As a volunteer with Christian Appalachian Project, I go into homes to assist in creating a safer, warmer, and dryer living environment so lives may be made happier and more comfortable. It felt like forever driving those winding back roads passing below jagged cliffs overhanging the blacktop and crossing narrow bridges that could barely fit two cars width, but soon enough those narrow bridges led me to the place that would become my home for nearly six months. It was just another day in February when I first met this family.
Jason, a math professor at one of the local colleges, and Molly are the parents of seven beautiful children. The kids’ joy stood out to me the very first time I met them. With grins stretching from one ear to the other and dimples in their rosy cheeks, they were bright lights illuminating a home that had been darkened by tragedy only months before. A queen-sized bed was pushed up into the corner. It was one of two beds they had to use in what would be an overcrowded house even if it were fully complete. In the youngest kids’ eyes this was still a happy, healthy home.
However, the story looked much different upon adjusting my gaze from the starry-eyed children to see the reality of the situation that this family was facing.
A double-wide trailer, which sat about a base runner’s steal up the holler from their newly rebuilt five bedroom home, was filled with joy and happiness. It was another typical day, nothing out of the ordinary. The day came to a close and the darkness began to settle in for the night.
Molly was startled and shot up in bed, eyes wide open and fully alert. Something was not right. Smoke! Quickly she awoke Jason and frantically went to fetch the kids while Jason attempted to put out the mysterious blaze that was threatening his family. Molly gathered all the children and rushed outside with an urgency that she had never before experienced in her life. Suddenly, a couple of the children turned and headed back into the fire that was beginning to burn as if it were being fed by gasoline. Jason’s efforts were futile by this time, leaving him only the option of protecting the single most important thing he had: his family. The black smoke filled his lungs as he went to retrieve the little ones from the danger.
The fire was swallowing up the trailer at tremendous speed, and it would not be long before the blaze would reduce the structure to an empty skeleton stripped of the life it once supported and protected. Jason emerged from the blinding cloud, now a raging plume shooting high into the night sky. They narrowly made it out. Looking upon the place that once stood what they had worked so hard for was suddenly gone.
Their lives had been turned upside down. Jason, once seemingly in the driver’s seat of his own life, took a backseat. With no home and no insurance, he was no longer in command. Humility got behind the wheel and steered it in directions he never would have imagined. The first stop would be their mountain neighbor, Christian Appalachian Project, who was ready to invite them into their family and serve them the food that God had lovingly provided them. They had reached their first destination.
After receiving the gift of a house by his mother, and with the help of community and CAP donations, Jason was able to begin working on rebuilding their lives. But this home would need a lot of tender loving care. The progress was slow and steady, when all of the sudden the floor fell out from under him–literally. Jason’s foot found its way through the kitchen ceiling, injuring his back. The physical nourishment he was working so hard to provide for his family came to an end.
Through Christian Appalachian Project, folks from Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky came to assist in getting this family back on their feet. People gathered and gave their time, talent, and treasure to be there for a family that they did not know. Every person and group made their mark in the Kentucky mud and that very Kentucky mud left its mark on them. Most importantly, each volunteer made their imprint upon Jason, Molly, and kids’ lives, and likewise, this special family offered a piece of their heart to the multitudes that came from all across the countryside. We are a community much larger than what this world can possibly understand. We are the hope for another in need. We are the light in the darkness shining from high up on the mountaintops. We live for each other. We are one family.
This has been the best story I have ever been a part of. We marched into battle together and fought for a common cause. Everyone gave so much of themselves, their energy exhausted at the end of each day. Rain or shine, we walked upright. We pushed forward with determination, one small victory at a time. The war was finally over and peace was restored to a well- deserving family. God has built many bridges for us and continues building them each and every day, however, I will always remember one of the finishing touches to help wrap up this gift of a family and their long, hard journey.
