Rural West Virginia: At the beginning of last week, we traveled to a community in West Virginia that had recently suffered a flood. There we found out about a woman named Edna whose house had survived the flood but sustained a lot of damage. She is a mom who works and goes to school. We decided to take on the project and help her rebuild her house during our upcoming mission trips. In the process of this, we met her mother, Dot. Dot was always there during the day helping the team while Edna worked. I had the opportunity to take a break from helping at the Timothy Jones house and painting the Lions Club caboose to visit the site one day. While I was there I talked with Dot for just a moment. She is such an awesome lady! So many of the students on the trip saw Jesus in her every day. I told her how they shared their “Joy, Junk and Jesus” moments from their day every night. They said that whenever they needed something she was right there ready to help out. When I told Dot why they saw Jesus in her she smiled and told me what a blessing our presence there had been. She said that FEMA had called the day before and offered Edna a trailer but she was able to turn it down because she had “some wonderful missionaries sent to rebuild my house.” It is amazing to see how a group of kids from Atlanta came to Gary, West Virignia and were able to help Edna and how she in turn was able to give the FEMA trailer to someone else who needed it more than she did. We are looking forward to meeting more and more people like Dot and Edna as the summer moves along and we execute more mission trips.
-Crystal, Trip Coordinator, Gary, West Virginia 09
Note: Experience Mission works in rural locations like West Virginia, but they also work in urban locations and international communities. Check out all of the places we’re serving this year and the new communities we will be in next summer as well; all at www.experiencemission.org.
Rural West Virginia: Besides the construction duties, cooking, cleaning, and keeping a group of 35 organized our EM team has also had a few other success stories. While in West Virginia, Crystal, Robby, and I want to make sure that we are changing people’s lives through help and relationships, if we do this then a natural change will occur in us as well. During this week’s mission trip, while at the Eaton family home our team was surrounded with nothing but love, giving, and selflessness. The grandmother, Dot, of the family’s home was with our team every step of the way. She was constantly walking around making sure we didn’t need anything, giving us cold bottled water, offering food, and of course offering to help. She not only was attending to the needs of 14 people while we worked, but she was also watching her three grand children and her special needs brother, Chubby. I really can’t even begin to describe how being able to hear a little of Dot’s story, playing tag with the kids, or laughing with Chubby when some of the kids got in a water fight has already changed mine and I know many others lives after just one week. Sure we worked hard and successfully finished the house but more importantly we made connections, built relationships, and slowed down long enough to hear other people’s needs above ours and it is an amazing feeling. Trying to describe the kindness and hard working grandmother Dot was is impossible, trying to explain how perfectly Chubby sanded a piece of ceiling tile for me is indescribable, and trying to share how Montana Eaton (10 year old girl) made a new best friend on our team, who may be inspiration for her later on down the road is unreal. What I can tell you is that after one week of hard work and many emotions my life has been changed and I have truly been touched by the Eaton family and the mission trip team I got to work with this past week. Even trying to briefly type out some of the feelings makes me emotional. The Eaton family kept saying “this is truly a blessing”…all I can think is how blessed I feel to have been able to meet and work with this family in West Virginia.
Note: If you would like to help with the restoration that is taking place in Rural West Virginia, join one of Experience Mission’s trips to the Appalachia. Go to www.experiencemission.org to view our trip dates and watch for our soon-to-be posted 2010 trips!
Appalachia, West Virginia: Well its day four of our adventure in West Virginia and we have done and seen so much. Today we spent the day with our community leader Jack; he drove us all around the windy roads through different towns in the Appalachians to set up places for our upcoming short term mission trips. Although some of us got sick, not naming any names, we survived the drive! We met a lot of really nice people and saw a lot of work that needs to be done. We spent a lot of the day driving through a nearby county that has recently been hit by a flood; it was crazy seeing what the flood had done. Some homes were falling apart from the inside out and in other homes the damage was not as easily visible on the outside but the inside damage was equally devastating. Floors, walls, porches, cars, and many other things were ruined. Also, most of the time the roads we were driving on followed the river which was the cause of most of the flooding and in the river was so much trash and debris it was unbelievable. There were house doors, bed frames, mattresses, blinds, and so much more in the water or stuck in trees and bushes near the water because of how high the flood had been in some areas. It was really hard to see but also hopeful because we knew we could do a lot of good in these areas.
