Throughout Christian Appalachian Project’s (CAP) nearly 60-year history, hundreds of participants have had their homes made safe, warm, dry, and accessible through the hands of thousands of volunteers called to the mountains to serve. This month, CAP is celebrating its 30th WorkFest, an alternative spring break trip for college students to help address substandard housing in Appalachia.
“It amazes me that college students spend their traditional spring break here with CAP in the Home Repair Program,” said Jamie Conley, Home Repair Program manager for Johnson, Martin, and Floyd Counties. “Anyone who is willing to swing a hammer or willing to learn how to drive a nail, to run a saw, they can make a major impact on our lives of our families that they don’t even realize until they come and experience it for themselves.”
This year Annalise Bourdeau returned to CAP for her fourth WorkFest. She started coming to WorkFest as a student with Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and has returned to Appalachia each spring. Even though there was not a formal WorkFest event last year because of COVID-19 restrictions, she still came to the region to help families through CAP’s Disaster Relief Program after historic flooding impacted Eastern Kentucky in early 2021. This year is her first WorkFest since graduating college and becoming a nurse.
“I felt in high school, and before I became a nurse, that I didn’t have the opportunity to do anything or make a difference,” Bourdeau said. “WorkFest gives you an opportunity if you don’t feel like you can make a difference anywhere. It doesn’t matter what your background is. As long as you can physically do something, and you can learn how to do it, (CAP will) teach you and put you to work.”
During her WorkFest service this year, Bourdeau made repairs to a home of a grandmother raising four of her grandchildren in Johnson County. The family needed two new decks and stairs for safe accessibility in and out of the home, in addition to new flooring, siding, windows, an exterior door, and other repairs. Bourdeau credits her experiences with WorkFest to broadening her perspective and teaching her how to show compassion and understanding towards others, which she has carried on to her work as a nurse.
“You don’t really know what other people struggle with. Even if they bear everything to you, you still will never know what they go through,” she said. “I think it’s really important to subject yourself to that and put yourself in uncomfortable positions sometimes. You can learn about other people, other cultures, other religions, or just other ways of life. You can sympathize and understand God’s people and ultimately love everyone you come into contact with. That’s what He calls us to do.”
Because of volunteers like Bourdeau, CAP is able to serve and meet the needs of children, their families, and seniors in Appalachia. “I strive to bring people hope every day,” Conley said. “We have 102 people on our waiting list for home repairs. Whenever we can serve these families, knowing that we’ve taken a major burden off their shoulders, it’s a major blessing. I am so thankful that our program gets to build hope for families every day.”