By Sandra Zunino
Imagine you and your children are living in a home with rotting floorboards. Water streams in through the leaking roof. It’s cold and drafty, and since you’ve lost your job there’s no hope for repairs.
Unfortunately, this is the scenario for many families in the Appalachian region. While rich in natural resources, poverty is the epidemic as large corporations have extracted resources while returning little to the community.
For the past four summers, the Centerville Youth Ministry Youth Mission Team, a non-denominational Christian organization within the United Methodist Church, has devoted a week to helping these impoverished families and this year will be no exception. In conjunction with the Appalachian Service Project (ASP), a home repair ministry, the team travels to rural Central Appalachia and spends a week fixing roofs, replacing floors and restoring homes to a warm, safe and dry condition.
“We are helping lives and empowering kids,” says Katie Laing, coordinator of the mission trip, “and that is what it’s all about.”
While they still don’t know their exact destination, this year, 28 youths and 14 adults will embark on June 27. “It could be Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia or Tennessee,” says Katie. “We’ve been to West Virginia twice and Kentucky twice.”
Upon arrival, accommodations are far from luxurious. “All of the volunteers gather at a center,” Katie explains. “Usually it’s a school and we are there for the week and sleep on the floor.”
ASP provides caterers who utilize the school cafeteria to supply meals. If a high school is used, volunteers have the benefit of indoor showers, but during the last two missions, shower facilities were outside and devoid of hot water.
Despite less-than-stellar lodgings, volunteers continue to return, according to Katie. “The kids know that part of being a disciple of Christ is to serve and to help those in need,” she says. “They feel a sense of accomplishment and that they are making a difference.”
Viewing the disparity between their own lives and the lives of these poor families impacts the youth, who must be at least 14 to participate. “The living conditions are nothing our kids have ever seen,” says Katie. “The first time they walk in, they are amazed. It’s eye opening because they get to experience just how lucky they are.”
Prior to the journey, the group undergoes spiritual preparations reiterating why they are going out and serving. The group is divided into teams to maximize efficiency and each team is assigned a site. “Roofing is huge because that keeps a house dryer,” says Katie, “We also do a lot of underpinning on trailers.”
While working on the homes, the teams become personally invested in the families. When the parents lost their children because the home could not support the family, the volunteers were present for the reunion. “That was powerful for the kids,” says Katie.
In order to participate, the team must raise $23,000, which goes to travel expenses, meals, building materials and even items to make the house a home. Through fundraising, they have obtained $16,500 and plan to continue raising money to meet their goal.
“It’s a spiritual Journey,” says Katie, “the kids feel so blessed for what they have and how God has used them to help fill a need. They return empowered and want to do more in Queen Anne’s County to make a difference.”
For more information about the ASP visit www.asphome.org. For more information about the Centerville Youth Mission Team, contact Ken Laing, youth director at firstname.lastname@example.org.