All the people we have met thus far are so nice and have such positive attitudes. Even though they have been through so much and the flood has ruined so much they have they are still kind, welcoming, and hopeful. We met the Eaton family today and they were victims of the flood, a single mom and her two daughters live in the house, but today the sister, mother Dot, and a few other people were at the house helping to restore the floor and walls. We got to visit with them and see what they would need help on and we also met their neighbor who had literally moved into the house a week before the flood hit. She was also very positive and one thing that really stuck with me was the hope she had when she said “May was one of the toughest months ever…but June will be better, I know it.” All the people we have met in the Appalachians of West Virginia so far have carried this hope and kindness about them and it is amazing to see even in the midst of disaster and devastation.
Note: Experience Mission sends out short term mission trips to Appalachia, West Virginia throughout the summer. Go to www.experiencemission.org to find out more!
Rural Mission Trip: Here we are! Gary, West Virginia. Since we arrived on Monday we have been hard at work preparing rooms for our mission trip teams to stay in and places for the leaders to gather. Yesterday we met a woman and her sister from the community who are going to be cooking dinner for us for the summer. We are so thankful to have them! From what we have tasted, we can tell that they definitely know their way around the kitchen.
Today we have been assembling and bunking beds as well as cleaning and finding our way around the community. The school that we are staying in is in the process of being remodeled by our community partners, Jack and Brenda, who run an organization called the School for Life. It is amazing to see Jack’s passion for the people here. Just today he took us down to Gary Bottom and introduced us to a woman named Candy and her two sons and told us a little bit about her struggles. We are excited to get to know her story better and build a relationship with her.
This place is different than anything that we have ever experienced before. Yes, it is full of poverty and the culture that goes along with it, but the people are loving and so kind. We have so much to learn from them and we are excited to share the Hope that we have with them as we build relationships with them. We know that this summer’s mission trips will be full of challenges and growth.
Team West Virginia
Note: Do you want to be a part of the change and assistance happening in this Appalachian Community? Sign your team up for a mission trip with Experience Mission. To do so go to www.experiencemission.org.
By Mo Scarpelli
When several men from Woodruff Road Community Church in Greenville, North Carolina arrived at a house in Gary, West Virginia last week to repair a water-damaged room, they expected several days of hard work.
What they didn’t expect were two smiling little girls to keep them company throughout the project.
“We were looking for somewhere to put our nails and Kaleigh brought us a little princess box,” said Todd Gleason, Experience Mission Construction Manager. “She kept coming back in the room and saying, ‘It’s so beautiful, it’s so beautiful,’ even though it was still under construction.”
Kaleigh, 4, and Brooke, 2, live with grandparents Beth and Ronnie several miles from historic downtown Welch, West Virginia.
The family applied to the local nonprofit organization, School for Life, Inc., two years ago for home repair. School for Life, Inc. partners with Experience Mission in home repair projects for those in need.
The small EM team spent last week laying drywall and spackling the cracks of the Finley’s back room, where their granddaughters will have their own rooms, for the very first time.
Beth and Ronnie Finley’s house troubles began in July of 2001, when a great flood struck southern West Virginia, leaving more than 1,500 families without homes.
The Finleys were nearly one of them. Their backyard washed away into the creek behind their house and part of their roof tore off in the relentless wind.
“It pulled apart from the beams and water started getting up under the roof, not just falling on it,” said 45-year-old Beth Finley. “That’s when the ceiling fell down.”
