Making The World A Better Place, One Home At A Time
One of the 17,000 people each year who volunteers with Appalachia Service Project, working toward a goal of providing “warmer, safer, and drier” homes for families in Central Appalachia (generally including counties in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina), is Katie Temple, a graduate of Newtown High School and a 2013 graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
The Appalachia Service Project (ASP) is a Christian-based ministry focused on providing home repairs to people in one of the poorest regions of America. Started in 1969 by United Methodist Church minister Reverend Glenn “Tex” Evans, who in 13 years of service to the Henderson Settlement in Kentucky, saw the great need for assistance, ASP has motivated hundreds of thousands of volunteers to take part in service to others. It is a service that seeks to transform not only the buildings, but the lives of the homeowners, whose homes are made weather-tight, and the lives of those who volunteer.
That transformation began for Ms Temple when she was just 14 years old, and involved with the youth group at the Bethel United Methodist Church.
“At the time, back in 2005, it was a sort of ‘right of passage’ within the youth group. So when I first signed up, it was more because that was what everyone else in the youth group was doing,” said Ms Temple in an e-mail to The Newtown Bee.
“It wasn’t until I experienced a week working and sweating for somebody other than myself that I actually ‘got it,’” she said of her very first trip with ASP, to Sneedville, Tenn. She saw that the people of Appalachia were not so different from herself “and that I could effect change. That first week, I witnessed a woman play with the running water in her trailer, an amenity she had never had, [and] that we, as an extension of ASP, were able to provide. That was what got me hooked,” Ms Temple recalled.
It was the beginning of what turned into numerous weeklong volunteer trips over the years in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina, culminating in a year-round position with ASP, last year, in Wyoming County, Va., and currently, a second year-round staff position in Lee County, Va.
“When I started out, at 14 years old, I don’t think I could have told you the difference between a Phillips and a flat head [screwdriver],” Ms Temple said, but working with other skilled volunteers has allowed Ms Temple to learn about construction and project management.
It was the project management skills that helped qualify her for her current positions as construction coordinator, she said. “This position deals with the facilitation of that volunteer labor towards the completion of projects,” Ms Temple said. She is also responsible for project planning, providing materials, serving as point of contact for volunteers and homeowners, seeking new projects, and, if necessary, offering her hands-on help.
Her position with ASP is funded through the Lilly Endowment, a private philanthropic foundation that provides opportunities for educational, religious, and community development initiatives that promote strengthening of leadership and discernment skills in young people, said Ms Temple.
“The reason I applied for the Lilly Fellowship with ASP was because I had just graduated from college in May 2013, and had had no initial luck applying for jobs the first few months,” she said. She was not willing to settle for a job that would be just a blip on her resume. What Ms Temple wanted was a job that would give her real life experience and help her sort out her future. Her past experiences with ASP led her to believe that a fellowship to work for the nonprofit would be valuable.
“As part of the yearlong program [with ASP], each of us participates in a vocational discernment curriculum that is focused on providing us with the tools and skills we might need to better discern where we would like to go next in life,” she said.
Surroundings As Sanctuary
What has kept Ms Temple involved in ASP for the past decade is the realization that she could be a part of something bigger than herself. It has enhanced her sense of spirituality, as well.
“I feel very much in tune with the Emily Dickinson poem ‘Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church,’ which talks about the idea of considering one’s surroundings their sanctuary, treating it as such, and finding God within them. It wasn’t until volunteering with ASP that I really came to understand that that was a totally acceptable way to have and exercise my faith. I’ve found,” said Ms Temple, “that I can get more of a satisfying experience in my relationship with God if I can actively be of service to others, than if I am sitting in a pew.”
Her interactions with families in need has been diverse and eye-opening. But an experience this past February has stayed with her. While working to weatherize a home for an older couple, volunteers were in and out of the home doing repairs. The constant in and out of cold air was a stress on the home’s electric heat system. “Frank and Bonita could not keep up with this new debt to the electric company, for which we were entirely to blame. This was a truly deflating moment for us as a staff,” she said. The ASP policy does not allow volunteers to work on a home that has no electricity, and power had been cut to the home, for nonpayment. There was no way to know how long it would be before volunteers would be able to return to complete the job.
Ultimately, a volunteer group from a church in Plymouth, Mich., left ASP with extra funds from what they had raised for their trip. The money, along with a small pledge from another nonprofit, allowed the couple to reinstate power to the home. A few weeks later, the work was completed. “I had, from the beginning, looked at the home as a work site and looked at the family as a client,” admitted Ms Temple. What she found out from another volunteer, though, surprised her.
Despite the problems incurred by the group’s “help,” and the delays, Frank and Bonita were only grateful. The worker told her that “Miss Bonita” had shared that she thought of Ms Temple “like a daughter.” It was a moment that caught her emotionally off guard. “To me, the project was so simple and the impact was supposed to be a literal and tangible one,” she said. She walked away feeling humbled, and that she had not given enough for what she had gotten from Frank and Bonita.
Respect For People
“ASP has had its own very unique impact on my life. I like to think that each trip, and each experience with each project, and each family has taught me something different, and offered me new perspective on where I am with my life and my personal beliefs. Had I not become involved with ASP, I don’t know if I would be the person I am today. Certainly, I would not have the confidence I have, and I think I would have missed out on the kind of understanding and respect for people in general I have developed,” Ms Temple said.
The ASP motto is “We accept people right where they are and just the way they are.” To Ms Temple, it means that anyone is the perfect candidate to volunteer with the organization.
“What is really cool,” she said, “is that there are many different options for volunteers in terms of setting up trips. The ‘bread and butter’ of ASP consists of the summer program, which operates during a seven-week span through June and July. The rest of the year, as year-round staff, we host at our four year-round facilities.”
Ms Temple encouraged people interested in finding out more about ASP to visit the website at ASPhome.org, or to contact Karen Frederick in the volunteer department (go to the About ASP tab, under Our Staff).
Katie Temple will serve the communities of Lee County, Va., this year, sharing what she has learned with others and continuing to learn more as she determines “what I’d like to be when I grow up. If given the opportunity, I would love to continue to work with ASP in some capacity. If nothing else, I think I would love to remain a part of the nonprofit world.”
When there is no clear answer to what lies ahead, Ms Temple considers a question others have asked her: “What are you passionate about?” To that, her only answer is, “Making the world a better place.”