One of the main work projects that we have been doing here in Pikeville, Kentucky is building wheelchair ramps for people who are elderly and disabled. When our last group was here they installed three different ramps throughout the week, (on top of a few other work projects).
One of the women who we installed a ramp for was Miss Linda Cochran. She is not in a wheelchair yet, but she does anticipate to be put into one in the near future. She has only been outside of her house two times in the past six months because she needed so much help getting down the stairs and out to the car. Our group didn’t actually finish her ramp because a thunderstorm blew up on their last day of work, so Nathan, Steph, and I decided to go and finish it for her on Friday evening.
The only work that needed to be done on the ramp was putting on the handrails, so Nathan and Linda’s son, Seth, worked on that while Steph and I just chatted with Linda. She was such a sweet lady, and she was so grateful for this ramp. She already had three dates all planned since she could finally get out of her house and down to the car. Both of her sons were going to take her out to do something fun, and her sister was going to take her out to dinner at a restaurant.
Watching her walk down that ramp all by herself, (even without her walker), brought me so much joy, and I knew that there was absolutely no other place on earth that I would want to be at that moment. It really made me understand the concept of being more blessed to give then to receive. The pure delight that I could see on her face brought me more happiness than I could have ever experienced had I been receiving something. Also, it was so awesome to be able to share the love of Jesus with her by doing such a practical thing. All it took was some two by fours and a drill, and we were being the hands of Jesus to Linda. This moment is one that I will remember for a long time, and I look forward to many more like it here in Kentucky!
Note: Check out all the exciting things that are going on with Experience Mission on our website www.ExperienceMission.org
Outreach in Pike County, Kentucky looks a little different than it does in some of the other Experience Mission communities. There is a very high population of shut-ins here who are mainly elderly, disabled, or many times both. Since there is such a high number of these folks, our main outreach opportunity is to go and visit with them. Most of them are pretty lonely, so they really enjoy just sitting and visiting for a little while with us “young folk”.
Miss Myrtle Bartley is a prime example of one of our outreach visits. She is 100 years old (but she told us not to tell anyone or she might not get a boyfriend), and she loves to just sit and chat with us. When our last group was here, I took out four girls to visit with her. While we were there she asked all kinds of questions. One of these was if any of us had boyfriends or husbands. We all told her no, we were too young for that! She proceeded to say that she thought we would all make great “hillbilly wives” and she would work on finding us some husbands! Then she told me that she’d try to find me an old man with a Cadillac and a lot of money to marry who was about to “slip on a banana peel right into the grave”. According to her, that’s how people do it nowadays! Obviously we all got quite a laugh out of that, and I’m pretty sure that she really enjoyed seeing us all get a kick out of it! Miss Myrtle is such a great lady, and I’m so glad that I have the privilege of bringing other people out to meet her and hear her stories!
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!
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.