi with them I call “A Biology Watcher’s Look at the Anthropocene” starting with the “Great Acceleration” in 1950 and the first Earth Day in 1970. In another time block we’ll take 10 minutes for a “visual essay” of personal landscapes and nature scenes from the Southern Mountains and talk a bit about writing, photoessays and “nature deficit disorder.” And I’ll hope to direct their thinking towards eco-empathy and a future where the human economy is once again founded on a healthy ecology.

Interesting to note that participating students have the choice of these locations: Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, San Diego, Santa Fe/Taos NM and little ol’ FloydVA. Here’s how the local program is described:

Appalachia region, Virginia

Deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a rural community is proving its resilience by celebrating and strengthening its culture and its natural and historic beauty. This is a place where small-town values and creative community collaboration are thriving. Meet micro-enterprise advocates, support food security and self-reliance initiatives, visit the Floyd country store, enjoy the lively folk traditions and music of Appalachia, and meet with community leaders and families that have championed these initiatives together through Sustain Floyd.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Now that was a thrilling post (unlike yesterday’s big yawn)! The folks who chose VA over all those exotic locations will hopefully be well selected to resonate with much of what you give them. I predict they will be very pleased with their 3 hours. Please give us all the details in later posts. I am confidant your report will interest this fellow educator greatly.