BIG UGLY — The Big Ugly Community Center is not big, and it isn’t ugly, either — at least, not anymore.
With the help of five AmeriCorps volunteers, leaders at the community center along a stretch of the isolated Big Ugly Road have started transforming a dreary and water damaged building into something they said visitors can take pride in.
Most of the renovations will be completed by the time the center’s summer program starts — a chance for kids in the area to stay sharp, have hot meals and have hands-on activities over the summer.
“The before pictures are just pretty wretched,” said Matt Payne, the AmeriCorps team leader. “The floor was all torn up and there was a lot of water damage.”
The five volunteers arrived in late May and will leave by the end of June. AmeriCorps NCCC is a 10-month program for 18 to 24-year-olds sponsored by the federal government. It’s designed to help young people give back to communities. The places served by the volunteers get something out of it, too.
“It’s kind of like a grant, but instead of getting money, you get a team of, for example, five young people who are willing to help you on different projects,” Payne said.
So far, the volunteers have renovated the library and a few classrooms. They’ve also started to renovate an old storage shed for future volunteers to stay in.
“Our process with every room is to take everything out, paint the floor, paint the wall, let everything dry, put the stuff back in, and organize it,” Payne said.
The Big Ugly Community Center is the community’s gathering place. During the school year, there are after school programs for kids. The center has a baseball diamond and a pavilion. Lots of families have their reunions there.
There’s even a greenhouse, which is the starting point for plants for a branch of Grow Appalachia. Jessica Workman, an AmeriCorps volunteer stationed at Big Ugly, said the program helps dozens of area families.
“We give them fertilizer, seeds and plants — everything they need to grow a garden,” Workman said. “They come up here and volunteer at the main house.”
The place is a community center in every sense of the word. With a limping local economy, community members have leaned on each other and the center even more, the volunteers said.
“Everyone’s willing to give you the shirt off their back around here, really helping each other out during tough times,” said Shea Miller, one of the volunteers. “Because it is tough times out here with joblessness and stuff like that.”
And because of the tough times, funds for upkeep around the center are limited, making the volunteers’ work even more special, said Kathy “KC” Cook, the caretaker of the community center.
“Oh, they’re wonderful,” Cook said. “They have make these rooms so cheerful and the kids are going to love it. They have worked really hard since they’ve been here and they have made such a big difference.”
The group is organizing a day of service dubbed “Make Big Ugly Beautiful” on June 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They are encouraging the community to come out to the center to help out with what the volunteers started.
“They need to come out and support these young people because they’re amazing,” Cook said.
She said the volunteers’ impact will be long lasting.
“When they leave, you’re going to know they’ve been here,” Cook said. “That’s the cool thing. And I hope we can keep in touch.
“They’re like my kids now; I’ve adopted them,” Cook said.
“She does our laundry and everything,” Miller said.
Cook responded: “Well look at what you do for us.”
Reach Jack Suntrup at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5119.