The last volunteer group to leave their footprints behind was given the task of destructing the old porches that once provided a place to relax and watch the sun pass over and disappear beyond the hills. They were pulling apart the last porch and decided to save a three-foot wide portion of the old structure. There is a small wash out that runs through the yard, a drainage ditch for the runoff produced by the heavy mountain rains. A couple rustic and rickety boards laid across the little trench, allowing for an easier trek to their big white van parked just up the way, and a garden signed by a farmer’s hand. These volunteers decided to repurpose part of the old porch joist to build a more sturdy and permanent walking bridge. With the old section of joist and just enough decking board scraps left over from the construction of three porches, they created a sound bridge that would not give. It was dug into the rocky Appalachian dirt and was there to stay.
The bridge had been built; the battle fought and won. God provided us with just what we needed and peace was found. A bridge was rebuilt to bridge the gap between the old and the new. Every group contributed to the building of the bridge. Each laid a plank down, leaving us one step closer to our final destination. Now the final board was securely in place and our newly created family could now take their final step into a new beginning together. This family was made new in Christ. As Jason pulled his family out from the fire, so God pulls us from the fire. So let us all rest now and let God continue to build up fires within our hearts that they may never be distinguished.
Every day may you persevere in faith that you may say at the end of the day:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
—2 TIMOTHY 4:7 NIVShare
The very geography of Appalachia lends itself to severe floods. With steep ravines, narrow valleys, abundant waterways, and rugged, mountainous terrain, it is easy to see how a swift storm can quickly cause damage. When water rushes down from the mountains and is funneled into the valleys, and with nowhere for the torrent to go, the valleys often fill faster than an open flood plain.
It was on a Tuesday when Christian Appalachian Project learned of the incredible flooding that had happened the previous evening in Johnson County, Kentucky. Cars were overturned and washed into groves of trees. Large houses were swept off their foundations. Mobile homes were perched on top of cars, and debris littered every surface. The destructive hand of the floodwaters had ruined everything it touched, coating it with a reeking film of silt and sand. The water had crumpled mobile homes like accordions, toppled trees, and eroded asphalt. Perhaps the earth itself was the most telling, with entire hillsides washed away and creek beds sculpted into entirely new forms.
The flash flood happened with such little precedent to suggest the severity of the situation that many had been caught in the crosshairs of the sweeping water before they even knew it was there. Later, after analyzing the situation, many suggested that up on the mountain debris had caused a blockage that ultimately gave way under pressure and dowsed the lower valley in a swift-moving gush. The wave of water caused a lightning fast and forceful destruction, and claimed the lives of four members of the community who were unable to escape.
CAP was ready to respond as part of the disaster cleanup almost immediately, but volunteers were prevented from entering the area because of dangerous conditions. After the situation grew safer, officials began to allow crews and volunteers into Flat Gap. As volunteers trickled in over the next few days, the level of destruction became more evident at every turn. Gullies and creeks remained full of water opaque with mud and choked with debris; although they had receded from their initial heights, their former power was obvious.
An elderly woman lost everything in her basement and her entire vegetable garden, as any produce touched by flood water is potentially contaminated with bacteria. In her basement, the floodwaters reached over five feet, causing her to lose a whole shelf of food she had already canned. That may not seem like much, but many people in Appalachia, especially the elderly, depend on gardens and canning for food during rest of the year.
For some residents, the water had been little more than a nuisance — trickling into basements or ruining yards. Others lost everything. Closets of clothing, ruined; entire pantries of food, spoiled; and houses and livelihoods washed away. Despite their incredible loss, no one had forgotten how the waters rose around them in their own homes, swirling their possessions and forcing them to flee. No one had forgotten that they were lucky to be alive.
CAP volunteers worked alongside the organization, All Hands, which had set up a distribution center. Teams sorted and organized food, clothes, linens, cleaning supplies, and other emergency goods. The donation center was a godsend for community members who had been affected by the storms. People were grateful to get the food, supplies, and bottles of water they so desperately needed. Some homes had been without running water or electricity since the onset of the flood, nearly a week before. Any food stored in refrigerators or freezers had spoiled by the time power came back on. One man joked that his dogs had dined well on an entire freezer’s worth of deer meat he tossed. Losing that much food would have been a hard blow at any time, but in light of the situation it only compounded the woes of those affected by the water.
