To do the kinds of community advocacy and cultural advancement of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition, we need all types of creative people to get involved. Therefore, the Cultural Resource Directory includes not only visual artists, musicians, poets, and writers, but also educators, researchers and community organizers. All these people are doing things that support and advance the culture of Appalachia and urban Appalachians. One of these educators is David Scharfenberger an Urban Appalachian Community Coalition Steward whose teaching work at the college of Mt. Saint Joseph is deeply invested in Appalachian culture.
David Scharfenberger grew up Louisville, Kentucky. His background in in Sociology and Social Work. David spent years doing community organizing, including collaborations with the Urban Appalachian Council and UACC. He also worked with the Christian Appalachian Project, an organization that provides physical support in the form of food, clothing, and other necessities to people struggling with poverty in East-Central Kentucky. This combination of experience and academic training has led David to help devise a program of study that introduces college students to ways of learning about Appalachian culture, spirituality, and history.
David co-teaches a course at the College of Mount Saint Joseph with Dr. John Trokan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, called Appalachian Culture & Spirituality. This course introduces students to the cultural life within certain areas of Appalachia and explores the religious and spiritual dimensions that shaped this culture. As part of the Christian Appalachian project, as David explained, “this allows us to develop a course built around the culture and social issues of the Appalachian region.” One of the goals is to acquaint students with the values that have been historically linked to Appalachian culture and the ways these values were shaped by the spiritual life of the people.
David Scharfenberger began teaching at “the Mount” in 1996. In 2002 he joined with Dr. Trokan to develop this course on Appalachian spirituality and culture. The goal was to give students the opportunity to understand the cultural life the parts of the Appalachian region. David told me part of the reason the course became important is because “so many of our students have ties to Appalachia. Other are simply interested in Appalachian life and culture because it plays such a large part in the cultural life of the Cincinnati area.”
The Appalachian Culture & Spirituality class is part of the Appalachian Immersion program at the College of Mount Saint Joseph. This program affords students the opportunity to experience mountain culture and spirituality in the hills of Eastern Kentucky through interaction with an Appalachian family. The spiritual life of Appalachia is crucial to understanding Appalachian culture and history. David explained that the course “explores the values, history, and social forces of the region.” Specific topics include the coal and timber industries and how these have shaped the economic and cultural life of Appalachia. “We talk about the struggles people have endured in the region, including migrations. We also delve into the role the history of Native Americans in Appalachia, particularly the Cherokee people.”
The Appalachian Immersion program and its classes are not just intellectual and cultural experiences for students. Part of the program is to do volunteer work rebuilding homes in Eastern Kentucky, including in McCreary, Owsley, and Clay counties. The Immersion program gets students involved in meaningful ways and allows them to have a positive impact on people’s lives. Students get their hands dirty.
David explained that students who participate in the project keep a journal about their experiences. They then write a paper of social analysis. The academic end of the Immersion project is met with an intellectual and reflective paper that solidifies the lessons of their experiences. What they leave behind is positive impact on the lives of the people they work with. The Appalachian Immersion program is designed to provide benefits for everyone involved.
As an educator, David Scharfenberger sustains the link between greater Cincinnati and the people of Appalachia. He guides young people through experiences that allow them to see and experience the reality of Appalachia. At the same time, his work operates at the level of community advocacy, providing real hands-on assistance to people in parts of the Appalachian region who still struggle with issues of poverty. The history, culture, and spiritual life are at the heart of David Scharfenberger’s work. The Cultural Resource Directory provides a central site for people to learn about educators like David Scharfenberger. The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition is especially excited about this amazing resource. For more information about David Scharfenberger, or anyone else on the Cultural Resource Directory, visit https://uacvoice.org/directory/.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.