Big Laurel Learning Center

big laurel house


Big Laurel Learning Center is a mountain community inspired by the voice of God among us. We strive to promote healing and social change by providing education, outreach, and spiritual renewal, in solidarity with the people of southern West Virginia.

Vision Statement

  • Celebration: We joyfully and with gratitude celebrate the goodness and dignity of all creation in a sustainable community.
  • Stewardship and Reverence for the Earth: We promote responsible living with all of God’s creation and recognize the Earth as a spiritual resource.
  • Hospitality: We are called to seek out and serve one another. We welcome all on our journey to fullness of life through prayer, action, and reflection.
  • Outreach: We strive to fulfill community needs through holistic education and quality-of-life assistance. Visiting youth and adult groups are invited to take part in meaningful service that models a faith that is alive through works.


The Big Laurel community, like much of West Virginia, was settled in the late nineteenth century by people determined to blend self-sufficiency with a commitment to community. This ridgetop, above Marrowbone Creek in Mingo County, has been home to generations of struggles and dreams.

In the 1940′s, Edwina Pepper [1893-1988] settled on the mountain and dedicated her life to preserving its land and culture. She founded The Mountain Call [1973-1979], a journal of mountain lore and life.

She pulled together parcels of land to form the John A. Sheppard Memorial Ecological Reservation [JASMER], a land trust which enables families to return home and which preserves land from development and protects animals.

She enlisted teachers to create Big Laurel School [1976-1988] which embodied a special dream: a community-based education for local children, steeped in Appalachian heritage and looking outward to a larger world.

Eventually evolving into the Big Laurel Learning Center, this venture continues these traditions for people of all ages. Our guiding values foster learning, celebration, hospitality, community and sustainability.

Two Sisters– Gretchen Shaffer and Kathleen O’Hagan — shepherd programs at Big Laurel, and caretake JASMER land and the Knob (Edwina’s original homestead). Our buildings, vehicles, program materials and support for staff have all been contributed by friends and benefactors over the years. It would not be possible to maintain Big Laurel and its programs without the support, money, gifts and donated services of friends and benefactors.

Big Laurel Learning Center is a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization.

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