A small group of teens and adults met in Epworth United Methodist Church’s parking lot June 22 to load their sleeping bags, workboots and tools into a rented van to head for Harlan County, Ky. The group’s one-week mission represented the church’s 18th year participating in the Appalachia Service Project.
ASP is a Christian volunteer organization operating in Central Appalachia, specifically in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. The organization provides free home repair to low-income families during an eight-week Home Repair Ministries Summer Program in 25 different community Summer Centers.
Over the years, Epworth Church’s mission groups have ranged in number from five to 20. Groups have been to sites in Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky and have worked on projects such as insulating under homes and wrapping pipes, replacing skirting around mobile homes, repairing and replacing roofs, digging drainage ditches, and constructing porches, exterior stairways and wheelchair ramps.
“If even one youth wants to participate in the program, I have made it my goal to see that we get there,” said Shelly Talmo, a nine-year veteran. Talmo began participating the year after her son, Dane Pratt, first worked on an ASP mission in Birchleaf, Va. This year was Pratt’s 10th, making him the most seasoned veteran of the group.
To send a mission group, participants must raise a significant amount of money. Car washes, church fundraisers and individual donations were held throughout the year. “Fundraising is always a challenge, but with a little extra help from Epworth’s missions committee, we manage to meet the required totals every year,” said Talmo.
Money goes toward transportation to and from the assigned center and home site, supplies and materials for home repair and construction projects, meals and basic accommodations in community centers, churches or schools in the vicinity of the mission. Some years, church groups are lucky enough to have inside showers and hot water, but even at their poorest, the accommodations provided to volunteers are still considerably better than many of the families served.
This year’s small group worked together on a mobile home, repairing the floor and installing laminate in a small bedroom, replacing water-damaged beams under the home, and closing in and repairing flashing around the foundation. With Sussex Habitat for Humanity volunteer and two-time participant Janis Hanwell, the team felt confident in their work as she was able to lend her knowledge in building and repairing structures.
But ASP is much more than a building program; it is also a relationship ministry, and every year, groups have opportunities to spend time interacting with the families they've been assigned to serve. Friendships are formed that impact them for the rest of their lives.
This year, two first-timers, Meghan Liggio and Spencer Hoernes, have already committed to participate again next summer.
“Spending time in service to others less fortunate helps you appreciate the things we usually take for granted…like a leak-free roof and food on the table,” said Kendall Parsons, a second-time participant.
Aubrey Inkster, also a two-year participant, said, “Even the least fortunate people we meet seem to find the silver lining in what little they have.”
With the help of Epworth United Methodist Church’s mission group and a small, dedicated group of volunteers, ASP was once again able to continue with its primary goal, making at least one more family’s home warmer, safer and drier, and like every summer, this year’s team gained even more than they gave.
Last Day Lunch Break for the volunteers with ASP staffers and members of the family served.