By W. Spencer King
Teddy and Tootsie Jablonski are sisters who have provided invaluable support and positive spirits to the Appalachian Voices team in our Boone office since Tootsie began volunteering for us when she was in college in 2009.
While at an Earth Day event on Appalachian State University’s campus, Tootsie learned about mountaintop removal coal mining through an Appalachian Voices display. She immediately decided to start volunteering, trying to help in any way she could.
After only a few weeks of volunteering, she realized “how much hard work and man hours it took to get information about [mountaintop removal] out the the public,” and decided to become an intern, assisting with operations, events and outreach.
“I had been living in the Appalachians my whole life and had never known about what was going on,” Tootsie says. “I knew that if I could help get the word out, then many more people would join the fight to stop [mountaintop removal.”
Younger sister Teddy discovered Appalachian Voices through Tootsie, and she too began volunteering, spending most of her time cleaning and organizing, doing paperwork and stamping envelopes. “I really enjoyed knowing that I was able to take some of these small tasks off of their hands and hopefully make their jobs a little easier,” says Teddy.
“I feel passionate about clean water because of how lucky I have been,” she says. “Having clean water was not something I had to worry about growing up.” Having to be conscientious about the water quality on travels to Africa and Mexico helped Teddy understand what people in coal mining communities have to worry about every day.
“[Nature] teaches us about systems, perspective, patience, compassion, regulation, gentleness, and is always able to restore a lost or worn-down soul,” says Tootsie. “If we lose our access to natural places, we lose our connection to the bigger picture of who we, as humans, are on this earth.”
The Appalachian mountains hold a special place in the hearts of both Tootsie and Teddy: “This is my home,” says Teddy. “I love salamanders, birds, squirrels, deer, and all the other animals out there. I do not want to see their homes destroyed. And I don’t want to see my home destroyed either.”
“I can’t imagine a reality where [the mountains] are not there to welcome me and shelter me and give me strength,” says Tootsie. She cherishes her current home in Roan Mountain and the nearby Pisgah National Forest. “My main hobby in these parts is hiking,” she says. “Just getting out into the woods and exploring new places, seeing new plants and animals, and breathing fresh air. It’s an added bonus when I get to take students or friends with me and teach about the ecology along the way!”
Teddy and Tootsie are now protecting the environment and communities they are so grateful for. In 2013, Tootsie donated the money she raised through tie-dye t-shirt sales to Appalachian Voices. Teddy now volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House in Lexington, Ky., as well as the Danville Humane Society. “It feels nice to be able to spend some of my time helping others,” says Teddy. “Not everyone has the luxury of free time to do volunteer work, and I feel very lucky to have some.”