Team from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Red Hill,
embarks on 25th Appalachian Service Project
A team from St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Red Hill, constructs an addition in 2002 for a family whose son suffers from cerebral palsy. The local group has been working in culturally-rich but poverty-stricken Appalachia since 1988 through Appalachian Service Project.
There is widespread, extreme poverty in the United States, but not quite in our backyard.
Instead, you have to drive down I-81 a little, into the heart of the Appalachian region. There, in parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, you will see people living with less – less housing, less food and less clothing.
Many are living in the same tiny home their parents or grandparents lived in. And jobs, therefore paychecks, are hard to come by.
It is a place that teams from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Red Hill have come to know and love over the past 25 years. In 1988 the church sent a team of eight to Wise County, Virginia. This year, on June 30, a team of 27 will serve in Avery County, a mountainous area of western North Carolina.
They serve through Appalachian Service Project (ASP), a Christian home repair ministry which has helped more than 14,000 families since 1969. The agency brings volunteers into rural Appalachia to make homes warmer, drier and safer for families in need.
“When your resources are limited, fixing a roof, replacing home insulation, exterior siding, or securing a floor foundation is a low priority,” explained Rev. William Vanderslice of St. Paul’s. “Into this bleak environment, ASP shines a ray of hope for many families…The commitment of St. Paul’s ‘to know, love and serve God as ambassadors of Christ in the world’ is a key factor in the congregation’s 25-year involvement in the home repairs ministry of ASP.”
This year's group of 27 youth and adults traveling to Newland, North Carolina from St. Paul's were installed at a church service June 24. This group is the largest to ever volunteer.
Amy Stever, a coordinator for the project at St. Paul’s, said she has been volunteering to serve with ASP since she was 14.
“At the time [age 14] it seemed like a fun group of people to spend time with and a neat service opportunity,” she said, noting she and her father volunteered together.
She said each year the group is broken up into teams of six to seven which are assigned a home for the week. The first day on location they meet the people they will be doing the work for and check out the job requirements. The rest of the week is spent working on the projects. Many times, she noted, a group from previous weeks start the project and St. Paul’s picks up where they left off.
They have rebuilt foundations, built additions, installed tin roofs, installed new siding, built handicap ramps and drywalled, among other tasks.
But while the work is hard, it is also very satisfying, Stever said.
“The people are very kind and welcoming. They are always incredibly appreciative of anything and everything we do for them. For example, there are families we’ve worked for who can barely afford to feed themselves, but have made us dinner and invited us to stay late on the last work day as a thank you. Most are hardworking people who do everything they can to support their families,” she said, noting the fall of the coal mining industry is directly linked to unemployment in the area. Some families, she added, have had family members injured or medical conditions exacerbated from working in the mines. Many are also uninsured.
Alex Sole, 17, of East Greenville, said she gets a dose of gratitude every time she travels to the region. This will be her fourth ASP trip. Previous trips included transforming an attic into two bedrooms for the family’s children and building a retaining wall behind an elderly woman’s trailer.
“All the families I worked for were inspirational. They taught me to appreciate everything I have…The things that stick out the most to me when I’m down there is how little they have but how happy they are.”
Stever, in her 12 trips to Appalachia, said there was one summer that she will never forget. That summer her team built a handicapped ramp and an addition on a trailer for a boy with cerebral palsy. The addition was composed of a bedroom for the boy and space for him to do therapy.
By the end of the week the group had framed and sheathed the entire addition, including the roof.
This year, some of the service team is scheduled to work on the home of Teresa Jackson, a mother of three and grandmother of six. Jackson, who cares for her ailing grandmother, recently had knee surgery but also suffers from chronic back pain due to problems with her vertebrae, which also may require surgery soon.
Her kitchen and bathroom floors have reportedly sunk dramatically due to long-term plumbing leaks and her roof and front porch have multiple holes, causing extensive interior damage and safety issues.
The team’s full work load will be assigned when they get to ASP’s Avery County headquarters Saturday.
The group members said they can’t wait to make a difference in more families’ lives, noting it is one of the most personally fulfilling things they have ever done.
“It’s unimaginable to think that this many people are living in extreme poverty in the United States,” said Sole. “Why wouldn’t anyone give up their time to help others? I have encouraged many of my friends to join me because it is just worth it! We work hard but it doesn’t really feel like work.”
“I would highly recommend this type of service project to others, especially high school students,” Stever said. “On the nightly news we often see the devastating conditions in far away countries, but many people do not realize there are places within our own country in just as much need.
“It makes you appreciate all that you are blessed with in life. I think that in our fast-paced, materialistic lives, it is important, especially for our youth, to see how other people live and to realize life isn’t all about what you have.”