My Small Town Kentucky Kitchen Table

IMG_4242By Ally

In the little town of Somerset, Kentucky, it seems as if everyone has the same opinions. You seem to hear the same political and social ideas throughout the city; however, at my Kentucky Kitchen Table, it was refreshing to hear different ideas. At my table, I had my mom, dad, my aunt Pam, my aunt Paula, (they’re twins), Pam’s husband Keenan, and Paula’s new boyfriend, Steve. My mom and aunts’ jobs all involve education, while my dad and Keenan are retired. Steve works at a rental car place in my city. I was excited to hear that Steve was coming to the dinner because he seemed to be different than my other family. Most of my family are seen as Republicans, while Steve is a Democrat—I felt like this would add a lot of character to my answers and not get the same, repetitive statements every time. We ate a hearty meal of vegetable soup, cornbread, and mac n cheese, one of my favorite meals. After filling our stomachs with too much food, I explained the basis of my topic and began to ask questions.

First of all, I asked the question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Paula immediately answered with the statement, “Helping everyone in your community out even when you don’t think you can.” Keenan agreed but wanted to add to the statement, “Not just the community, the country. I think being involved and understanding what is going on in politics is a huge part of being a citizen.” Everyone around the table seemed to nod their heads in agreement. I asked if there were any other thoughts, but no one really seemed to have any extra statements to add besides my mom. She chimed in saying that people shouldn’t really focus on the basic parts of being a citizen, like voting and paying taxes, but focus on the larger parts of citizenship, such as political and social knowledge and being there for others in a time of need. There seemed to be a large common ground in helping out others if it were possible to do. This reminded me of the empathy discussion we had in class where we discussed how far you would go to help someone. It also reminded me of parts of our empathy reading, “The Baby in the Well” by Paul Bloom. It seems like people help in theory, but only the commercialized versions of it. Hearing my family discuss this, it seemed like they would go as far as possible to help—and that makes us a good citizen. When I brought up this statement, it really brought up some disagreement. Pam said it wasn’t the citizens’ faults because they don’t know anything without having the media involved. Steve bounced back with the statement, “That’s why we should stay as involved in issues as we are with social media. We should focus on finding the misfortunes so we can help.” I thought that seemed a little excessive and negative. When I thought about the question, I suppose I agree with these statements as well. Being involved in the country’s social issues is a huge part of citizenship but I had never really thought of it being that important until it was said at the dinner table. I think that there is a fine line between being involved and becoming obsessed with these issues, however. Even though my family had very similar answers to this question, I know there are so many possibilities to answer the question.

I continued to ask questions and create conversation. The next question I asked was, “What do you like about where you live?” My mom answered, “The peacefulness of living in the country.” My dad agreed with it being peaceful, but also said he loved being able to have a large amount of land he can do whatever he wants with. Paula answered the question, “Even though I know I’m not, I feel rich.” She lives in a subdivision in a larger-scale house she recently bought and renovated after her divorce. She wanted her house to have a wealthier feel, she said. This answer really intrigued me because it made me think about how materialistic we are as a culture. Most people in our society feel the need to look and seem wealthy to have this status. When I brought this up to Paula, she said “That’s true. It also may be because I grew up poor and it may just be a change to me.” I really liked that answer and it gave much more clarity. I asked Pam the same question, and she answered, “It’s such a tight-knit community. I just love it.” She lives in a subdivision in the city. “Everyone can go on a walk around the block with anyone and you really get to know your neighbors. There’s no negativity anywhere throughout my little neighborhood.” Steve said his favorite thing about where he lives is that it’s close to Paula. This really showcased the importance of relationships in our lives and how it is implemented into our daily lives. Even though I live in the middle of nowhere, I have very close relationships with my very few neighbors and they are important to me—especially when I go home in the summer. These relationships make all of us happy and are important to what we like about our location of residence.

Another question I asked was, “Do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” My mother immediately chimed in with the answer yes. She just recently retired from being a high school English teacher and is now a substitute. She said, “I know my job serves a greater purpose. I am educating the youth about how to talk and speak and communicate throughout life. I don’t think that any other job can do this better.” My aunts work at the local college and agreed. Steve said, “All I do is give rental cars to people and drive them to and from there houses. In the eyes of rental car company owners, I suppose I do.” and we laughed. Then he added, “It almost makes you feel bad about yourself if you don’t, but I don’t mind. I like my job.” We all agreed that it’s most important to like your job.

