Gender Roles

By: Jill Salvucci

I come from a pretty well known place, Boston, Massachusetts. Growing up I have never truly felt the effects of gender stereotypes. For instance that boys are stronger than girls or that boys are capable of doing long hours of hard labor while girls need to take breaks often. I haven’t felt as though those beliefs have been every pushed upon me until this week in Mullens, West Virginia.

Mullens is definitely a different place then where I come from. Sometimes it feels as though it is a town stuck in the past. For instance they still believe in the gender roles of the past. They see girls as delicate and that they constantly need a man’s help to lift heavy things.

Working at the store I volunteered to help the men with the landscape outside. There was not one woman working with them till I showed up outside. When I went to tell Gary I was his worker for the day he seemed a little shocked to see a girl standing before him. He was never rude, he was actually very kind to me all day. However, I could tell he hasn’t seen many girls doing yard work in his day. I worked for about an hour and I am almost positive every man out there questioned how I ended up out here. I simply responded, “I volunteered!” They then referred to me as super women, when in reality I wasn’t exactly doing anything special.

The next day rolled around and I once again volunteered to work on the landscape. This day, however; was different. I felt like I accomplished nothing. The men would hand me a tool, give me a task, then five minuted into that task would take the tool out of my hand and do it for me. It was odd. I am not use to being seen as lesser because of my gender, I mean at Pine Ridge I was using chain saws for crying out loud. I was a little more frustrated then I was the day before, but like I said I was never mad at any of the men.

What I realized though is they are not doing it to put me down its just their culture, it is how it has always been. Girls don’t do manual labor that is left for the men. It is just the way it is here in Mullens. It was for sure tough to get use to the first day but the men I was were with were genuine people, they never meant to make me feel inferior.

It was very interesting to experience such a different culture in our country. Going from Pine Ridge where women are seen as the powerful leaders to Mullens where women are seen as delicate flowers. I know that moving on to Washington D.C. I am going to be in a more familiar environment when it comes to gender roles. However, I should always have an open mind to other peoples culture.

Itmann Company Store

By: Marin Williams

This week the Gap cohort traveled to Mullens, West Virginia. Located in the Appalachian region, the former mining town has a population of roughly 1,200 people. Our job this week was to clear up the Itmann company store.

The Itmann company store used to be a thriving center for the town of Mullens. Coal miners and their families depended on the business for all their necessities. From washing machines to cookies the Itmann Store had it all. Italian immigrants built the store in 1923, modeling its structure after an Italian prison. It was built with hand-cut stones carried over the river. It resembles a castle amongst the small wood and brick homes of the town.  The store closed in 1983 because the local mine was shut down, and in turn, the Itmann ran out of business. As years passed, the store was changed in attempts to support the community. At one point it was a homeless shelter, a thrift store, and a post office. Eventually, the building became unusable. A former West Virginian Senator bought the property in hopes of turning it into an estate, but did not want to spend the money to fix it. Over time the building became dilapidated and began showing the effects of not being taken care of. It was an eyesore for the community.

This week, we cleared out the building, landscaped the yard, and cleaned the buildings entire interior. These jobs were easier said than done. We faced waist-high piles of molded clothing, rotted wood, and broken furniture. It took a lot of team effort and heavy lifting, but we made a lot of progress. Now there are hopes to turn the store into something that will serve the entire community. It was difficult to find value in the work we were doing until we started hearing gratitude from the locals. The store was a really significant building for the town. In a way, it symbolized the end of an era when it closed down. It really boosted the moral of the people living there when we cleaned it up. :)

October Sky Festival

By: Gabe Thornton

On October 2nd our group visited Beckley, West Virginia to visit the coal mine museum. It was a delightful exhibition of an early coal mine and thoroughly educational. The previous night we had talked in our group debrief about how the movie October Sky would be a very applicable movie to watch on this portion of service. It just so happened that they were selling copies of October Sky in the gift shop of the museum. We purchased the movie and watched it that night. The nature of our group seems to be that we appear at just the right moments in the communities we visit to get the most out of our experience there. The next day, October 3rd, happened to be the October Sky Festival right there in Beckley. Homer Hickam and the rest of the rocket boys, whose story we had just watched, were going to be present at the very museum we were at that day. Those of us who wanted to attend got in the van the next day and drove back to Beckley. It was a cloudy and dreary day but there was a fairly large crowd gathered to watch the 5k and 10k, meet the rocket boys, and set off model rockets. The occasion was all rather informal and relaxed which I genuinely appreciated having been used to mass crowds collecting at events such as these back home. Homer was a kind man who was eager to learn about our group and the work we had been doing all week as he signed our copies of his book. We chatted for a while with Homer before heading to the Chic-fil-a catering tent. Chic-fil-a was a nice memory of home after being gone so long. While eating our nostalgic treat in rocking chairs on the porch of the museum, we were approached by an elderly gentleman. He asked us how we were and eventually stated that he was O’Dell the rocket boy. We chuckled and stated how pleased we all were to meet him. He, as well as another member of the honored guests named Billy, stuck around and chatted with us about our week and what we wanted to do in college for a long while. Eventually our conversation was cut off by the announcer stating that they were needed at the launch pads in the parking lot to begin setting off rockets. Everyone attending the festival gathered and cheered as the first of a few failed wet fuses finally allowed a rocket to launch. It soared hundreds of feet into the air, just like the first successful test in the movie. I couldn’t help but feel pleased with our groups timing to have the opportunity to meet such inspiring men by random chance on our journey. One day’s change in plans could’ve prevented this memory that I’ll hold with me the rest of my life.


