Workfest 2013It’s time again for CAP’s annual WorkFest event, when nearly 400 college students will spend their spring breaks repairing and rebuilding distressed homes in Appalachia. Our participants live on meager incomes and often struggle just to make ends meet – most simply don’t have the resources needed to make the repairs themselves. Often, these homes are heated using old wood or coal stoves, they have outdated wiring that is dangerous, and their windows, floors, and roofs are old and broken. It may be hard to believe, but even in the 21st century, right here in America, there are still people in need in Appalachia who won’t have running water or electricity.

In addition to providing manual labor for repairing these homes, our WorkFest volunteers also provide friendships to people living in isolated areas who do not have visitors for weeks or even months at a time. Please check out our blog below to learn more about the volunteer experience and the participants involved in WorkFest.

 

 

WorkFest is over!

Workfest Final WeekI’m writing to you now from a couch in the Jackson Volunteer House, where I’m recuperating after being physically drained and spiritually filled for the third time this month.

A recap: The third week of WorkFest brought students to us from Philadelphia’s Drexel University, New Jersey’s Caldwell College, New York’s Hofstra University, The University of Chicago, and their neighbor The University of Illinois at Chicago.

This week’s weather was perhaps the worst yet: it seems that winter had one final blast up its sleeve. We worked through two days of nonstop snow, which then melted, leaving the worksite indescribably muddy. But although our boots were heavy and caked with mud, spirits were as light this week as ever.

My Purple Crew set to work immediately on replacing Jimmy’s siding and building him a new back porch. There were some setbacks — by the end of the day my crewmate Jess and I had become known as “Success Jess” and “Mistake Jake.” Luckily, the fantastic group of students we worked with had a sense of humor about the natural frustrations of home repair work. And by the end of the week the sun was shining clearly and we were functioning as a well-oiled Housing machine.

Jimmy’s house is just a few finishing touches away from being ready for moving day. The photos on the CAP Facebook page illustrate the transformation better, but you can take my word for it that Jimmy’s house is now unrecognizable. It has restored interior walls, new floorboards, new siding, and two new porches. CAP’s regular McCreary Housing crew will do the work that we were not able to complete as soon as possible. Jimmy came to the Family Appreciation dinner on Thursday night, as he has each week, and thanked God and the students for giving him his home back. Most of the other homeowners were there as well, sitting with their crews at the long tables in the Eagle Community Center.

This may be what I admire most about CAP’s mission: it is, truly and honestly, based entirely on community. As I have each week, I told the group in my talk about Appalachia that the most important thing we can do to fight poverty is to bring suffering people into a loving and supportive community.

There was a huge round of hugs before the homeowners left.

And so, the final week of WorkFest felt like a new beginning. I’ll soon return to my regular “job” as a long-term Housing volunteer with a refreshed spirit and a renewed conviction for service, just as the WorkFest students will return to college with a new perspective, love of service, and, more likely than not, the desire to come back next year.

So, as they say at Camp AJ: It’s not “goodbye,” it’s “see you later!”

 

 

Greetings from the exact midpoint of WorkFest 2013!

Our second week is in full swing, and so are the hammers of the college students working with us to rebuild, repair, and restore homes in McCreary County, Kentucky.

Many of them have never been to Kentucky before. This week we have New Englanders from the Universities of Connecticut and Massachusetts, geographically ambiguous students from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (hint: it’s in Pennsylvania), and altitude-adjusted superheroes from the University of Wyoming.

Everyone has been enjoying their Kentucky experience immensely. Last night we had a special performance by award-winning local folk musician Carla Gover. She shared a fantastic set of traditional and original songs on banjo and guitar, and then led the entire group in a clogging workshop. And afterward, while the clear moonlight held out, we had a bonfire beneath the stars. The weather hasn’t been entirely cooperative this week, but we’ve been having a blast, eating well, and turning calories into construction work at a rate that boggles the mind.

Jimmy's house is beginning to look like a real home- it has windows, doors, and floorboards- and soon it will have a beautiful new front porch. I’m thoroughly impressed by the work we’ve been able to accomplish and the skills that the students have learned. We were held up a little on Monday by scattered thunderstorms that kept us indoors and ultimately knocked out the electricity for our power tools. We were forced to adapt with (gasp!) handsaws. But we’ve made up stunningly for lost time, and by the end of the day today we were practicing our Appalachian-style clogging steps- in work boots, on the floor of a newly built front porch.

The most amazing transformation that’s happened here, however, is less visible. Any CAP volunteer will tell that there are three pillars of volunteer life- Service, Spirituality, and Community. And while the students have had a great sampling of each of these during their short time here, I think that community has been their most powerful experience.

At Monday night’s evening session three other long-term volunteers and I spoke to the group about our experiences and observations from living and working in Appalachia. Without even planning it, all four of us hit upon a theme in our talks- that the worst effect of Appalachian poverty is not the lack of material goods, but a sense of isolation. So we challenged the students not to just do something for their participants, but to be something for them. We challenged them to open up, listen to the people whose homes they’re improving, and share some of the love and generosity that led them to give up their spring breaks and come here to serve.

And so today, as the golden sunlight shone powerfully on grass already many shades greener from Monday’s rain, several students on my crew sat down on the lumber pile to simply talk with Jimmy. He told them his stories and shared some photos he’d taken, and although he was still reeling from the Kentucky Wildcats’ heartbreaking 59-57 loss to Robert Morris last night, I saw him talking and laughing with his crew- a group of college kids from all around the country.

