When Avery Ford graduated high school in 2020, he didn’t know what he wanted to do. Rather than go to college with his heart not in it, he decided to do a year of service through AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps. After spending 10 months traveling the east coast working with eight different nonprofits and public organizations, he found Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) and knew it was what he needed for his next adventure. It was then the Pennsylvania native decided to answer the call to the mountains to serve in Appalachia as a one-year volunteer and AmeriCorps member.
CAP’s Home Repair program was a natural fit for Ford because of his love for the outdoors and working with his hands, but he had a lot to learn when it came to making repairs to homes.
“Though I knew next to nothing about home repair when I started in January, I have learned so much,” Ford said. “CAP staff and crew leaders are excellent. They’re so knowledgeable, but they are also excellent teachers, leaders, and role models.”
After completing an extensive home repair project that took him and other CAP employees and volunteers several months, Ford was looking forward to his next project and the relationships he would get to build. However, no one could have guessed what the rest of the summer had in store. In late July, historic flooding in Eastern Kentucky left hundreds of families displaced from their homes. CAP’s Home Repair crews were reassigned to help families in desperate need following the flooding that devastated 13 counties.
The first disaster relief muck out Ford did was for a family of six, which included a bedridden grandmother, Nettie, and three children, living in a trailer. Water from the nearby creek rose and flowed through the trailer, picking up and scattering the furniture and other belongings inside. The water continued to rise, and with no place else to go, the family all climbed on top of Nettie’s bed. The water continued to rise until it reached the top of the bed, and then it stopped.
The hospital brought Nettie a new bed and an assessment team from CAP brought Nettie a new gown to wear. They came to the home five days after the flooding to take note of the damages to the home and the needs of the family.
“Our crew began with the extremely difficult and heartbreaking task of bagging up and throwing away all their soiled possessions,” Ford said. “If you haven’t experienced something like that before, think of it like this. Walk through your house. Everything you see that’s less than 3 feet off the ground, imagine you had to throw it all away. That’s probably a lot of stuff. For some, the water was much higher than 3 feet.”
After removing the belongings, the CAP crew cut out the wet paneling and insulation and pressure washed the mud out of the walls and floors. One moment that stuck with Ford during the work was when they had to move Nettie outside in order to power wash the inside. The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for the area that day. It wasn’t long before Nettie started to show signs of heat exhaustion. Luckily, work was able to be done quickly and the power was turned back on so Nettie could move back inside and cool off in the air conditioning.
“This incident gave me a renewed sense of urgency and purpose as I realized just how critical a home was to her and others like her,” Ford said. “A home is not just a space to live in. It’s essential in maintaining life.”
In his experience with CAP, Ford said he realized his service is about more than home repair. It is about the communities he serves and the hope that is given to children, their families, and seniors in Appalachia.
“Several participants have told me how lonely they often get but having us out there each weekday gives them someone to talk to, cry with, and laugh with,” Ford said. “Some participants thought they were forgotten, but when we showed up to muck out their house, it meant that they still mattered, that there was still hope. That’s why we do it. The repairs are great, but it’s our way to share hope and Christ’s love.”