Feels Like Home

By: Andrew Novinski

I love connecting each different week and seeing how each is an entirely different atmosphere but shares many of the same feelings. West Virginia was very different for me because I didn’t know what to expect, which ultimately helped me get the most out of this week. The beginning of the week I was thinking wow this is going to be a long week and now its already done.

One of the great times I had this week was the Thursday night bonfire dinner. We all sat out by the fire roasting hot dogs and s’mores having a good time and the weather was great. Sitting by the fire is one of my all-time favorite things to do with my family around the holidays. We laugh, share stories and sometimes keep it completely silent. One of the elderly folk brought his guitar and played a bunch of great songs. We eventually got to sing with him. I got up there and sang wagon wheel with him, which made me feel right at home with my siblings. The people here were so nice and made us feel right at home and I am thankful my week was enlightening as it went on.

I had another fantastic time on Saturday night when a local band came in and played some great covers of country music and classic rock. Back home in Texas I have visited my grandparents each October for a fall festival. There is live music and dancing and this past Saturday felt very similar. I also felt very proud that I knew how to two step and twirl and pretzel. I was a little shy at first when it came to getting on the dance floor but I asked one of the girls in our group if I could dance with them even though they claimed they didn’t know how. I had a fantastic time and made sure that each girl in our group got a dance. I am very thankful now and proud that I was taught how to dance like that.

I cannot believe there is only one week left of this portion of the semester. I have come such a long way this week and it has been the most rewarding, but more waits in store in D.C. Until then I love and miss everyone back home can’t wait to visit in less than two weeks!


An Acrostic Poem of Mullens, West Virginia


By: Laurie Heggedal

M – Muddy service projects spent cleaning up the Guyandotte River trail


U – Unbelievably dirty work clothes


L – Lots of trash and 1980’s clothing shoveled out of the Itmann Company Store


L – Learning a lot about the coal mining industry


E – Enjoyable conversations with the community members


N – Notable differences made at our service project sites throughout the week


S – Sore muscles!


Top Ten List

By: Eliza Upton

  1. Cleaned out the Itmann Company Store like bosses. After a full dumpster and over ten trailer loads of trash, the old beautiful building is starting to look usable once more.
  2. Learned how to line dance. Wednesday night is line dancing here at the Mullens Opportunity Center (MOC, our home for the week). A few of us (literally) jumped into the class and learned a few new moves.
  3. Showed off new line dancing skills at community concert. The MOC had a country rock and roll band on Saturday night. Gap had quite the time dancing the night away with the rest of Mullens and throwing in our fresh new line moves for a few songs.
  4. Roasted marshmallows and hot dogs at a bon fire. Thursday night was bon fire night! Hosted by our lovely friends at RAIL and the MOC.
  5. Sang Wagon Wheel and Take Me Home, Country Roads at same bon fire. Joey brought his guitar so naturally there was singing.
  6. Held a cat for the first time in months. On Saturday I had the pleasure to do some homework in a lovely coffee shop in Beckley, a neighboring town. The owner’s cat floated around the shop and I got some quality animal time that has been missing from my life recently. But shoutout to my one of a kind dog at home, Stella. I miss you and our snuggle time dearly.
  7. Watched October Sky and Castaway for the first time. Friday night was movie night. We set up a projector in the gym and I got to enjoy two new films.
  8. Anthony made spinach puffs. Enough said. They were incredible.
  9. Did shovel squats. The new all-encompassing service workout trend that I made up during our time cleaning out the Itmann Store.
  10. Made my moms chili. During my night on cook duty I enjoyed pulling out my mom’s vegetarian chili recipe and cooking for the group. It was nice to eat a familiar meal and feel that connection to home. Miss ya Mama!

