Reaching out to those in need

A team of college kids wakes up before sunrise to prepare for the day. Breakfast is served at a local church and then they’re off to work. Soon, you can hear the sound of hammers pounding on a roof; kids laughing as they run into each other’s linked arms, playing red rover; a relieved sigh as a client walks out of the thrift store with bags of free food and clothing. These are just a few sounds you would hear if you spent twelve weeks at Appalachian Outreach, an organization located in the Appalachian Mountains of Jefferson City, Tennessee.

Appalachian Outreach was founded in 1984 in association with Carson-Newman College. From its beginning as a home repair organization, it has expanded to serve people who are in need of food, clothing, linens and household items. An estimated 600 clients came in and out of Appalachian Outreach in June 2009.

In order to help these 600 clients plus the home repair clients, Appalachian Outreach hires college students to work for twelve weeks. Some students are from Tennessee’s Carson-Newman, and others come from states such as Illinois and Mississippi. Many of them work on home repair projects for the summer, including roofing, tiling and landscape.

Michelle Shackleford, then a Southern Missouri student who has since transferred to Carson-Newman student, didn’t know much about home repair but was excited to learn. She wanted to make an impact on someone’s life. “I was given more opportunities to love people as they are, as we were in their homes and spending more time with them, getting to know and love them as people,” Shackleford says.

Other students work in the thrift store. Taira Smith’s job consisted of helping clients who came in the thrift store find whatever they needed. She also sorted through clothes in the back room. “We found many ‘treasures’ that we could pass on to our customers to make their children's lives better,” Smith says.

Appalachian Outreach reaches out to the children as well. A summer Bible camp is hosted at the community building in the low-income neighborhood. Smith, a Carson-Newman elementary education major, spent the majority of her time leading the Bible camp. I also helped Smith with the camp. We played games, taught Bible lessons and served the kids lunch.

Smith says the camp was the most rewarding part of her experience with Appalachian Outreach. “It was very rewarding when after the summer one of the girls wrote me a letter about being able to turn down drugs from her friends,” she says. Smith was able to connect with the kids and impact their lives.

Houses were repaired, people were fed, children were loved. The summer is gone and the students have returned to their colleges. But the work of Appalachian Outreach is never over. There are still roofs to repair, people to feed and children to be love.

“People [are] looking for someone to listen and to love them,” Smith says.

Appalachian Outreach

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