I also asked, “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” Paula said that child hunger, especially in Appalachia, was important to her because it’s heartbreaking to see these children who can’t help it starve. She also said she tries to donate food to God’s Food Pantry and local schools to help with this issue. “I just think that no child should have to go home from school hungry because their parents can’t feed them. Children shouldn’t have to starve.” was her final statement. Pam answered next. She said, “The poverty issue that I see every day while at work really hurts me and I wish I could help.” In our county and surrounding counties, there is a high poverty rate. My mom also agreed with this statement. Since my mom worked in a high school, she saw children that ranged from very wealthy to homeless. She said, “It was so awful to see some of the brightest kids come to school and fall asleep because they had to watch their younger siblings all night while the mom was at work, or they didn’t even have a bed to sleep in.” This made me think about how we could help them—but it also seems like a problem that cannot be solved and has no true solution. Child poverty also can be the fault of the parents they are with. Poverty seems to be a wicked problem in our county. At the table, there seemed to be a common theme of helping children, who are seen as ultimately helpless.

From my Kentucky Kitchen Table, I learned a lot. I asked every question on the list but included the question’s that had the most interesting answers to me. I really thought that since there were differing political views, there would be many different ideas at my table. There seemed to be a lot of common themes throughout the answers. I really loved how well everyone got along at my dinner table and I got to know my family a little better. I am generally the cousin that seems to stay away from political or social conversations and stay out of lengthy conversations with extended family. Being forced to do it was good for me, I believe. It almost made me realize how much I don’t know about my family; these were only two of my mom’s siblings and she is one of seven. I really would like to do this project again with my whole family, all six of my mom’s siblings and four of my dad’s, along with their partners and children. I was constantly engaged in the conversation and even shared some of my viewpoints, which I tend to keep to myself. At the end of the conversation, Paula asked if we could do something like this once a month. Everyone at the table happily agreed.

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Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Peyton

This Kentucky Kitchen Table was a very new and interesting learning experience. It took place in Somerset, Kentucky at a local Mexican restaurant. The dinner consisted of a variety of people, all of which brought great insight to the project and conversation as a whole. My step dad, Wes, was there. He is a local photographer who loves working with and around other people. He was also the reason we were all gathered together, it was his 40th birthday. My mother, Chrissa, was there as well. She is 38 years old and a CPA who also works in the stock market; she is very much a “numbers” person and enjoys figuring out patterns and probelms. My grandmother, Rita, was also present at the dinner. She has recently turned 65 and although I very rarely get to see her, I greatly admire the fact that she is a jack-of-all-trades. She has been hired to do several jobs such as work at the courthouse, law offices, insurance agencies, and many more things. My boyfriend Randy was there as well. Randy is 19 years old and is majoring in construction management. He is also one of the easiest people to get along with and enjoyed engaging this conversation. My little sister, Maddie, also joined us. Maddie is 13, however if you ask her she will make it very clear that she is 13 and three quarters. She’s a very sweet girl who doesn’t know what she wants to do when she grows up, but she wants to try and help as many people as possible. And last, but not least, my younger brother, Blake, was there as well. He is 15 and tends to keep to himself, but he loves technology and hopes to learn how to build computers.

Through out this dinner, we talked about a wide variety of things. We started out by having everyone answer the required question of “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Some of the answers I got for this question were incredibly inspiring. Maddie told me that she believed citizenship meant doing the right thing and helping people in your community when you can. Blake told me that it was being nice to everyone. He stated, “When you have citizenship, you are part of a community. So you need to care about and be nice to the people close to you. Everyone needs each other, so just be nice.” Randy said that he believed citizenship was “working together to build not only a better future, but a better today as well.” However, Rita’s answer was probably the most entertaining. She said that “citizenship is when you’re surrounded by people you love. You don’t have to like them, but it makes life a whole lot easier if you at least love them.”