In the seven years since the flood, the Finley’s roof has never completely recovered, despite their best efforts to repair it.
“We bought plywood and rolled roofing (tar paper) and tried to fix it,” said Beth, who has been married to Ronnie Finley for eight years. “It got us through the winter, but started leaking in the spring again.”
After getting off work at the body shop, Ronnie Finley would hoist himself up on top of the house to patch the roof with scrap tin that he’d gotten from a friend. Beth calls it “our flannel shirt roof” because there are so many different colors.
Beth says she didn’t really mind the leaking too much until she adopted her granddaughter, Kaleigh. Ronnie put up a partition to block out the corner of the room where water damage was the worst, and Kaleigh occasionally slept in the front part of the room, though she was more comfortable in her grandparents’ bed.
With Experience Mission’s help, the rooms are now leak-safe, which Beth says is perfect timing for the Finley’s, considering they are in the process of obtaining full parental rights of their second grandchild, Brooke.
Brooke, now 2 years old, was born to a drug-addicted mother and soon after, her father, Beth’s son, was arrested for breaking and entering and sent to jail. Beth and Ronnie Finley have been fighting for custody of their grandchild for more than a year, as she bounced from foster care to her mother’s care to her other grandmother’s care in the meantime.
Beth says with paperwork and court dates out of the way, the family is finally achieving stability. Now that the children have permanent homes, Beth says EM house repair help will have a big impact on the girls’ quality of life.
“The girls are going to have their own rooms for the first time ever,” said Beth Finley. “We’ve been daydreaming – Kaleigh picked out sheets and wallpaper. She goes back there once in awhile to see where she wants to put her bed.”
To Gleason, home repair for the Finley’s wasn’t just about fixing a room. It was also about setting an example to the girls of how faith can lead to compassion and hard work.
“Beth couldn’t express enough how much it meant to her that there were young people interested in doing this work,” said Gleason. “All the young people around here that she knows are into messed up stuff.”
Beth says she often sees crack cocaine and methamphetamine use go undetected by police in her area.
McDowell County has the highest drug-related mortality rate in the state, according to a 2006 report by the West Virginia Prevention Resource Center. More than 30 percent of deaths involve drugs or other abused substances.
Beth worries about this, mostly because she saw her own son fall into a desperate drug addiction. She says five of her neighbors are also grandparents taking care of the children their kids’ couldn’t, due to drug problems.
“It’s real bad here. If they had more people like you –“she said, pointing at EM volunteers as they scraped joint compound on the ceilings, “then they wouldn’t want to get into drugs in the first place.”
The team of five – Earl Nadeau, David Gray, Steve Kinney, Sam Farley, and Gleason – finished in three days, though the rooms still need painting.
Kaleigh Finley says that part is her job.
“I’m going to paint my new room with my daddy and we’re going to make purple butterflies!” said Kaleigh, as she looked around the back corner room she claimed as her own.
EM continues to partner with School for Life, Inc. until the end of July, bringing hundreds more volunteers to assess the needs of McDowell County residents.
Experience Mission is offering Summer 2010 mission trips to West Virginia and other locations in the U.S. and abroad. Visit www.experiencemission.org or call 360-732-0986 to learn more.
By Mo Scarpelli
For many Americans, a heated house is a necessity. If that means installing a new heat pump, so be it. But to those in McDowell County, West Virginia, Jack Fultz says even basic home repair is not a given – it’s a luxury.
More than 24 percent of family households in McDowell County make less than $10,000 a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“They have no options. Our people have just enough money to get by,” said Fultz, founder of the non-profit group School for Life in Gary, West Virginia. “They have just enough for food, gas, utilities, with no extra money for home repair.”
That explains Carlisa and Donald Merriweather’s story. Four years ago, Carlisa moved into the house her mother had grown up in. Her new home was actually a very old one, dating back to before the 20th century. She never had the option to turn on the heat in her home save for small kerosene heaters in several rooms.
