Feels Like Home: The Snowball Effect

Belinda smiling as we talked to her in her kitchen, which sits at the heart of their home.

Have you heard of the snowball effect? Simply stated, it’s the idea that one small thing can quickly gain momentum and become a much larger thing. In my mind, I imagine a singular snowflake, just living its life, happy as can be. Then, all of a sudden, after what may have seemed like ages of living on its own, floating along understanding its role in the universe, this snowflake hits the ground. It meets another snowflake. They become great friends. They shake hands and decide to stay connected. Soon, they meet a few more flakes, and then a few more and then a few more, until eventually, a boulder sized snowball has accumulated. Given the right conditions, such as a large hill, this snowball can move great distances and accomplish things. When that first snowflake came into existence, it had no inkling of what would come next. It was doing the very best it could with what it had, which wasn’t all that much. But after acquiring some friends and some other resources, it quickly learned what it could be: a force to be reckoned with. Something you don’t want to jump in front of.

When you volunteer at ASP, you might feel like that drifting snowflake. You think you know who you are and what you do, but in reality, you may not actually know what you’re capable of until some new elements are thrown at you. Until you hit the ground, look around and see who’s there alongside you, you can’t know what you can do. When you arrive on that first day at your center, you exist as one glistening, unique snowflake. Ready or not, you’re going to be transformed by what comes next.

While this metaphor holds true for our volunteers, it’s also true for a family ASP is working for in Tennessee. For Belinda, George, and their son Damon, a simple camper van on a plot of land slowly but surely developed into a home. After living in a central Pennsylvania town for several years, George and Belinda looked at each other and said, “Do you want to move?” They had grown tired of the culture of the little burgh. The town had serious issues with drugs and an overall attitude of negativity that drained energy from this family. If you’ve ever met George and Belinda, you know they’re positive people excited by life and the opportunity to live it. They worried about the effect the town would have on their son. They made the move in 2011, and the camper was the first snowflake in the snowball that would become the home of George, Belinda, and Damon. The second was a plot of land given to them by a family member. So, they picked up and moved to Tennessee.

With the camper on the plot and some money saved up, George went to the local hardware store to see what additions he could make. Soon, he had struck a deal for some bulky lumber which he stacked high enough to walk in, emulating a log cabin. Painted in alternating black and white, these timbers sit on a gorgeous block foundation laid by George himself. In fact, George, Belinda, and their son Damon built the entire house. At one point, while saving up for some rafters, George put a tall piece of PVC pipe high in the sky and draped a tarp over the house. He described it to me as a bright blue circus tent. They continued to build on as things came to them or as they were able to afford them, slowly snowballing their camper into a home.

Another snowflake that fell into place was the neighbor’s barn. George had been eyeing it for a while to act as siding on their growing home, and when a strong storm came through their holler, the neighbor’s small barn finally toppled after years on the edge of collapse. At just the right time, George had siding for the big addition he had built. By this time, the camper had a  roof over it and their home was starting to take shape.

Different snowflakes fell into place as time went by. Now, the only evidence that the kitchen is a camper are the interior ceiling lights which are original to the camper. Otherwise, it’s all kitchen. This past June, ASP volunteers arrived to help George and his family finish what they started 7 years ago. Two safe exits to their home. A new shed roof over the latest addition to the house. Drywall in their bathroom. And there’s still two more week of volunteers. “There’s not a blueprint like this anywhere,” George told me. “I called everyone in my family and said, ‘Guess what these guys are doing!’” This one camper has now become a unique structure that this family proudly calls their own.

Things have a funny way of coming together sometimes. For George, Belinda, and Damon, a dream, hard work, and patience turned into a home. For many volunteer work crews, individual talents combine to form a team that tackles construction projects, as well as building inimitable relationships with families. The culmination of people, resources, and abilities into one powerful snowball enables things like ASP to work. By following God’s call for your life you’re well on your way to becoming a part of the ASP snowball. It’s been rolling for 50 years now, and it shows no signs of stopping.

George, Belinda, and Damon’s home


Matt Headland is ASP’s newest member of the Volunteer Department. Throughout the year he focuses on new volunteer recruitment, retention, and media. This summer, however, you will find him driving throughout Central Appalachia with our Media Content Team. Follow along with his travels with his weekly blog, “Feels Like Home,” and on social media at @AppServProject.