The community of Flat Gap and nearby Paintsville were dispirited by the damage brought by the flash flood, but brokenhearted at the loss of four community members. Yet, despite this incredible tragedy, an incredible solidarity among both victims and volunteers was evident as they worked together to reconstruct a sense of normalcy for the community of Flat Gap. As CAP and community volunteers moved door to door searching for anyone needing help, requests were frequently heard to visit friends, family, and neighbors who had a more dire need. The selfless nature of this group of survivors, and the way different charities wove together their services united everyone with a common goal of rebuilding what was stripped from this community.
As a longtime non-profit with an established local presence, CAP was poised to be one of the most effective responders to the situation. During that first week, CAP crews were able to complete nearly ten projects. With the assistance of other groups, CAP teams were able to speed up the cleaning process for many families and get them back on track to their normal lives.
From those first raindrops falling from the sky to the bottles of clean water placed in the hands of victims, CAP remains present for the residents of Flat Gap for the long term. Once disaster relief is finished, other CAP programs such as counseling will help share the emotional burden of this tragedy until the cycle of healing is complete for the residents of Johnson County.Share
Christian Appalachian Project is constantly changing and growing, working to become more effective at meeting the needs of the people we serve. While the organizational focus is children and their families, the elderly, and people with disabilities, there is a great focus on youth. CAP is working to develop and implement compassionate programming that emphasizes uplifting young people and the family systems in which they live.
Fantastic examples of this aspiration are within our Child and Family Development Centers. Recently, our Family Life Child and Family Development Center in the Cumberland Valley received its National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation. The center is now one of only 101 centers in the state to have this prestigious accreditation.
The process of becoming NAEYC accredited is lengthy and tough, but worth it to be recognized as one of the best child care facilities in the state. Center Director Sharon Goff shared that it was an honor to receive the accreditation, and the Child Development team was able to celebrate this victory in June of 2015.
“The Child Development Center means a lot to me and I love working at the center,” she shared. “It is important to me to try to help the children learn. It is also meaningful to help the families set goals for their children and then at the end of the school year to see those goals are being met or exceeded. This is a wonderful feeling.”
According to the NAEYC website, accredited programs invest in early childhood education because they believe in the benefits to children and families. Early childhood experiences — from birth to age 8 — have an enormous impact on children’s lifelong learning and positively contribute to their health and development. Early childhood education programs with the mark of quality benefit children with greater readiness for and success in school.
There are four steps CAP’s Family Life Child and Family Development Center worked through in the journey to achieve accreditation. Step one: Enrollment/Self Study; Step two: Application/Self-Assessment; Step three: Candidacy; and Step four: Meeting and Maintaining the Standards.
For enrollment and self-study, the team had to align their program with NAEYC’s ten early childhood program standards. These standards are relationships, curriculum, teaching, assessment of child progress, health, teachers, families, community relationships, physical environment, and leadership and management. Programming was assessed and the center ensured that they complied with each area.
Step two required the center to show documented evidence of compliance with the ten standards in order to get to step three, which is becoming an actual candidate. Once a candidate, the team was able to demonstrate the high quality performance they achieve on a daily basis. This was in preparation for a site visit, which was step four. NAEYC Assessors came to the center to evaluate whether or not they were meeting the ten standards.
While these steps are easily summarized, the hours of work, care, and fine-tuning from the team was a display of the passion for the children and families being served by the center, and the team’s commitment to true excellence.
After this rigorous process, Family Life Child and Development Center still must maintain the accreditation by submitting annual reports, updating NAEYC with major programming changes and licensing, and agreeing to random unannounced visits.
“The Child Development Center holds a special place in my heart and means a great deal to me,” Sharon concluded. “Each child and each family is what makes the center special and that is important to me.”