“In the wintertime, Carlisa would come down and stay with us because it was cold,” said Carlisa’s mother, Olivia Bell. “It’s not good when you keep the kerosene on overnight, it’s expensive and you have to watch inhaling the fumes too much.”
The whole neighborhood, known as the Gary No. 11 camp, was built more than a hundred years ago by the U.S. Steel Company for mine workers and their families. The house foundations were constructed with only a couple of feet above the ground, making them too low to install electric heating pumps underneath.
Carl Bell, Carlisa’s father, says the family had two options: they could build an additional room on the house for the heating pump and pipes, or they could hire a contractor and crew to install all of it in the attic.
“If you hire a contractor, you might as well give them the house,” said Bell. “It’s that expensive.”
Bell and a few family members decided to add to the house themselves, but found it hard to acquire the funds and spare time. The new pump alone cost more than $600, and Carlisa’s husband had little time after work to help Bell.
This is where Jack Fultz and his wife, Brenda, came in.
“Carl is one of the first guys I met when we came out here,” said Fultz, who moved into the unused Old Gary School three years ago to start his nonprofit company. “Carl and his brother would help us out at the school, they’d unload trucks and do other things.”
The school’s upstairs classrooms have been converted into living quarters for volunteers that want to help Fultz chip away at a seemingly endless list of residents like the Merriweathers in need of home repair. Experience Mission arrived at the school in early June and their first teams of volunteers, one from Greenville, North Carolina and another from Pennsylvania’s Panther Valley area, found their way through the misty mountains to the school a week later.
The teams then split up to take on different projects: some stayed at the school to teach and play with local children during a bible school program called Kid’s Club; some helped Brenda Fultz sort through cluttered classrooms in the school; and others set off to tackle construction projects. This included a team of five EM volunteers that arrived at Carlisa’s house, eager to finish what her father had started.
“It makes you feel helpful,” said 17-year-old volunteer Brandon Hefferfinger while on a break from laying drywall with his father and friends. “It’s not an off-the-wall, different thing to do, the jobs are very possible for anyone. These people just need help.”
EM has helped, by spending more than $300 on materials and by recruiting volunteers like 18-year-old Joe Folk, who believes that the quality of life for people of West Virginia is just as important as anywhere else.
“We considered going out of the States to do mission work,” said Folk. “But then we decided to help one of our own.”
Merriweather says she is grateful for that, as she was dreading another cold winter with her 7-month-old son. Jack added her house to the his list of repairs almost two years ago, and with the help of EM, finally got enough hands to do the job.
Having EM crews work comforts Merriweather, who says she prefers EM because she can trust the crew.
“You don’t have to worry about ‘em out here fussin’ and cussin’ and fightin’ or taking anything,” Merriweather said. “I was glad when they came, relieved.”
Jack Fultz and EM volunteers try to spread the message of Christianity through
this kind of help all summer long in McDowell County, one of the poorest counties in the country.
“Most Christians just go to church,” said Fultz. “The Bible says, ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits,’ and this is just some of the fruit we can provide, by giving time and hard work. Others will notice because these houses beautify the community.”
Experience Mission is offering Summer 2009 mission trips to West Virginia and other locations in the U.S. and abroad. Visit www.experiencemission.org or call 360-732-0986 to learn more.
Delays and unforeseen problems seem to like to find their way into our first day’s schedule here in West Virginia, as we have seen this happen every week and thus have almost come to expect problems. Wesleyan Chapel United Methodist Church brought 31 members, and it was our largest single group yet. This group of 31 was full of spunk and already seemed quite unified and just happy to be together, which made for an easy-going and fun environment. The first night was off with a boom when Jackie Colenda and Elliot Malpass led worship in our group time on keyboard and guitar.