It’s a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

Can I get a WORKFEST?!

Week OneWeek one of the CAP capers known as WorkFest is drawing to a close. I feel like I’ve spent the last five days standing in the eye of a hurricane of activity, and it’s nice to finally take a minute to stop and reflect on the past week, and on all the transformations that have been going on around me.

Jimmy’s house is almost unrecognizable as the same burnt-out framework we started with. This week we reframed several walls, windows, and doors; removed all of the old siding and sheeting; and tore out two porches. We were rather destructive — we knocked over the entire false-front porch structure in one dramatic fell swoop, smashed the back porch to bits, and removed the siding and sheeting by the deeply satisfying method of putting our feet through the walls. But now the whole house is re-sheeted and ready for next week’s group to rebuild.

Other crews have had equally rewarding and unique experiences. Our Orange Crew spent some quality time in a crawlspace (no stint in CAP Housing is complete without a crawlspace), Blue Crew worked wonders with screwdrivers, and Red Crew came back tonight covered in soot and looking like extras from Oliver Twist after tearing out a chimney.

Best of all, everyone had marvelously comfortable accommodations to return to. We’ve been truly blessed to have use of the facilities at the Laurel Lake Baptist Camp, and the group hosts and their meals have been beyond fantastic. We’ve had some great evening sessions as well, including a performance by local musician and storyteller Mitch Barrett.

Tonight we had dinner at the Eagle Community Center, CAP’s main facility in McCreary County. It was Family Appreciation Night — some of the homeowners joined us for a dinner and celebration of the week’s work. It was fun night — there was food, laughter, and even some tears. Each crew performed a skit to describe their week to the group, and I was amazed by how much these students, all from different states and colleges, had bonded with each other. I saw myself in so many of them — it was around this time last year, on a similar service trip, that I decided to undertake a year of volunteering. There were lots of reasons I chose to do it, but I guess it ultimately came down the feeling of community I got from working alongside people who were devoting their time and labor to others.

The most touching moment, however, was when one of the homeowners, Donnie Wyatt, stood up after dinner and spoke to the group. “We’ve been trying for four years to get these repairs done,” he said, his voice quavering. “Y’all are answered prayers to us.”

 

My housemate, Josef, who had been working on Mr. Wyatt’s home, filled me in later on his story. Donnie and his wife, Betty, lost their son in a car accident a few years ago. Donnie told the group how happy he was to have young people around, because his wife was smiling more than she had in years. And today, after lunch, Betty sang for the crew while Donnie played his banjo. Spring is in the Appalachian air, and new life is everywhere — most of all in the hearts of these 61 colleges students and the good people they served.

As for me, I’m exhausted but happy. I’m blessed to have something like this — something bigger than myself to pour my energy into. It was a crazy week, but I can’t wait to do it again. See you next week!

Jake

 

WorkFest is Approaching!

BeforeGreetings from (usually) sunny Kentucky! Although we’re still technically under Old Man Winter’s thumb here in the hills and hollers of Appalachia, the days are growing longer and spring seems just around the corner. For all of us in the Christian Appalachian Project (CAP), that can mean only one thing: WorkFest is approaching!

My name is Jake Porter, and I’m a long-term volunteer with CAP’s Housing program in Jackson County. I’ve never been a part of WorkFest before, having only been with CAP since September, but I’ve been involved with similar alternative spring break projects, and I know what amazing and transformative experiences they can be. Last March I fell in love with service on a week-long volunteer trip — one not unlike the one that the WorkFest students are about to have. That’s another story, but I’m excited to be on “the other end,” as it were, and I hope I can help to give these students an experience as meaningful as the one I had.

There are 353 college students from 36 schools currently slated to come to CAP’s two main service regions for WorkFest. This year’s 16 WorkFest jobs will be located mostly in McCreary County, Kentucky, on the western side (the Cumberland Valley) and in Johnson, Floyd, Lawrence, and Knott Counties on the eastern side (the Sandy Valley).

As often happens in Housing, there are an incredible variety of jobs awaiting the WorkFest volunteers — from flooring to roofing and everything in between. I will be an assistant crew leader with the Purple Crew in McCreary County. We’ve been tasked with rebuilding the home of Jimmy. Jimmy’s house was burnt down to its framework by a recent fire and he is currently living nearby with his sister, but we are planning to raise a safe, comfortable, livable, and good-as-new home from the ashes. Each job has its own unique needs and problems to solve, and it will take a lot of hard work, but I can promise that the experience of literally giving someone the roof over their heads is a fascinating and deeply rewarding one.

Looking over the list of colleges that will soon be sending students our way, I am amazed by the diversity and range of the volunteers who have chosen to give up a week of their lives and travel great distances to serve people they’ve never met. We’ll be welcoming groups from as far away as Wyoming and Maine and as nearby as Louisville. It’s humbling to see that so many people from so many places and walks of life are coming here for one reason: to serve. I’m excited to see how God’s love manifests itself in their service, and how they grow through their experiences.

As I prepare to leave my own volunteer community and travel to McCreary County for WorkFest, I’m reminded of the words an old friend of mine told me to live by: “Wherever you go, bring your love with you.” March will be here soon. So, 2013 WorkFest-ers, pack your bags, open your minds, and most of all, bring your love. I guarantee you’ll have an incredible week.

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