By Austin Hall
When I first started as a volunteer at Appalachian Voices, I quickly learned that this was no ordinary organization. The members of the staff and the volunteers function as a family, working feverishly together to right some of the most egregious environmental wrongs in our country.
It is this tight knit familial environment that makes the loss of Sarah Percival, a former intern and all-star volunteer at Appalachian Voices so difficult.
Sarah joined Appalachian Voices as an intern from Appalachian State University, where she completed her degree in environmental science with a focus in sustainable development. I was a new hire at Appalachian Voices, and Sarah was to be my first official intern.
During Sarah’s internship, she assisted in the management of a multi-state legislative campaign focused on the Appalachian Mountains Preservation Act. These bills, introduced across the southeast, were designed to outlaw the use of mountaintop removal coal for the generation of electricity. Having visited a mountaintop removal mine in West Virginia, Sarah was intimately familiar with the devastation associated with this type of surface mining and was highly motivated to work to make it illegal.
Sarah had no previous organizing or legislative experience, was completely new to the nonprofit world, and at times said I spoke in a separate language full of indiscernible acronyms.
Sarah was certainly green and it would take time to hone her skills, but she had a set of rock solid traits that are absolutely impossible to teach–she was intelligent, committed and fiercely passionate. Sarah had decided that she was going to make a real difference in the world and was willing to leave her comfort zone to do so.
Her transition from green intern to highly functioning activist was amazing, and I came to depend on her as a valuable member of our team who assisted and participated in all facets of the campaign.
In a week, she could easily be asked to travel to Raleigh to directly lobby state decision makers, schedule presentations, edit press releases, print and design materials and manage my insane schedule (which is no easy task). She was dependable, forever positive and contributed a great deal to our work during her internship.
Sarah’s sudden passing was far too early in her life, leaving a distinct void in the world. Her dedication to her cause was palpable, and even still, she continues to help protect of the Appalachian Mountains. We have been deeply moved by recent donations given to our organization in Sarah’s honor.
At Appalachian Voices, we feel blessed to have known and worked with such a beautiful, passionate individual. I will never forget Sarah, and she will always serve as an inspiration to my work.