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Morris church celebrates 30 years serving Appalachia

MORRIS – Those walking down Liberty Street at this year’s Grundy County Corn Festival were able to get a glimpse into a summer project near and dear to the hearts of many community members.

That’s where the high school youth group of the First United Methodist Church of Morris displayed photographs of several years of their summertime Appalachian Service Projects. The trips go to some of the most unwealthy areas in remote locations of the Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia region.

The church is celebrating its 30th year of participating in the Appalachian Service Project and already is meeting to start planning the 31st.

“We’re there to meet the needs of the families and to help spread the word of God,” said Ryan Jacobs, one of the leaders of the church’s Senior High Youth Group. “The kids who go are just awesome. They want to be there and work hard, and when we go, it’s usually during the really hot and humid weather in June or July.”

Students can go on the weeklong ASP trips the summers after their freshman through senior years of high school.

Students work on homes with safety issues – a project done last year included taking off an old, crumbling roof and replacing it with a new one, and replacing dry wall and insulation.

Trip leaders have some know-how on how to accomplish the jobs, he said, and the returning students usually have a good head for what needs to be done, as well.

Kyle Monk, a senior at Morris Community High School, has been to Kentucky on three ASP trips and plans to go again this summer.

“The houses are usually pretty far back in the holler,” he said. “They’re usually three-room houses. They have a family room with a very small kitchen portion, a bedroom and a bathroom. Sometimes their walls are built out of wood the family just found somewhere, and they’re usually really thin. The floor and the ceiling are the same way.”

During Monk’s three years, he has re-roofed homes, dug ditches for drainage, built a wall into a hill to prevent erosion, fixed up a patio, put insulation underneath a home, built new walls and tiled a room.

“It’s almost like a completely different world there,” he said. “The people with less stuff are happier with what they have. ... You really learn to be thankful for everything that you have, even the small things.”

Seneca High School senior Maggie Thomas also has been on three of the ASP trips. She noticed the same thing as Monk about the attitudes of the people they helped there.

“Some of the people we worked with had been through a whole life of hardships,” she said. “But they still had a complete faith in God, and they still found time to go help other people, even if they didn’t have much themselves.

“It completely changed the way I look at things. I realize how truly blessed I am and my family is. There are so many people living in our own country who have it so much worse.”

Jacobs said he loves seeing the growth in the students who go.

“It’s such an experience for them to see how some other people in the country live,” he said. “Some don’t even have a front door. They don’t have any fancy possessions, but they are always very happy. They’re not in the rat race.”

The church helps raise money for the high school students’ trips with an annual spring auction, Gus Macker tear-downs, and sells pork burgers on the Sundays of the Grundy County Corn Festival.

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