Some other aspects of our conversation included things such as broad questions about the world we live in as a whole and then much more personalized questions such as which social aspects we all care about as individuals. It was also very interesting to see the differences in the types of communities everyone wanted to live in. It seemed as if there is a major generation gap with the answers to this question. For example, Rita wanted a very close nit community, one in which everyone knows each other very well and on a deep, personal level. However, my mother and step dad wanted much more privacy. They did not care whether or not they knew everyone in their community; they just wanted to keep to themselves. But Blake, Maddie, and Randy’s answers all provided a wide variety of options. Blake wanted some anonymity, but still wanted to know at least some people in his town, such as his neighbors. However, Maddie and Randy wanted much more deep and personal connections with the people they lived near. They wanted a much more personal sense of community in which everyone was very involved and caring towards each other. I thought it was very interesting to see how the oldest generation present wanted no anonymity, the middle generation wanted all of it, and the youngest generation seemed to have a split between the two. These differences added to the diversity of the conversation and everyone seemed very happy to hear how the others felt about it.

Another component of the conversation that I think is worth mentioning is the different types of ways that people answered the question “what kind of person do you want to be?” Everyone seemed to be on the same page of “I want to be a good person.” But after hearing this generic response we all dove into what being a “good person” meant for each person that was present. After much discussion, we came to the conclusion that being a good person is a very broadly defined concept and almost everyone changed his or her answers after this conversation. They were changed to things such as “I want to be a more understanding person,” “I want to be a kind person,” and “I want to be a trustworthy person.” These are all things that everyone thought a good person and a good citizen should be in order to be better help serve and take part in the community as a whole as well as improve their own personal lives.

An important aspect of the KKT was when the question “is there anything you can think to do that might make things better for you or your neighbors where you live?” everyone seemed to displayed different thought processes and responses to this question, but it is very important to note that everyone did want to do something to help better the community around them. Some people at the table seemed to go towards a more personalized approach, such as going around and doing nice things for each of their neighbors one at a time such as raking their yards or offering to help them with individual tasks. While others wanted a more broad approach, such as starting a community garden or starting a neighborhood watch program. However, everyone seemed to focus on what they could do to help others, instead of themselves, and I thought this was very aw-inspiring.

What I learned from this was that everyone has their own ways of viewing not only the world, but the community around them as well. The diversity in generations, genders, and where and how people were raised seemed to play a factor in how they perceived citizenship. However, there were some similarities that I think helped bring everyone together such as the over all theme of “be a good person/citizen” and “help others.” But I also think it is very important to not only recognize, but celebrate the differences that we all have as well. Everyone seemed to place emphasis on different aspects of the conversation; for example Maddie had a lot to say about what social issue she cared about (bullying) while Rita really cared about advice she would give to people running for office. I believe that this diversity helped to further the conversation and help enrich not only this conversation, but the entirety of our lives as well.

I believe that this relates to our class in a variety of ways. For example, this conversation reminded me of our weekly deliberations very much so. In our class deliberations, typically everyone participates and contributes to the conversation. We also are presented with several different views on the same subject material. Also, our deliberations take place in a “safe place” where people could freely express their opinions on different subjects. This is very similar to how my KKT went. Everyone that was present took place and added several different, but valuable contributions to the discussion and shared the way they truly felt. The deliberation type style helps to contribute to how smoothly the conversation went and I also think that this setting helped everyone feel as if they could freely say how they felt about each issue.

This also relates to the honors 251 course because both our class and this KKT shared the commonality that it covered citizenship and individualism. In both of these contexts, a bridge was discussed as well. We often talk about where we are and how we will get to where we want to be. By improving our individual selves and working together as a community, we will be able to get across the bridge and not only improve our citizenship skills but improved the world in which we live at the same time.

I am very appreciative of this experience. It was a wonderful way to get to see how people in my community felt about different issues that impact their daily lives. It was incredibly eye opening and helped me become more open minded, this is also something that this course as a whole has done for me. I am pleased to say that this KKT went very well and I am happy that it was a requirement for this course.

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(I am very sorry my photograph is upside down, I do not know how to fix this.)

Kentucky Kitchen Table Project: What Really Helps?

By Katherine

KyKT ProjectIt’s interesting where the unexpected can take you. When I first heard about this assignment, I thought it was odd and it may simply be an awkward dinner. However, it ended up being much more than that. While it did end up meeting the expectation of being slightly awkward in the beginning, the conversation eventually began flowing and it challenged me to thinks in news ways.

