Our Team

Big Laurel's Mountain Community

Our team is made up of not only the folks who currently live and work at Big Laurel year round, but also of all those who have joined us throughout the past 43 years. Many individuals have dedicated years to the vision of Big Laurel. Our current community is just a small snapshot into one season of Big Laurel.

Sister Gretchen Shaffer

Sister Gretchen Shaffer

​Sister Gretchen is a Sister of Saint Joseph, a native West Virginian, and a founding teacher of Big Laurel School. After serving as the director of Big Laurel for many years, Gretchen is a wealth of knowledge and tradition. Gretchen is a talented storyteller and is able to hold almost any audience captive for hours of heart-warming and adventure-filled tales. Famous for her homemade oatmeal bread, “better” butter, and Big Laurel applesauce, Gretchen has fed many visitors over the years. She currently lives with Sister Kathy, their three cats, and three dogs at the St. Joe’s House.

Sister Kathy O'Hagan

Sister Kathy O'Hagan

Sister Kathy, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, moved to the ridge in 1976. She was instrumental in starting the Big Laurel School and has remained a vibrant member of the community for 43 years. A primary teacher and animal lover at heart, Kathy currently serves as the Notre Dame AmeriCorps site director and coordinates Big Laurel’s community outreach. You can often find her rounding up the ponies on her 4-wheeler, preparing her signature baked spaghetti, or performing at special events disguised as Dolly Parton. She makes her home at the St. Joe’s house along with Sister Gretchen, their three dogs, and three cats.

Grace Williams

Grace Williams

Grace serves as the director at Big Laurel. She lives in the main guest house with her dog, Rosie, and the resident mouser, Tashi. Grace first visited Big Laurel in 2010 on the wood chopping trip as a Wheeling Jesuit University student. After earning a degree in communications, she joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and moved to New Orleans, where she honed her passions for food justice and youth outreach. Grace moved from Louisiana back to West Virginia in 2016 to serve as a Notre Dame AmeriCorps member at Big Laurel. In her free time, you can find Grace cooking, hiking with Rosie, learning guitar, or skating with the Chemical Valley Roller Girls. 

Rebecca Hooker

Rebecca Hooker

Rebecca first came to Big Laurel on a Project FACTS  retreat. She then joined the community in 2014 as a Notre Dame AmeriCorps member, during which time she served as a teaching assistant at Kermit Pk-8. Rebecca has a heart for animals and currently lives in the Baker House with her dog, Murray and cats, Tink, Poggy, Cookies, and Milk. Rebecca works with the Williamson Farmers Market and is a talented cook. Famous at summer camp for her chicken fajitas and brownie fudge sundaes, she loves to host and prepare meals for guests of all ages.

Justin Rodriguez

Justin Rodriguez

A recent graduate from Wheeling Jesuit University, Justin participated in annual wood cutting trips to Big Laurel as a college student. After earning his degree in criminal justice, he decided to join the Big Laurel community by serving as a Notre Dame AmeriCorps member. Justin spends his work days as an assistant teacher for the third and fourth grade classes at Kermit Pk-8. Originally from Costa Rica, Justin grew up with his family in Maryland. His favorite hobbies include drawing, skating, and storytelling.

Joe Solomon

Joe Solomon

Joe is no stranger to AmeriCorps or to service. He is serving his third year as an AmeriCorps member here at Big Laurel. Before joining the Big Laurel community, Joe kayaked the entire 981 miles of the Ohio River in order to raise awareness for mental health in the United States. Joe describes his voyage along the Ohio River as a “spiritual journey.” Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Joe worked as a nurse on a Navajo Reservation for eight years. This year, he is working as an assistant teacher for the Kermit Pk-8 middle school English classes. In his free time, Joe enjoys playing disc golf, fishing, hiking, and riding his four wheeler.