by Walter Crouch, Chief Executive Officer, Appalachia Service Project
According to the Housing Assistance Council in Washington D.C., Central Appalachia is one of five chronically poverty stricken rural regions in the United States. When President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty in 1964, he chose to make the declaration from the front porch of the well-worn home of an unemployed coal miner in Inez, Ky. Just five years later, Glenn “Tex” Evans founded Appalachia Service Project (ASP) at Union College in Barbourville, Ky., bringing together the passion and enthusiasm of youth and the need for repairs on the substandard homes of low-income families throughout the region. That first summer, in 1969, Tex and 50 volunteers repaired four homes. This past year, ASP deployed almost 17,000 volunteers to repair over 650 homes in five different Central Appalachian states.
One of those families were the Blairs from Carter County, Tenn. On the day we visited their home last February, a bitterly cold wind was briskly blowing and the four inches of fresh snow that had fallen overnight was whipping around the trailer home like children on a fast moving merry-go-round. The windows and doors were worn away—to shreds.
Danny and Lisa—the homeowners—told me that in winter, the walls inside the home would ice over, leaving streaks of mold from the moisture come spring. The electricity only worked in half the trailer, and an old wood stove—both dangerous and dirty—was the only source of heat. The family’s boys—18-year-old Brendan, born with severe mental disabilities, and 7-year-old John who has cancer—slept on couches in the living room. The 14-year-old daughter refused to sleep in her room for fear of the rats and snakes that sometimes made their way inside.
The state of the home was desperate enough to break anyone’s heart, but it was especially troubling considering no one should have to live in the kind of conditions the Blair family endured—but especially not a small child with cancer, fighting for his life.
ASP was called in to help this family last fall when a social worker from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital expressed concern about their living conditions. What we found was truly alarming! But thanks to the kindness of ASP volunteers and supporters, the Blair family has hope for the first time in a long time.
As an emergency measure, the windows and doors were sealed and the floors patched. The kids were given some warm clothes, and we made sure the family had enough firewood. These things were done by a group of student volunteers from Iowa State University’s student chapter of the Associated General Contractors. It helped get the family through winter, but the truth was plain—the Blairs desperately needed a new home. So, with the help and determination of caring Christians like you, ASP broke ground on a brand new home.
Danny and Lisa had some special plans for their new home; a home made possible in large measure to Central Baptist Church, Johnson City, Tenn. together with volunteers from all over the country. Despite being together for over 20 years, they’ve never had a real wedding. So, that’s what they did on their new front porch—a wedding celebration to mark the start of their new life in a new home, built with love thanks to you and other compassionate friends of ASP. John is a strong little boy, and he seems to be getting better by the day. He’s so excited about his new house, and he loved watching the volunteers work! It’s amazing the difference volunteers can make in the life of a family.
About Appalachia Service Project
Founded in 1969, Appalachia Service Project (ASP) is a Christian ministry, open to all people, whose vision is ‘to see substandard housing in Central Appalachia eradicated and everyone who comes into contact with this ministry transformed.’ ASP provides life-changing short-term Christian mission volunteer service opportunities bringing youth, adult and college volunteers into Central Appalachia (Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and West Virginia) to make homes warmer, safer and drier for families in need.
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