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Mountain family now has running water, thanks to ministry

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A UMNS photo by Ronny Perry

Appalachia Service Project volunteers work on Kathy and Jerry Jackson's home in Lake City, Tenn.
Sept. 5, 2006

A UMNS Feature
By Henri Giles*

Even in the 21st century, indoor plumbing remains but a dream for many Americans.

Kathy and Jerry Lynn Jackson of Lake City, Tenn., know this all too well. The picturesque surroundings of the Appalachian Mountains cannot mask the poverty in their rural area. Their four-room house, built during the Great Depression, is tucked way in the mountains of east Tennessee and has seen few improvements over the years.

“We were sitting here with no hope, no money, didn’t know what we were going to do to fix the place up,” says Jerry Jackson. “The things that needed to be done, we just couldn’t afford to do.”

For the past 13 years, the Jacksons lived with a makeshift bathroom.

“Our toilet was non-flushable,” Kathy Jackson recalls. “We had to take a 5-gallon bucket of water and flush it, and in the wintertime it was like a deep freezer. Our water would freeze, even in the bathtub.”

Like so many of their neighbors, the Jackson family was in need. Help came by way of the Appalachia Service Project, an organization founded by a United Methodist minister and comprising volunteers from around the country who make home repairs.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Ronny Perry

Kathy Jackson has running water in her home thanks to the Cup of Cold Water Project.

The Cup of Cold Water Project, which is a part of the Appalachia Service Project, provides plumbing to homes without running water. Last summer, Kathy’s sister, who lives nearby, was having work done on her house by a team of service project volunteers. Kathy approached the workers and asked for help.

“These people just happened to be in the neighborhood,” Jerry says. “(It was) just like God had sent them here because they knew it was work to be done.”

After going through the application process, she and Jerry became eligible this past summer to receive the improvements their house so badly needed. For eight weeks, volunteers worked all day in oppressive heat to make the Jackson home more comfortable.

Linda Honea, external relations coordinator for the service project, tells what the renovation includes. “The Cold Cup of Water project is providing them with a first-time septic system, a room addition which is their brand new bathroom, complete with tub, shower, vanity, sink and toilet. We’re doing a complete re-wire of the house.”

Jerry is grateful for the new electrical work. “The switchbox wouldn’t carry enough electricity to supply the house,” he says.

Adds Kathy: “Gosh, we were so worried it would burn the house down because the fuse box was real loose.”

Travis Packer, one of the Appalachia Service Project’s community coordinators, likens the work to an extreme home makeover and notes that it brings many levels of satisfaction for those involved.

“It feels great to have a purpose every day, to walk out and know what things you need to do that day and that those things are the right things for other people. It’s very satisfying for us to hang out here and do work with them, so I don’t think of it as us coming to serve them. It’s all of us serving together.”

Need still remains

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Ronny Perry

Jerry and Kathy Jackson can now turn on a faucet, flush a toilet and enjoy a hot shower.

Since 1969, the Appalachia Service Project has helped reduce the number of families living without running water and in dilapidated houses. Founded by a United Methodist minister, the Rev. Glenn “Tex” Evans, the service project has helped thousands of families enjoy a safer, warmer and drier home.

The organization serves people in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Each summer, more than 13,000 volunteers venture out to help improve the living conditions for 400 families.

“The thing that I love about ASP the most is that it’s a relational ministry and that the work we do is really wonderful. It will last a very long time, and it will make a difference in a family’s life,” says Dorota Pruski, a service project summer director.

Great need remains. The organization is able to assist only one in six people who apply, according to Linda Honea. “Quite a number of families around here do not have adequate facilities, and we did not have a problem finding homes to work on this summer. It takes everything large and small coming together in these hills and hollers to make ASP go.”

Changed lives

The volunteers range from teens to retirees. Meeting and working with the families is often a life-changing experience. This is 17-year-old Justine Norys’ third summer. “When I come here, I’m definitely changed from before. It makes me more appreciative, humble, and I feel like it’s my way to help serve others while serving for God. I can go home and be so thankful and do my best to help others.” The Woodstock, Ill., student has also encouraged family and friends to volunteer.

Retired carpenter Merle Freund takes a quick break from his saw to survey the work site. He is also a repeat volunteer from Woodstock. “At first I used to come down here because I thought I would be helping people. Now I come down here because it’s just darn fun!”

To show his appreciation, Jerry helped the team of workers with the renovation. He says the volunteers’ dedication has restored his faith in people helping others. Because of the kindness of strangers, Jerry and his family will spend this winter in a home that is warm. They won’t have to carry in water from outside to cook and bathe. Jerry and Kathy Jackson will be able to turn on a faucet, flush a toilet and enjoy a hot shower.

These simple conveniences that many Americans take for granted have forever changed the lives of a family. This experience has also changed the lives of the workers who wanted to make a difference.

*Giles is a freelance producer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Fran Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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