January 25, 2017.
My trip to the Highlander Center began with tears as I pulled out of the drive way and watched my husband, Brad waving good-bye with our German Shepard’s paw. On the hour and a half journey to New Market, TN., I couldn’t help, but think “What the heck am I getting myself into?” Joining the fellowship was a huge decision and, quite frankly, a leap of faith: at that moment, a very scary leap. I had no idea what to expect. I had never been part of a fellowship program or any type of group at all, really. The only thing I knew for certain was the stressful world of corporate monotony.
As I bounced up the gravel drive in my little car, the nervous tremors began. When I saw the first group of people emerging from the lodge, I avoided eye contact, smiled at the ground, whispered “Heeyyy…”, and kept on trucking inside to find my room….Oh goodness, it was like the summer camp I never experienced. We had room mates, community bathrooms, the whole nine. This was major culture shock for someone who obviously grew up under a rock. I took a deep breath, counted to 10, and reassured myself that I could totally do this. “Maybe it will help to get my things organized”…I situated my bags strategically around the side of the room that had yet to be claimed with luggage and pulled out my two comfort items: a shirt of my husbands and my daughter’s stuffed puppy named “Cuddles”. A touch of home made this feel much better.
The first evening wasn’t so bad, especially since my mentor, Kathlyn, was there. Through the night, she was the buffer for my awkward and nervous personality. I met lots of new, very friendly folks, participated in some “ice breaker” activities, and had a wonderful dinner. Everything was going very smoothly….and then bedtime came and the Sandman took his sweet time showing up. Being away from my family at night was by far the hardest part of the tour. No bed time stories or good night kisses, no warm body resting next to me, no cold wet noses nudging me sweet dreams. Fortunately, when I did finally sleep, morning rose quickly and I was grateful for good, endless coffee and a beautiful morning view.
As time went on and my timid nature became a distant memory, I grew ever fonder of the smiling “fellows” who I would be working with during the year. Never once did they complain, ever frown, or make me feel like “The elephant in the room.” I did that all by myself. Instead, they were friendly and always had a listening ear and great advice. I gained a healthy respect for this program and for all involved in this year’s cohort. Though we had a bumpy start due to the weather, once we got on the road, the true experience began. A long day in Tennessee at the Intersections conference on Monday became an adventure to Kentucky and then West Virginia the rest of the week, all places I have never visited before. I can’t speak for the others, but I sure did learn a lot about the wide world of nonprofits, fellowships, and other organizations involved in this work. This program has and will continue to provide us with a wealth of knowledge and grand adventures throughout 2017 and will likely be an experience none of us will ever forget, just as I will never forget the friendships forged from something that began with such dismal thoughts and homesick tears. Now that I am home in Abingdon, Virginia, resting soundly in my own bed, accompanied by the sweet presence of my tiny family, I feel thankful. Daily, I find myself worrying about the fellows who are starting a new life in a new community. I hope they are able to call these places home for the year find comfort in knowing that they have one big support system backing them, no matter what: The Appalachian Transition Fellowship.
by Jenni Roop