“I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, From whence cometh my help.

My help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121

As most of you know, Big Laurel has had a long association with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and Notre Dame Mission Volunteers. Originally a school for the children of this region in the Appalachian Mountains, that supported academic progress while preserving the local culture, in recent years, Big Laurel has shifted its focus to education designed to promote responsible living with all of God’s creation and recognize the Earth as a spiritual resource, encourage others to seek out and serve one another, and fulfill community needs through holistic education and quality-of-life assistance. 

Big Laurel continues to work to provides youth outreach, tutoring, environmental education, summer enrichment camps, service immersion trips, and addiction recovery retreats and other support. Like everywhere else in the United States, Big Laurel was impacted by the COVID -19 pandemic. It could not hold the 4 summer camps and many service opportunities and immersion experiences that it normally hosts. They had to find new ways to extend hospitality during this difficult time.

S’mores at teh little girls camp in earlier years. No child is turned away for lack of funds.
Food box deliveries to needy families during the pandemic in 2020

The Center provided meals and food boxes to 61 local families with low or fixed incomes in Mingo County, and engaged public school children in outdoor and gardening activities. Follow our Facebook posts and track these badly needed efforts. Big Laurel is gearing up to improve its programming for the coming year as pandemic restrictions ease. But the net effect has been hard financially, at a time when long term repairs to the facility are needed. A key need relates to water supply.


Big Laurel depends on collection of clean rainwater for its water supply. Help from interested donors is needed to replace the gutter guards for the aging water filtration system. This rural area is far from urban water infrastructure, of course, and is greatly impacted by the legacy of mining operations in this area. – extraction of mineral resources  benefits urban areas but leaves the local residents behind.

As the explosions occurred miles away, on the next ridge over, the wells on Big Laurel’s property went dry. When coal mining takes place, coal companies blast rock and earth out of the way so that they can extract the coal. As our earth is cracked and shaken, water tables are also shifted. When Big Laurel began its environmental and educational endeavors 45 years ago  above Marrowbone Creek in the Southern Coalfields of West Virginia, it relied on newly dug wells to supply clean, safe water to residents, teachers, and students. After coal mining moved closer, disrupting the ground water, the wells were sunk deeper and deeper in the hopes of reaching another water table. In West Virginia, 36 of the 55 counties rank among the worst water quality in the country, In many poor, rural areas, where public water and sewage systems are inadequate or nonexistent, quality of life is inextricably tied to quality of water.

Unfortunately, , no matter how deep the wells were drilled at Big Laurel, no reliable, clean water could be found. As resourceful and creative people, the staff at Big Laurel shifted their gaze to the sky – rain water would be their only answer. Today, all tap water at Big Laurel Learning Center and the Web of Life Ecology Center is harvested rain water. The cistern tanks at the two buildings store up to 3,000 gallons of water. Big Laurel relies on the weather to give them the rain they need. When it rains, the Center relies on their tin roofs and intricate gutter systems to direct the water into the cisterns. Despite much careful maintenance by dedicated volunteers,  the existing gutter system needs major repair. Since the gutters  not only direct take water away from their house it directs it into cisterns where it can be stored until needed for drinking, washing, and daily use. This critical system needs to be as clean as possible. Big Laurel’s first line of defense against debris, leaves, and organic matter is a gutter guard. These cover the gutters to prevent leaves, bugs, dirt and other matter from clogging our gutters and entering the water system. The inexpensive and convenient gutter guards now in place have broken and fallen out and are no longer doing their job. The water that enters our holding tanks brings debris along with it.

The SIsters and staff filling water jugs at a spring called the “Pool of Bethesda” – named by and near a local community church.

Unfortunately, after being stored in the cisterns along with the debris from the roofs and gutters, the filtration systems in place cannot clean the water enough to make it safe to drink, forcing the staff, including the two Sisters, Sr. Kathy O’Hagan, SNDDeN and Sr. Gretchen Schaffer, CSJ, to drive long miles to fill plastic jugs with from a piped spring that trickles onto the side of the only four-lane highway in the county. Our office needs your help to  raise money to repair their current gutters and to purchase and install durable, effective, high-quality gutter guards on both major buildings. With your help Big Laurel will be able to more efficiently and effectively collect cleaner water.  Safe, clean drinking water will also save them time from driving to collect drinking water, and let them focus on other ministries and eliminate the need to buy plastic jugs of water, reducing the Center’s environmental footprint.

The estimated price of gutter guards is $4,500 per building. Our priority is to install them on the Big Laurel building first; then if money allows, we will also install them on the Web of Life Ecology Center. The total for both buildings will be approximately $9,000. If you can give any part of this sum, it would be a great help! Donate here and indicate if you want to dedicate it to this purpose – we will recognize your generosity on this website!