By Christina Galeone
“We are the hands of Christ on this earth. We are called to serve one another,” said Gloria Josephs, the director of Youth Ministry at Saint Luke the Evangelist parish in Westborough. She said that the Appalachia Service Project embodies the youth group’s values and how they live their faith. Last month, teens from St. Luke’s church joined teens from Westborough’s First United Methodist Church for an ASP service trip to bring hope to families in Appalachia.
ASP is “a Christian ministry…that inspires hope and service through volunteer home repair in Central Appalachia.” According to the organization’s website, www.asphome.org, 26 percent of the population in the majestic, mountainous counties served by the non-profit lives at or below the poverty line. Its goal is “to make homes warmer, safer and drier for families in need” with the help of 17,000 volunteers from across the country each year.
And Westborough ASP has done just that. Started by the First United Methodist Church in 1990, the students from St. Luke’s joined the group in 2006. This year, the group’s faith and enthusiasm resulted in 20 work crews consisting of about 100 youth and 40 adult leaders. After holding several fundraisers and spending a weekend at Camp Aldersgate in Rhode Island, learning about tools, safety and cultural sensitivity, the caravan of Christian volunteers headed to Virginia July 18. They returned July 26 after building wheelchair ramps, replacing roofs, insulating homes and more.
But while the dedicated volunteers improved the lives of people in need, those they served had the same impact on many of them.
Emily Whamond, a member of St. Luke’s youth group, was one of them. While her older brothers Connor and Andrew have participated in the service trip for six and seven years respectively, last month’s mission was Emily’s first ASP experience.
Describing the trip as “amazing,” Emily said her crew was assigned to “a young mother who was battling leukemia” and her 6-year-old daughter, Kailey. “Although the purpose of the trip was to help this mother, who needed a new floor and bathtub, it was also to establish relationships with them. Kailey was shy at first, but once she got to know us, her bright, 6-year-old personality showed through. She drew pictures for me and gave me stickers to wear on my shirt each day,” recalled Emily.
She added “My experience with ASP allowed me to take a step back and be thankful for all that I have been – and continue to be – blessed with. I am grateful for all that God has given to me and have a greater appreciation for His love and gifts. I truly felt as though I was doing God’s work, both in helping this family in making a safer home, but also by developing a friendship with Kailey.”
Cord Callahan, another member of St. Luke’s youth group, said this trip, like last year’s, was the highlight of his summer. The teen said he enjoyed looking at his life from a different perspective. “On ASP, everyone lets down their guards and lives life much more simply. This lifestyle is one shared by the people of St. Paul, Virginia – where we stayed. Up on top of a small mountain, there was a beautiful family of eight that we worked for. On this mountain, you could hear the birds chirping and a car a quarter mile away. This peacefulness is what the family said that they loved … and I couldn’t have agreed more,” explained Cord.
He said seeing the family’s five children open up to their crew and appreciate their work was a blessing. “Slowly and surely, they made their way outside close behind their mother, Lisa – who from the start watched over our work site with loving eyes,” said Cord. “I’ve always believed that the best way to find God is to open yourself up and let him come to you. I believe that the hope that the family expressed in their toughest times was God’s way of showing me how to be a better person and brought me that much closer to him.”
Both Mrs. Josephs and Jonathan Owen, the group leader who’s a member of the First United Methodist Church, have seen ASP’s effect on the students’ faith. Mr. Owen said, “ASP’s work is important, because it brings together two groups of people that each have needs that the other can satisfy. The families we serve need their homes to be warmer, safer and drier, and to know that God and the rest of the world haven’t forgotten about them. The volunteers need to get out of their everyday surroundings and discover the power they have to make a difference and the joy of service.”
Mrs. Josephs agrees. She said, “We work humbly and with sincere hearts. In giving, we receive so much.”
– For more information visit the group’s website, www.westboroughasp.org.