By LORRAINE JOHNSON
Sixty people turned out for the potluck held on Friday, May 21 at the Old School in Big Cove, to honor the Big Cove Free Labor Group for their giving spirit and cooperative way in which they serve others. Recipient of the 2010 Peacemaker Award for the Qualla Boundary, the Free Labor Group accepted the award presented by Mountain Mediation Services (MMS).
The Peacemaker award is given each year to a group or individual that models peaceful conflict resolution skills through their actions in the community.
Numerous community members from Big Cove and beyond spoke of the Free Labor Groups’ dedication and long-time tradition of being there for people in need. From mowing lawns and helping with yard work to digging graves and sitting with the families during their time of need, the Free Labor Group has been a continuous presence.
JoAnn Coasteller Eslinger, who grew up in Big Cove, recalled lugging water to the men when they came to help harvest corn. She wondered if there was any left by the time she reached them. Others remember testing out their cooking skills as young people by feeding the Free Labor Members who came to work on projects.
“If they ate all the food you made,” said Melvena Swimmer, “then you knew your cooking was good enough and you had passed some kind of test or rights of passage, and could cook for others too.”
Phyllis Shell, whose husband Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell is a member of the group, sang “You are the Wind Beneath my Wings,” in the group’s honor.
At the end of the story sharing session, Swimmer, MMS Board President, presented a plaque to the Free Labor Group as Peacemaker for 2010.
MMS provides mediation, facilitation and training services in the Qualla Boundary and in the seven western-most counties in North Carolina. MMS provides mediations for Tribal Court, one of the busiest courts for mediations in the service area. For information on services, please call the Sylva Office at 631-5252.
Lorraine is the executive director for Mountain Mediation Services.