EXTON, PA — Who could have predicted that three fourteen-year-old boys would, over the next nearly forty years, go on to commit decades of their lives to service making homes drier, safer, and warmer in Central Appalachia and involve countless others in this mission? In 1984, as a fresh-out-of-college youth minister, I introduced these teens from Lima United Methodist Church in Delaware County to the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) and their lives were changed. But I couldn’t have known that at the time.
Thirty-nine years later, I am now pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ (UCC) in Exton/Lionville and joined those three men for a week of service and mission with ASP in Dickenson County, Virginia in July. It was a delightful reunion and a profound experience. Organized by Bryan Ellis, one of the original teen participants on the 1984 trip to Grundy, Virginia and a lay leader at St. Matthew’s United Church of Christ in Chester Springs, I and three youth from St. Paul’s UCC, along with members of St. Matthew’s UCC and Lima United Methodist Church returned to Appalachia to build a handicap-accessible ramp, replace an unsafe deck, and provide underpinning for a mobile home.
The moral of the story – never underestimate the value of planting a seed, and never underestimate the power of our youth!
Meeting the families we served was an important part of the experience. “The best part of ASP for me was the kindness of the homeowners. The last day we were there, Ms. Pauline made us lunch. Her hospitality really made the whole trip worth it,” said Mayson Alexandro. The three young women from St. Paul’s United Church of Christ –Alexandro, Rachael Lash, and Kristen Iannacchione – were welcomed into the hearts and lives of the homeowners, learned about the history, struggles, and gifts of a coal-mining community, and became proficient in wielding power tools such as saws, drills, sanders, and grinders.
Since 1969, Appalachia Service Project has been providing critical home repairs for low-income families, helping volunteers establish meaningful relationships with homeowners and learn about cultural differences and gifts of the Appalachian region, and providing transformational service experiences for youth and adults. Each year, more than 15,000 volunteers serve with ASP, providing much-needed repairs for more than 350 families. It is a Christian program, open to all people, that inspires hope and service through volunteer home repair and replacement in Central Appalachia.
For more information about how youth entering 6th grade and above as well as adults can join next year’s team, contact Bryan Ellis at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about the Appalachia Service Project, see www.asphome.org.