Appalachia Blog


Thursday morning began like our other weekday mornings with the exception that the students did not have to pack their own lunches - something they were excited about.  After breakfast, we returned to The Neighborhood for our final community service project. 

The Neighborhood director, Jeremy, greeted us and gave us a tour, speaking passionately about the purpose and mission of The Neighborhood.  There are eight independent non-profits operating inside the one building, which make up The Neighborhood. While we had been there before, it was good to hear more about how everything works together and how passionate they are to end handouts and instead give people a hand-up to help them break the cycle of poverty and homelessness.  It is a major focus to treat all people with dignity, no matter their current circumstances.  

The entire team started serving at The Dressing Room, helping sort and organize donations, focusing on the linens area.  After inspecting, refolding, and sorting towels, sheets, blankets, and curtains for three hours, visible progress was made.  One of The Dressing Room's staff said that was the first time she had seen that floor in a very long time, if ever! After this week, all of the students have learned the importance of being a good donor -- donating only items in good condition.  

Around 11:00, the majority of the students were able to serve in the Community Kitchen. This was a great opportunity for the students to serve lunch to needy families and individuals. Because of the size of our group, the students were able to serve the people at tables, restaurant style, instead of them having to go through a cafeteria line. After they delivered the food to the tables, many students were able to sit and talk to the people they were serving while they ate their meals. Many of them reported having great conversations with people. Some conversations were just giving them someone to talk to and letting them know they were cared about. With some of the diners, our students were able to share about how they were from Georgia and were here to serve because they love Jesus and want to serve others.  

Once we left The Neighborhood, we went to Malibu Jack's Indoor Adventure Park.  We had a late pizza lunch and then the students (and leaders) had three hours at the park.  There was everything from laser tag, bowling, bumper cars, go-karts, mini golf, an indoor roller coaster, a spinning thrill ride called Wipe Out, and arcade games.   There was something for everyone's level of adventure and fun.

Before returning to our home at Send Relief, we had dinner at Smokin J's.  The food was delicious, but what stood out the most was the kindness of our waitress.  She took care of the needs of all 24 of us on her own and with a smile.  Even when having to deal with spilled drinks, changed orders, and being splattered with the whipped cream that was smashed in Connell's face for his birthday.

Our final devotion and reflection time was special as the students were able to share about some of their conversations over lunch and about how they had seen God work during the entire trip.  There were also several Raving Fan reports as they noted how each other had served and how their teachers had served them during the trip.  One exciting contribution to the evening was receiving a picture of students already using the Gaga ball pit and room we had painted at Louisa Baptist church earlier in the week! 

Our true final act of service for the trip took place back at Send Relief.  We cleaned the kitchen, main meeting room, public restrooms and in general, tried to leave the place better than we found it.  All of the students worked together and made quick work of the job.  In the morning, they will clean their own rooms before we load the buses and head home.  


WEDNESDAYby Alana Long - US STEM Teacher
Wednesday was another good day of serving both local ministries and churches.  When we first arrived in Appalachia, we were told that this is an area with many churches but not many Christ followers.  Any short drive will confirm that there is not a shortage of church buildings.  However, every pastor we have ministered with so far has been at their church for 5 years or less and says that over the years church attendance has declined greatly, especially after the Covid pandemic.  The prayer is that the door-to-door delivery of invitations to special church events, and the general maintenance work we have performed will help these churches continue to grow and reach their communities.

Our team started the day at Hillcrest Bruce Missions.  This is a local ministry that only has two employees and relies on volunteers and work placement programs to operate.  The focus of Hillcrest Bruce Missions (named after the two apartment complexes it sits between and serves) is to change the cultural mindset and give a hand up and out of poverty instead of giving handouts.  To change the cycle of generational poverty, they have a two-three year process that prepares individuals to enter the working/middle class by focusing on four areas in the order of basic care, health, education, and social/spiritual needs.

While at Hillcrest Bruce Missions, we were able to help them repair a fence, unpack groceries for the food pantry, and maximize garbage dumpster space.  

After our final student-packed lunch at Central Park, we went to Christ Covenant Church.  This is a new church plant that was gifted an old church building.  Thanks to a previous volunteer group from the same Send Relief organization, the remodeling project was well underway.  Our group was able to help them paint an upstairs room and give the entire church building and grounds a good cleaning.  Everything was cleaned from the nursery toys to the ceiling fans.  The outside grounds cleanup was especially important because they are preparing for an outdoor Easter egg hunt and community outreach.  We had planned to deliver fliers to homes in the neighborhood, but unfortunately the member printing the fliers had a family health emergency.  

Since we ended our service time at Christ Covenant Church earlier than expected, we decided to try another local ice cream spot that came highly recommended, Crisp's Dairy.  The ice cream did not disappoint.  We enjoyed our treat at another local park that was directly across the street from Crisp's.  This park had multiple walking trails, disc golf courses and playgrounds.  After getting discs from the library, several students challenged Mr. Speck in disc golf.    

Dinner was once again delicious - the only complaint from the students was that they probably gained weight this week with all the good food.  The devotional and sharing time after dinner was very special tonight.  After the devotion, the students were asked to share any suggestions for future trips and to tell things they really liked about the trip and time in Appalachia.  This quickly turned into a time of the students reflecting on all the week's activities and how appreciative they have found everyone we served.  The most common "suggestion" was that they would like to have had more time to interact with the Appalachians.  

Tomorrow morning we will return to The Neighborhood where we think we will be serving in the Community Kitchen.  We have learned to stay flexible, but the plan is that the students will be able to serve meals to those coming for assistance and even sit with them as they eat.

