Back in January I contacted one of our staffers to see if we could talk to her parents about their journey with her from her first time applying to now, when she is entering her third year on Summer Staff.
We know many parents have a difficult time fully digesting what a summer will look like for their son or daughter if they are on staff. So I contacted Stacy to see if her parents would talk about what their initial thoughts had been about Stacy being on staff.
They were quick to respond and wonderfully honest about what their experience has been with Mountain T.O.P. that I think are extremely helpful to those looking to apply in the coming years.
Here is what they had to say.
I smiled when I read your email to Stacy. I certainly do remember how I felt when Stacy told us she first wanted to serve on staff two years ago (seems like a lot longer than two years!). I was very apprehensive. Very frankly, I was a little put off by the emails that came to prospective staffers: they seemed very slanted to all the things that Mt TOP required of candidates. You must do a pile of paperwork all due at very specific dates, you must commit to an uninterrupted eight week service (Stacy’s grandfather was quite ill at the time), you must earn half of your salary, you must arrive with a car, and (oddly) you will need to make your own accommodations and pay your own way for the alternate week breaks. I was pretty hesitant. We weren’t at all sure we could promise her a car (we had four teen drivers sharing two cars at the time). And to top it off, Stacy goes to college in Massachusetts and even if she convinced her professors to let her take a couple final exams early, and if her dad flew one-way to get up there to help her drive home, and if she only spent one night at home in Cincinnati at the end of spring term, she would still be arriving two days late for training. And also, why would I want my 18 year old daughter to go to rural TN and drive throughout the counties knocking on strangers’ doors and going into their homes by herself? At the time I had no idea how respected Mt TOP is in the area. Stacy told me she would always wear her staff shirt and name tag when she was out in the counties, and I didn’t have any idea how influential that could be. I remember thinking that she was very very naive… a shirt and name tag didn’t really seem to provide much protection for a young person out on her own. Even though our church had gone for many years to Baker, and all four of our kids had enjoyed four years as campers, in February of that first year, it still seemed like there were many more concerns than it was worth. Surely Stacy could find something else meaningful to do with her summer.
But Stacy begged us. And then the adult leaders from our church who knew Mt TOP called me. And then I got up my nerve and called and talked with Ed’s wife, Glynn. And later I had a second call with Ed. Everyone offered reassurance. It was explained that there are repeat host families that offer housing to the staff on the off periods. Staffers stay in pairs or groups and not entirely on their own in others’ homes for these breaks. They assured me that Stacy would be welcome even if she arrived a couple days into the start of training. The homes that Stacy would be entering had been pre-evaluated by full-time staffers and they told me that the staff is well-trained about not going into homes that don’t appear safe. They were patient with my concerns and there was a kindness and welcoming attitude in their voices that I hadn’t sensed in the group emails to applicants. Slowly I began to let go and get more comfortable.
Stacy has gained so much from her two years on staff. She has become very self-reliant. She has learned to multitask and prioritize her day. She prepares for what needs to be done but she doesn’t get rattled when the day doesn’t go entirely according to her plan – adjustments are made and the day is not a loss. She can speak almost effortlessly (it seems) in front of our church and other groups. She has also learned simpler more practical life skills like writing fundraising letters, office skills, driving through unfamiliar areas, meeting new people, working in groups, and introducing herself with a sense of ease and humility. She has learned to deal with people of very diverse backgrounds, she has engaged in more than a few conflict-resolution situations, and she has become much more mature and at ease with herself and others. Some of this is likely from just being two years older and two years farther into college life, but I really believe that the lion’s share of the changes in Stacy is due to her two summers on staff at Baker. She has grown into a much more confident and (as her mother, dare I say) accomplished individual, and for that we give thanks to those who have guided her and led her at Mt TOP. And, maybe the icing on the cake is that she has loved her time on staff in Tennessee, made lifelong friends of other staffers, and deepened her personal faith immeasurably. That is a treasure she will always appreciate.
So, in conclusion, I had a lot of misconceptions. I had a lot to learn about how Mt TOP works. And I’m eternally grateful that it has played such a significant role in Stacy’s last few years. Stacy is spending this January interning each day with a church-run coalition that assists homeless Cincinnati families (Interfaith Housing Network). She leaves for 15 weeks in Bolivia on January 28th but she has already begun a packing pile for TN in her room. As I write this she is in her room writing partnership letters and thank you notes that her Dad and I will mail out in March when Mt. TOP announces the summer staff choices. And later this week she will get her health physical and prepare to submit some of Mt TOP’s forms and paperwork. When she returns to Cincinnati in May she will have just two full days with us here at home before she heads to TN for training. There’s not enough time for all these tasks, and as her mother it’s sometimes tough to see her working so hard. Preparing to take this summer’s position will be demanding, but this time, instead of me being filled with concern and doubts, I am thrilled that she has the opportunity and grateful that she will have the chance to grow her skills even further while continuing to serve the families of the Cumberland Plateau.