Who Knows What Else

By: Elizabeth McDonald

Fear. How is it that one word can evoke such a broad range of emotions amongst people? In the past, thinking about something I was afraid of had the ability to make me anxious or overwhelmed. As I stood in front of the dark garage of the old Itmann Company Store full of dead trees, rotting garbage, piles of dirt and who knows what else with Eliza, Anthony and Marta, I felt those two emotions overcome me. It wasn’t the dirt or garbage that got to me (although, that was pretty intimidating as well). It was the “who knows what else” part. Something about the unknown of what lay in that garage caused me to feel a strong desire to back away and leave the task for someone else to do. However, I knew this was not a plausible solution so I began to shovel away at the pile. It was monotonous work, if I’m being honest, but it gave me plenty of time to think. To think about life. To think about fear. To think about what drove my fears. To think about what about the unknown caused me to be overwhelmed. With each shovel full of “who knows what” that I lifted into the plastic bags, I came no closer to figuring out the meaning of life or even why I had this somewhat irrational fear of the unknown. However, with each shovel full I did get closer to clearing out that garage. It took the four of us several hours and countless bags to clear out the entire garage but when we finally tied the last bag and chucked it over the side of the dumpster, I felt this huge sense of pride in what we had just accomplished, an emotion I had never related to fear before. I may not have learned what drives my fear of the unknown. I might not be any closer to understanding how to overcome a situation that overwhelms me. But I did learn that the feeling after conquering a fear is indescribable. It’s a feeling that I want to feel more often and therefore will strive to find opportunities that challenge my fears.

Where the Trail Ends or Begins

By: Nathan Hunnicutt

As I wonder aimlessly along the beaten path,

Which has been carved and re-carved over time

By man and by nature,

Few can see the progress of the past

And few can be see the changes of the future.

Wood guards it, leaves cover it, water shapes it.

An island watches over all that comes and all that goes,

The trash of the decades root themselves consuming the eye.

It is an untold and forgotten story,

It is…

It is the youth,

It is not what you can see,

But rather what you cannot see.

The hands that will shape its future is held in the arms of those that come,

And passed on by those that go.

Its web has been spun a tangled mess,

As one end is unspun the beauty begins to show,

Who will pick up the web when the present is gone?



This past week I and three others of my cohort preformed trail maintenance on the Old Coal Heritage Trail in Mullens, West Virginia. When we started it was an overgrown mess of vegetation that was partially undefined. Trash covered the whole, and anything that had been previously built was washed away by the numerous floods. At the end of the week, my fellow workers and I cleared out the overgrown vegetation, picked up a majority of the trash, used the rail ties to build rails alongside the trail to stop erosion, and constructed a brand new boat ramp. Although we accomplished so much, it is left to the youth of Mullens and the future groups that come to RAIL to renew and build upon the foundation that has been laid by those that came before us.

Mullens Fire Department

By: Jack Kapes

Woke up today around 11:30 and clambered into the kitchen to finish off the left over pancakes from the previous morning that I had made. The pancakes heated up well and filled me up. I headed back upstairs and spent about an hour watching the Hobbit video diaries by Peter Jackson that took place over the course of the entire filming of the series and then headed down to the showers to get ready for the tour of the fire department. Around 1:45 Charlene and her husband Alan came over to pick Henry and I up for the tour of the station. When we arrived all of the garages were open and there were a couple of firemen outside on chairs waiting for us. We got to meet 6 of them and met the 2nd Lt., Larry, who gave us his phone number for the future. Anyway, we got to see all of the rigs, 7 in all, and were informed about the ways in which one can become a firefighter or EMT. They were incredibly friendly and towards the end of the tour they pulled a fire truck out for us to see. We took some pictures from inside the cab and all of a sudden they closed the doors and we took off. They gave Henry and I a ride back to the MOC in the truck. I had never been inside of one before so it was an incredible opportunity for me to see one in action. As we pulled into the MOC, they turned the sirens on and honked the air horns. No one in the group believed that Henry and I would have been able to go to the firehouse, let alone get a ride back to the MOC so it was definitely worth it. If this makes it to the official blog I’ll throw in the video of us riding in the fire truck. When we got back inside I went up to my room and here I am now, working on my blog and taking in what had just happened. I forgot to mention that we’ll both be receiving fire department of Mullens t-shirts in the mail and we both got our own Mullens fire department badges. Today turned out to be a great day and I’m looking forward to our next week in D.C.

Rocket Boys

By: Anthony Fraden

One of my highlights from this week of service learning in West Virginia would be having the chance to learn more about the Rocket Boys and actually meet some of them in person. The Rocket Boys were a group of teenagers in the 1950’s who had won the national science fair in order to get college scholarships so that they wouldn’t have to become coal miners. They had worked hard and studied a wide range of science and mathematics in order to win first prize, and it had been unexpected by most of their peers seeing as they were from a rural coal mining town in West Virginia. There was a festival being held in their honour, and there were a number of events being held. There was a 5k race, a pageant, a rocket building competition, and a book signing from Homer Hickam one of the Rocket Boys who had recorded their story in a memoir. It was a pretty busy event, with at least one or two hundred people in attendance. I also got the chance to meet with three of the Rocket Boys and I was able to have great conversations with them. I intend to pursue an engineering major when I get back to Elon, and several of the Rocket Boys had gone on to become engineers as their profession. I was able to have a great conversation with Billy Rose, who had graduated from WVU for electrical engineering. We talked for a little while before the rocket competition was to be judged, and I enjoyed getting to hear what he had to say to me. The entire day overall was a fun and filled with excitement and rockets. I was glad that I decided to come, especially since I got to learn from these men who had experienced a lot of change and worked hard to achieve their own personal success. This was by far one of my favorite moments of this week.