TUESDAYby Josh Speck, Upper School Teacher

Tuesday took our Appalachia team to "The Neighborhood," a collection of non-profit entities housed all in the same building that is designed to be a one-stop shop for those in need. If someone is in need, they can get a new change of clothes, a haircut, a meal, and a visit to the health clinic all at one place.

The first of the two entities that our team helped today was The Dressing Room. As the name implies, this is a clothing shop. Every year during prom season The Dressing Room removes all of their usual inventory and sells only prom dresses, shoes, and jewelry in an event they call "Promenade."

Our job today was to convert everything back to their usual inventory. Our team packed every prom dress off of every rack into boxes and stacked those boxes on the highest shelves in their storage area to be out of the way until next year's Promenade. We hung up all of the clothes that were lying in bins and displayed those clothes on the racks in the store.

The second group that we helped today was the the Ashland Community Kitchen. We served meals to the guests who came in for lunch and then had the opportunity to sit down and talk with them. Several of our students stepped way out of their comfort zones to try to have gospel conversations with complete strangers. On top of that, our kids made about 200 sandwiches for the guests to take with them, effectively providing them with a second meal.

After breaking for lunch at Central Park (only a little smaller than the one in Manhattan), we went to Burnaugh Baptist Church in a small community about 20 minutes from Ashland. They are hosting a "hunt for the truth" on the Saturday before Easter, so we went door-to-door handing out fliers for the event and inviting people to come. We spend about two hours walking through two small neighborhoods. We enjoyed a dinner of chicken and dumplings and devotions led by Luke Dorsey before calling it a night.


by Alana Long, US STEM teacher
The Appalachia Team was honored to serve Emmanual Baptist Church in Louisa, KY today. This small church is very active in its community, and we were glad to help them minister to others and make the church building more inviting to its members and guests. The inside of the church building (which is a converted school) received a fresh coat of paint in the foyer, nursery, and bathrooms (nicknamed 1, 2, and 3 John).

While many team members were making the church look nice on the inside, others were working outside with a pressure washer and helping to finish a fence around the playground. The playground also now has a new addition of a Gaga ball pit! 

Several students also took on a task that originally seemed overwhelming - sorting clothing donations in a garage storage area. The garage has been turned into a clothing ministry that is open at all times to the community. The clothing area is called The ROCK and is a partnership with a homeschool co-op that meets at the church once a week (ROCK = Raising Our Christian Kids). Hosting the ROCK co-op is a major outreach ministry of Emmanual Baptist Church, so we were glad to help them with the clothing donations and the Gaga ball pit for their students.

After a full day's work, we started the 45 minute drive back to Ashland and our home for the week at Send Relief. Along the way, we stopped for a treat at Austin's Homemade Ice Cream. This is a local ice cream parlor that has won national awards. The ice cream was delicious! Dinner tonight (and for the rest of our service days) was catered by a local woman who partners with Send Relief.

Our night ended with a student led devotion and team share time during which they shared where they had seen God at work today and Raving Fan reports. God was seen at work in the safety and effectiveness of the day and in the realization about how what we were doing would be so helpful for families in helping to provide for their needs and a safe place for them to bring their children. The sorting and paint crews both received Raving Fan shout outs. Luke Dorsey received a special shout out for getting the pressure washer started and being the one to get the difficult nails out of the wall while prepping to paint.

We will go to The Neighborhood tomorrow to serve the needy in the local Ashland community. Some of the students are ending the night with the now-traditional volleyball circle, but no one complained about having an earlier lights out time tonight after the long work day.

SUNDAY by Josh Speck, US Faculty
Sunday in Appalachia was an awesome day of service with a Spring Carnival at Unity Baptist Church in Ashland, Kentucky. We began our day with Connell cooking breakfast sandwiches for everyone, then we attended the service at Unity. After the service was over, we were given instructions and fed pizza for lunch.

After lunch, it was "all systems go" setting up for the carnival. Each student helped set up the booth that they were assigned to work and then tirelessly served the families who came to enjoy the festivities. Our students worked bouncy houses, painted faces, made cotton candy, and shared the Easter story. The members of Unity Baptist with whom we served were so incredibly thankful for the hard work our kids put in setting up, tearing down, and serving their community.

We are so grateful that we were able to start our week this way - our Appalachia team has already begun to make an impact and learn what it means to "Live Sent."

Tomorrow, we are headed to Louisa, Kentucky, to serve a very small church in need of help painting and making repairs.


by Josh Speck, US Faculty
The rain cleared out at just the right time for the Appalachia team hit the road Saturday morning. Things went smoothly on the drive up - our only difficulty was some very gusty winds shortly after we crossed into Kentucky.

We arrived at the SEND Relief Mission Center in Ashland at about 5:30, at which time we met Jamie, our leader with SEND Relief. Jamie conducted our orientation meeting and shared with us many important details about our trip. First, it's pronounced "app-uh-latch-uh," not "app-uh-laysh-uh." While that seems silly, Jamie told us very seriously that pronouncing it wrong will often mean the end of a conversation, especially in West Virginia.

He taught us that SEND Relief's mantra is "people before project" - having a gospel conversation with someone is far more important than painting a fence. We learned that poverty and addiction are the biggest challenges that this community faces, how SEND Relief is working to help people overcome these challenges, and how we get to take part.

After orientation, we enjoyed a great meal from a local Mexican restaurant, took a quick trip to Walmart for cookies, and then came back to the Center for a quick team meeting and devotions led by Ava Davis. Ava read from Matthew 20:28 and shared with the group five keys to serving others. We will kick off the week serving Unity Baptist Church here in Ashland as they host a festival for families in the area.

Tomorrow we should have some great pictures of our kids running the booths and games for local families.