By Paula Walter
Volunteers with the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) have returned to Johnson County again this year. They are making repairs on nine homes in the county during the summer months.
ASP is a Christian ministry that was founded in 1969. In the past 48 years since its beginnings, ASP has sent 393,486 volunteers to help 17,866 families in 26 counties in Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and West Virginia. This year, volunteers for Johnson County came from Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Oregon, along with four staffers who call Idaho, Delaware, Connecticut and Washington, DC home.
According to Kira Castle, the center director, this year’s volunteers will be working on homes in need of various repairs in Trade, Neva, Laurel and in Mountain City. ASP picks the projects based on the needs in the county. “We try to establish good relations with the county,” said Castle. “The main goal is to eradicate sub-standard housing in Appalachia. A huge part of the ministry is the relationship aspect and transforming the lives of those we touch. We like to call it a relationship ministry with construction on the side.”
There are approximately 60-65 volunteers who arrive every Sunday. The new group comes in and the old group goes home. This year, they are staying once again in the Trade Grist Mill. “We are incredibly grateful,” said Castle. “We couldn’t do what we do without them.” Currently there are nine crews in the county. The volunteers each pay approximately $350 to come and work on the projects to improve the lives of others. Adult leaders head each group, and there are five to six youth per team.
Applications for assistance can be found around the county, including the community center and the Johnson County Department of Human Services, and are accepted on a rolling basis. The staff goes through the applications, visits the homes, and then makes the determination of what homes ASP will be able to improve. “We look for both short and long term projects so we can touch as many homes as possible,” Castle said. “We touch about 10-15 homes in the county.”
The group takes a look at their budget and the skill level of their volunteers before approving any project. This year, they are working on a variety of projects that include roofing, sub-flooring and joists, drywall, installation, siding and underpinning and putting in an entire bathroom. “He had never had a bathroom in his home before,” Castle said. She attributes a large part of their success to the assistance received from Johnson County. “I cannot get over the community,” she said.
According to Castle, one of the projects in the county this year included putting in a wheelchair ramp. Castle was touched by the homeowner who expressed joy over her new wheelchair ramp because now it is possible for her best friend can come and visit her. “She was the most humble person I’ve met,” Castle said. “Our homeowners are amazing, so receptive and super thankful.”