As I talked about earlier, Monday morning had a slow start when construction coordinator Todd got sick, which put him out of commission for our first day of work. So Emily and I scrambled to get scaffolding and ladders to two different painting sites, to find the right paint colors, to give out directions to a project 30 minutes away, and to do it all with one vehicle and to make sure everyone was happy while it was all happening. So we got Todd some medicine and sent him off to bed and then had to share the van to deliver groups and their supplies to each work site in somewhat of a timely manner. When all groups and we thought, all the supplies were finally to their destinations the problems didn’t stop there. The wrong paint had been dropped off at the wrong location, and the scaffolding didn’t fit together and there weren’t enough ladders and the benches for painting were wet, and our community partners, Jack and Brenda were gone for the day, and there was only one van and two interns to fix it all. By the grace of God Emily and I didn’t crack under the pressure though, and we slowly but surely worked everything out to where each group was happy and working, at least for the morning.
The next couple days mellowed out a little, and once again God proved He had it all under control and apparently just wanted to make sure we knew it. Life in West Virginia is always an adventure, and never without struggle, but we have come to expect and look forward to each new day, not matter what it brings. The week ahead is sure to be productive and a learning experience for all!
Lovin’ the Lord in West Virginia,
Sometimes the hardest part about going on a missions trip is that you are only there for a week, and because of being there a short time you don’t always get to see the whole project finished or see the after-affects.
This past week, though, got to go against the norm, and saw projects finished and lives changed. In our last meeting together on Thursday night multiple people shared how wonderful it was to actually see a work project completed. “In past trips we’ve always had to kind of leave things half done for someone else, but it was so nice this week for us to see everything get done that we set out to do. It was especially good for the kids to see all their hard work come together at the end.” said Youth Leader Tina McGuffey.
The teams had three different large work projects this week, two of them being rebuilding porches. It was a great sight to see them get done by the last day, and to see the happiness and thankfulness of the families who we worked for. At one of the project sites we built it and left them with the stain and paint brushes to finish the porch. We were skeptical as to whether or not they would actually put the stain on or just let it sit as most people do in this area. We ended up being able to see the family that night and to our surprise they had painted it that afternoon! This was especially exciting for the kids who really got to know the family because it says that they are taking care of something on their home, and that’s a trait that’s not very common in this area.
The third worksite was at a house that is being renovated for a family, and our job was to paint about five rooms and two hallways of the house, and to attack the three ft. tall grass in the small but overwhelming yard. By the end of the week they had completed all the painting and got about half of the yard whacked down. It was really exciting for the family and for the team that had got to know them while they worked together all week.
All in all I would say this week could not have gone better, projects were completed, kids lives were changed, and most importantly God showed up in all of it.
Lovin’ the Lord in West Virginia,
Yet again the oddness of West Virginia weather kicked in, and kicked us out of a morning of work on Tuesday, and for part of the afternoon on Wednesday. Rain is usually our biggest problem because so many of our work projects are outside, but luckily we do always have the fall back of working inside at the school, and there is never a shortage of work to be done around here.
This determined group of 26 from Maryland was not prepared to let a little rain stop them though, and thought they saw a break enough in the clouds to take smaller groups out to the work sites and try to get as much work done as they could. So the groups packed up and headed out, and you know the saying that science only goes so far and then comes God?
Well, our weather forecast could only go so far that day because the prediction was rain, but when the two teams got to their outdoor work sites, the rains stopped and left only a cool breeze behind. The sun was soon to follow, and the day turned out to be a success! Then it didn’t start raining again until after the teams were done for the day. God is so good, and I know His plan will be completed no matter what; He always makes a way.
Tuesday was not the end though, God has much more in store for this particular week. I love seeing the unique relationships that are being cultivated at kids club, and with the families at each work site.
The youth leaders from this team have a real focus on teaching the kids in practical ways, whether it is how to use a saw or how to minister to troubled youth. Each person has brought something different to the table, and I look forward to see how the Lord is going to use each and every one of those things.
Thank you for all your support! All your thoughts and prayers and such a blessing!
Lovin’ the Lord in West Virginia,