Brian Cavalier reports:
In 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted the Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1965: “The Congress hereby finds and declares that the Appalachian region of the United States, while abundant in natural resources and rich in potential, lags behind the rest of the nation in its economic growth and its people have not shared in the nation’s prosperity.” More than 22 million people live in the 406 counties that comprise Appalachia, embracing 13 states. West Virginia is the only state entirely contained in that region. The most distinctive trait that was and still is thought of when referring to the Appalachian people is their poverty.
Every year, beginning in June and lasting through September, churches from all over the United States send volunteers to Preston County, West Virginia to help that community which has a great need for assistance from outside its own territory. The Catholic Church initiated this program with the goal that through a strong commitment and faith based dedication they could respond in a Christian manner to the needs of families in this very depressed area.
Started nearly 17 years ago, this program has evolved into a major undertaking, with some churches bringing as many as 100 volunteers every year. These groups do everything from building porches on trailers and replacing exterior doors to painting and landscaping.
The local church, St. Sebastian, takes requests throughout the year from families and determines which requests require immediate attention. There are three clergy who oversee these projects: Father Mark Ward, Father John Michael Lee, and Deacon Arnie Lipscomb. They review every request and assign jobs to each participating church group based on the number of people coming and the skill level of each group.
St. George Orthodox Church in New Kensington and St. Mary of the Assumption in Glenshaw have participated in this program for the past five years. This year, along with St. Ellien Orthodox Church in Brownsville, we sent over thirty adults and teens to Kingwood during the last week of June. Many teens, ages sixteen into young adulthood, have returned year after year because it is such a fulfilling experience. We were assigned eight jobs, and, thank God, we were able to finish all of them. While our group worked hard to complete the projects, we also found time for Christian fellowship with each other and the local clients.
We were also blessed by a visit from his Grace Bishop Thomas who spent time at each worksite, had dinner with us, and, later that evening, celebrated Vespers for Saint Simeon with us. His Grace stressed the importance of continuing our service to those in need, both in areas such as Kingwood and in areas near our home parishes. The benefit of this mission is twofold. First, it helps a community in need. Second, it helps us to understand that poverty is not relegated exclusively to third world countries. It also exists in our own local communities--Kingwood is only two hours away. As he closed Vespers, Bishop Thomas reminded us of these words of scripture: “Well done my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)