By Linda Thompson, CVN Intern
With his steadfast and determined entrepreneurial spirit, a young seminarian back in 1946 held tightly to his fervent dream of helping to emancipate the people of Eastern Kentucky from their plight of poverty. Also a native Kentuckian, the now late Reverend Ralph W. Beiting – a Roman Catholic Priest who passed away on August 9, 2012 – witnessed his long-held dream come true in 1964. The Christian Appalachian Project (CAP), which evolved out of Father Beiting’s summer camp ministry for boys, serves as a testament to his compassionate heart ablaze with the fire of love for God’s people.
Remarkably, throughout the vast expanse of the United States, there is no one region where poverty does not exist. In the Appalachian region of Eastern KY, however, the devastating effects of poverty – hunger, domestic violence, substandard housing, and low education levels – are real. The poverty level varies from 24 to 45 percent across eight counties of Eastern KY.
Since 1964, the Christian Appalachian Project has been faithfully committed to serving the needs of the people in Appalachia by providing physical, spiritual, and emotional support. CAP embraces the challenge of reaching out to the people in this particular region of Eastern Kentucky by utilizing, in addition to long-term volunteers, one- and three-week service project volunteers. The one-week service projects (for mission trip volunteers) and three-week service projects (for short-term volunteers) have provided life-sustaining benefits to the people and have been indispensable to the success of the organization’s mission.
A member program of Catholic Volunteer Network (CVN) and an interdenominational and non-profit Christian organization, CAP offers mission trip, short-term and long-term volunteer opportunities. By offering the one- and three-week service projects, CAP is able to fill in the gaps between long-term volunteers and a temporary need. These volunteers serve in mission-critical functions and often fill the role of a long-term volunteer.
“Sometimes the volunteer possesses a unique skill that happens to meet a current temporary need. For example, we recently had a short-term volunteer who researched ways in which we could measure outcomes in our programs,” explained Amy Schill, Manager of Volunteer Admissions and Recruitment.
Although mission trip and short-term volunteers cannot make the same commitment to service, community, and spirituality that long-term volunteers can, CAP provides the volunteers with similar experiences.
“Short-term volunteers have a unique perspective within CAP because we know we have to use our time here wisely to learn and experience as much as we can in a short period of time,” expressed Amanda Breen, a short-term volunteer.
The service provided is made possible through a variety of roles. During one- and three-week service projects, the range of positions to fill depends on the needs of CAP and the skills of the volunteers. For example, for CAP’s two summer camps, roles include arts and crafts instructors, counselors, cooks, lifeguards, office helpers, and licensed nurses. These summer camp volunteers commit from three to nine weeks of service. For CAP’s WorkFest Project, an alternative spring break for college students held in March, about 400 college students participate. The volunteers commit to one week of service, and they help in the repair and building of homes. Short-term volunteers commit from three weeks to eleven months, and they serve in the food pantry, thrift store, domestic violence shelters, and child development centers.
According to Ms. Schill, one-week volunteer groups and short-term volunteers have been able to help CAP complete more projects and serve more homeowners in the Housing and Elderly Housing programs.
Highlighting his experience, Zach Day, a short-term volunteer, commented, “My summer camp volunteer experience was truly life-changing. I went into the summer with an open mind, ready to learn and work with the kids and I left feeling like a completely new person. I now feel the spirit of God in so many things, that before this experience, I may have taken for granted.”
Groups from across the country desire to lend a helping hand with CAP’s one-week projects. The groups represented in these mission trips generally include volunteers from churches, high schools, colleges, and families, and the volunteers range in age from 18 to retirement.
As Amy Schill responded in the quotation below, there is a key factor in what motivates volunteers to answer the call to serve on the Christian Appalachian Project’s mission trip and short-term projects: the love for life–being a beacon of hope and light for the most needy.
“People want to come and share their love of Christ with others through service…because they have a heart to serve the people of Appalachia.”