Clark Green United Methodist Church volunteers will embark on their 25th service trip to Central Appalachia from June 26 to July 4.
"The Appalachian Service project (ASP) is a relational Christian housing ministry that works to make housing for Central Appalachia warmer, safer and drier," according to the Clarks Green United Methodist Church website. "We make changes in the living conditions we serve, but the impact of relationships we build with the families, other volunteers and the staff is far reaching."
The Appalachia Service Project members volunteer in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. The Clarks Green United Methodist Church youth group spends most of its time volunteering in Virginia and West Virginia.
"We started with a group of 13 volunteers and have groups as large as 50," said Susan Wittmann, coordinator. "The last few years, we have had 20-25 volunteers. One of our group's youth ministers heard about the organization at a youth conference and brought the idea back to some very enthusiastic leaders who worked hard to make the trip happen.
"The mission stresses relationships with the families. Construction is considered the second priority. You get to know the people well, being in their home seven to eight hours a day for a week. Most families are hard to leave at the end of the week and there are lots of tears from families and volunteers."
The volunteer group has included youth from the Abingtons, Scranton and Lackawanna Trail. The First Presbyterian Church, Chinchilla United Methodist Church, Clarks Summit United Methodist Church and Church of the Epiphany in Clarks Summit all support the project as well as Saint Patrick's in Scranton. The group meets throughout the year to learn about the Appalachia culture and construction skills.
The repairs made include roofing, additions, flooring, insulation and drywall, siding and wheelchair ramps. Projects may be started one week by a group and continued for the next few weeks of the summer by multiple groups before it is completed.
Volunteers stay on cots or air mattresses in schools in the area rented for the summer by Appalachia Service project. They also employ some of the cafeteria staff from the schools to cook dinner for the volunteers. This gives them employment for the summer and helps the community. As does the purchasing of building materials in the community and the money spent by volunteers for food, snacks and nightly ice cream trips.
"We're always being asked to send money and equipment overseas to poor countries," said Krista Dietrich on the church's website. "I don't think we realize that the same conditions of poverty are found in our country as well. I think it's kind of sad that we have people here in one of the richest countries of the world that don't have electricity and running water in their homes and yet this is what we saw on our ASP trips."
Pastor John Bondhus said the trip has a lasting impact on the students who go.
"The kids have always appreciated the exposure that they receive on the trip," Bondhus said. "Seeing how people live in another part of our country gives them a greater appreciation for the work that they do on the trip and helps them to have a greater level of compassion and empathy for those in need in our world. They always speak about connecting with the families that they are helping and the relationships that they build together on this trip.
"From my perspective, the kids return home a little more mature and a little more grown up. They have seen families that are in really difficult situations and those experiences have left an indelible mark on their hearts that will be a guidepost for them throughout life."
Fundraisers are held throughout the year including a homemade Christmas candy sale, hoagie sales, bake sales, Applebee's breakfast and the sale of hand-built chairs and picnic tables to offset the costs.
"We enjoy watching the youth grow, not only in construction skills, but in their understanding of the people of Appalachia and the world," said Wittmann. "Volunteering for ASP has become part of the lives of more than 350 youth in our area and many have gone on to continue volunteering for ASP and other groups during their college years."