The dinner took place in my hometown Somerset, Kentucky with a family that graciously allowed me to bring a dish to their dinner table in their home. We have been family friends for over five years, and I know Becca, Leisha, Mike, and Hannah very well. However, I did not know their guests Bethel and Stella. Leisha and Mike are a middle-aged, married couple with two daughters, Hannah and Becca. Becca and I were best friends throughout middle and part of high school, and she now attends Belmont University where she is working on a degree in Theater Production. Hannah is a graduate from Western Kentucky University where she completed the Chinese Flagship Program, and she is now attending seminary in Louisville. Hannah also spends her time working with Scarlet Hope, a faith based organization that seeks to help women in abusive relationships as well as sex trafficking. Bethel is a Filipino young lady who grew up in a family that are full time missionaries, and she is going to seminary with Hannah to become a therapist and eventually return to the Philippines to also be a missionary.  Stella is a German exchange student in the Chinese Flagship Program at WKU. With the combination of these diverse perspectives and walks of life, the dinner conversation was full of differing experiences and opinions that made it an enriching evening.

The meal started with me explaining the purpose of the assignment and asking each to share a little about what they do as citizens to help improve communal issues. Hannah spoke of her work with Scarlet Hope, Becca talked of volunteering with minority support groups, and Leisha explained her active involvement in our church. One aspect of the Citizen and Self class that intrigued me was discussing how service can help but also hurt, so I asked how they thought their service made an impact and if they had seen any examples of service that did more harm than good. Hannah explained that she knew that simply removing those women from their situations would not help them in the long run; they would return to it eventually because the mental damage was instilled in them. Lasting change came from meeting their deeper emotional and religious needs. Bethel shared a similar message as Hannah with her experience working in her father’s church in the Philippines. They had a program that fed homeless people, but this was simply used as a gateway to meet their deeper needs. The healing that has come from both programs has stemmed from focusing on subsurface needs, which is what they agreed truly helps in terms of service. Mike and Leisha offered an example of aid that did not successfully help. They used to attend a church that would give financial handouts to those that stated they needed it, but this only created a dependence on assistance and most people would exploit the system and use the money for unessential items. This reminded me of the organization I spent four weeks with in Haiti last winter break since they refused to give any handouts. They provided community life skills classes that taught people how to work and support their families instead of giving away money. The themes of improvement through teaching how to support as well as meeting nonmaterialistic needs was beginning to emerge throughout our conversation.

Another aspect of service that we discussed focused on how much culture influences the ways in which we try to help others. Churches are generally supposed to be a place of refuge that offer services to help those in need, but Becca brought up the issue of how “Americanized” churches are in the United States. People seem to have to dress, act, and talk a certain way to be considered a normal member of the church. Outsiders that look different from the usual, middle class church goer are much less likely to be welcomed. Hannah reinforced the point with a story about a former prostitute whose life had been transformed by Scarlet Hope. This women was covered head to toe in tattoos and had bright, red dyed hair. Even though her appearance looked the same, she had undergone dramatic healing and dedicated her life to helping others in her former situation. However, Hannah recognized that if she walked into a church they would immediately want to “help” her by covering her tattoos and changing her appearance. But that is not what this women needed and that is not what would her actually help her. Leisha mentioned that most of us do not realize how stuck in our culture we are and that conforming people to fit our culture will not genuinely help them. In her experience, this occurred often on short term mission trips and service projects. We think that going to a foreign country or area and giving them our American commodities will better their community, but we fail to listen to what they actually need or would help them in the long run. The concept of listening and working with the stakeholders has been a repeated topic in our class.

As the dinner came to an end, I thanked everyone for openly voicing their opinions and allowing me to join them at their house for the evening. I honestly did not expect the assignment to have much of an impact on my thinking, but it did. I learned that I must be aware of how my culture defines help and that it imperative to serve in more ways than providing a tangible object. As a church goer myself, I realized that I should be welcoming to everyone, not just those that dress and act a certain way. I am glad to say I walked away from that dinner table more enlightened and pleasantly surprised where the unexpected took me.