Clarke County Church Lends a Helping Hand to Appalachian Neighbors

Seventeen volunteers from Clarke County’s Crums United Methodist Church traveled to Perry County, Kentucky in July to spread hope and help to people living in chronic poverty right here at home in the United States.  The team of men, women, and students used their own time, energy and brotherly love to repair leaky roofs, install indoor plumbing, and deliver other baseline standards of living that most people believe are absent only in third-world countries.

Crums Church members help ASP families in Perry County, Kentucky (l-r) Josh Lee, CJ Cunningham, Jamie Wilkie, Jo Massie, Sarah Thompson and Ken Cunningham - Photo Larry Thompson

Clarke County rises and falls with the economic tide just like most rural communities. However, there are areas in the U.S. where the local population suffers chronic poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy that economic stimulus plans somehow never quite seem to help.

Central Appalachia is one such place.

According to Crums Church member, Larry Thompson, poverty level in parts of Central Appalachia are hard for people in Clarke County to imagine.

“Three out of the seven houses that we worked on didn’t have running water. Three of the families had members that couldn’t read or write.” Thompson recounted. “Seeing how difficult the conditions are there is a humbling experience.”

Thompson, his wife Sarah, and fifteen other Crums Church volunteers dedicated a week in late July to fixing, cleaning, and lending a helping hand to the people of Perry County, Kentucky, located about 450 miles southwest from Clarke County. The Crums Church volunteer effort is part of a larger and   ongoing effort managed through a central organization called the Appalachian Service Project.

The Appalachia Service Project (ASP) provides structured service opportunities for thousands of volunteers to repair homes for low-income families living in rural Central Appalachia. The organization has been active in poor, rural communities of the United States for over forty years.

C.J Cunningham in the foreground prepares to install underpinning on the bottom of a trailer - Photo Larry Thompson

ASP does not offer financial support to the volunteers that make up its work force. Rather, Thompson said, the entire cost of the trip was funded by local church fundraisers.

“We did bake sales, a crock pot cook-off competition, and car washes at Broy’s Pump Service in Berryville,” Thompson said. “Much of the money was raised by efforts by the younger church members who went on the trip.”

The Crum’s Church home makeover team included six younger church goers fourteen to fifteen years old.

“These kids worked in really difficult circumstances,” Thompson said. “It was very hot most of the time that we were there. Many times there were hornets and spiders that the kids had to deal with while they were trying to work. It was pretty tough but every one of them stepped up to the challenge.”

“Everyone was smiling even though they were working like dogs,” he said.

Central Appalachian poverty has proved difficult to eradicate despite years of efforts by both the federal government and community-based efforts like ASP.   For over a hundred years, large corporations have extracted natural resources in the region while putting little back in the form of taxes or community support. Jobs are few and far between for most adults living in the area. Many families live in modest houses handed down from one generation to the next. The lack of steady income means that any money available is often used to buy food and clothing rather than repairing a leaky roof or installing indoor plumbing.

As a result many of the area’s homes are crumbling with buckled walls, leaky roofs and sagging floors posing hazards to the elderly and the very young.

According to the Appalachian Service Project:

  • Poverty is more than double the national average
  • One in four lives below the poverty level-105,000 children, 195,000 adults, and 35,000 elderly
  • 62,500 homes are substandard
  • 19,000 homes lack adequate kitchens
  • 21,000 homes lack complete plumbing
  • Nearly half of the families have annual household incomes below $20,000

Thompson said that the Crums Church team worked exclusively on homes in Perry   County,
Kentucky but has worked in other areas in the past.  Thirty people from the church participated in ASP last year.

The team provided help wherever it could. Church members repaired roofs, painted, installed underpinning on trailers, and helped elderly residents with cleaning and cooking.   The team also provided moral support to their Kentucky brethren.

“Hygiene and cleanliness can be challenges down there, especially for older people,” Thompson said. “I was concerned that some of the kids might not be accepting of what they encountered, but that wasn’t the case at all.”

Linda Bodkin (l) and Janine Davis trimming a window opening in an Appalachian Service Project home in Perry County, Kentucky - Photo Larry Thompson

Thompson recounted one man with special needs whose only income came from providing weed-eating services to the poor community.

“This old fellow had no dentures and couldn’t read but loved to go to church and have people help him to study the Bible. Two of our girls spent time visiting with him and reading Bible verses outloud, he really loved being with the kids. Every night we’d talk and read Bible verses. Everyone got a lot out of the experience.”

“He called our girls “His Angels,” Thompson said.

Thompson said that helping people in Central Appalachia was a great experience for both the kids and the adults.

“Hot water, a stove, plumbing… We take those things for granted,” Thompson said. “It makes you feel a little selfish.”

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  1. J.C.Coon says:

    We all need a yearly Mission Trip to put our lives in focus. Yeah Crums! Nice article Ed.

  2. I congratulate this group for their mission work. I would like to challenge them as well as other groups to bring that knowledge back home. Help With Housing does this kind of work right here in Clarke County as well as Frederick, Warren, Shenandoah and the City of Winchester. We still have households here without indoor plumbing. We currently have 110 households waiting for home repairs. 82% of those we serve have annual incomes of less than $20,000, with almost 50% with annual incomes of less than $10,000. So, you can see we have very needy people right here in our area. We welcome volunteer groups and work with groups that come out from the city to serve our residents.

    Again, thank you for serving those in need.

    Paula Costello, Executive Director, Help With Housing, Inc.