There’s a poem that Don Taylor finds useful when he’s preparing students for mission work in Appalachia.
Written by Julia Dinsmore, it reminds a sometimes judgmental world, “My name is not ‘those people.’”
“I am a loving woman. A mother in pain. Giving birth to the future where my babies have the same chance to thrive as anyone,” it states.
It emphasizes to teens in ninth to 12th grades, involved in the Asbury Service Project, that families in the poverty-stricken Appalachian states of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee are just like those in Salisbury, with the same fears, desires and intense love for their offspring.
Every year, volunteers from the Salisbury area drive to Appalachia, usually Kentucky, where they meet families and make repairs to homes in areas of extreme poverty, with 30 to 35 percent unemployment. By comparison, it’s about 8 percent locally.
“Housing is our focus,” Taylor said one recent afternoon, as he relaxed in the church’s social hall to discuss the venture. About 15,000 people from churches nationwide are involved.
Through the Chesapeake Housing Mission, volunteers are taught how to handle hammers, saws and ladders in preparation for home repairs, and use new skills to help locals while training. Often, that’s done by building wheelchair ramps at private homes.
Each trip costs about $26,000, including $8,000 to travel two days each way, usually in large Suburban SUVS, and with a box truck filled with supplies.
Eight families benefit from each trip, with seven-person teams composed of five young people and two adults concentrating on each home.
Asbury has been sending teams to Appalachia annually for years, with 55 to 60 from six or seven churches heading south every year. Taylor’s local group helps eight families, and, nationwide, 500 families are assisted every year .
The experience never fails to change lives.
“The people who go from here, when they come back they are different. You are going to see poverty. You are going to see about how people are living. The kids that we take there, we try to take them away from their clutter. They can’t have their phones. We talk to them about what they are going to see,” he said.
Typically, Appalachian homes are dimly lit with roofs in such disrepair that rain splatters the residents and spills onto floors as residents try to stay warm and struggle to survive on $600 per month.
It makes Taylor realize his own problems are minimal, and impacts young volunteers, many who have pools in their back yards and memories of trips to Europe.
“It’s an emotional experience for these kids. They come to realize how privileged they are. They have to open up, and when they do, most of them make the connection,” he said.
They earn 150 service hours, required by schools.
Volunteers stay in a school or Head Start center, where breakfast and dinner are provided, and get to know members of each family they help, talking to them, hearing how machines have replaced need for physical labor in coal mines, where they used to earn a living, how they scramble for jobs at fast food restaurants and Walmart.
Taylor, who’s been on these trips 25 years, started overseeing Asbury’s project for Asbury in 1997, and remembered the first time he traveled to Kentucky in 1991.
“I still wasn’t sure what I was doing there,” he said. That was until a 13-year-old girl named Mindy, who lived in abject conditions with her grandmother, said she knew she was special because God sent help.
Years later, it still makes Taylor clutch at his heart and swallow hard. “I thought, ‘If this 13-year-old sees this …” he said. “I didn’t sleep all night. I just thought about that. We see families that are the happiest people, even with the little bit they have.”
“It has taught me that mission work is so important. It’s so important to stop what you’re doing and go,” he said.
Those interested in joining can find details at www.asburyweb.org.
“Some of us are in our 60s, so it’s getting a little harder,” Taylor said, smiling.
“But the reward is in the faces of the youth we take down there. The reward is in watching them change. That’s why we go. And we love it.”
Reach Susan Canfora at email@example.com.