By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Where can you find the breathtaking natural beauty of majestic mountains, sloping valleys and good people coupled with the ugliness of stark poverty? The answer is Central Appalachia, a United States region where the poverty rate is more than double the national average.
Fortunately, organizations like the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) bring compassionate groups of youths and adults together to improve the living conditions for impoverished people in that area. One such group is ASP: Westborough. In July, the team of approximately 75 teenagers and 30 adult leaders will travel to Appalachia for one week to enrich the lives of its residents, while learning from them as well.
Started in 1969 by Reverend Glenn “Tex” Evans and based in Johnson City, Tenn., ASP is “a Christian ministry, open to all people, that inspires hope and service through volunteer home repair in Central Appalachia.”
Utilizing the time and talent of 17,000 volunteers from across the United States each year, its goal is “to make homes warmer, safer and drier for families in need.”
Sarah Dingus, volunteer specialist for ASP's Summer/Youth Program, said that ASP hopes to not only transform the lives of the families it helps, but those of the volunteers as well.
“Our main goals, in the lives of the volunteers, is to foster service,” she said.
To prepare for their service trip, the teens and adults from Westborough's First United Methodist Church and Saint Luke the Evangelist Parish – the two churches that jointly form ASP: Westborough – have been participating in fundraising events. The events, which are scattered throughout the year, include a rummage sale, a can and bottle drive, a talent show and a chili challenge. They also spent a recent weekend at Camp Aldersgate in North Scituate, R.I., learning about home repair tools and safety. In addition to receiving practical training from adult mentors, the volunteers celebrated and bonded with each other through prayer and live music.
After a recent church service at St. Luke's Parish, a girl, who had volunteered for the 2013 trip, spoke to parishioners about how the ASP has impacted her life. She shared her group's experience of helping a family whose home no longer had a front door. At night, animals would enter their home. Wanting to help protect the family, the group stayed hours longer than necessary in order to hang a new door. At the end of the night, the volunteers were exhausted and hungry. Nevertheless, helping the family, and seeing how appreciative they were, was incredibly gratifying, she explained.
People who would like to donate to ASP: Westborough may contact the First United Methodist Church at [email protected].
According to ASP, those who support ASP: Westborough are giving much more than money.
“It changes the lives of the families we work for,” Dingus said. “It enables them to breathe a little easier. It gives them hope.”
For more information on the Appalachia Service Project, visit www.asphome.org.