ASP volunteers renovating local homes

By Greg Miller

A variety of renovation projects is keeping Appalachian Service Project (ASP) volunteers busy this summer improving the lives of a number of Elizabethton/Carter County residents.
   Todd Ermer, ASP's Director of Summer Ministries, estimates that about 18-25 local homes will be included in the approximately 100 Tennessee residences that will be repaired this year. The length of each project determines the total number of projects, Ermer said. "We try to take a little bit longer at a house and make sure it's done well, instead of trying to say that we did more houses but the quality of the work wouldn't be as high."
   Safety, sensitivity and stewardship are three important aspects of the program, according to Ermer. "We try to be sensitive to what the family has been going through, not just go in there and criticize what they have. We just try to meet the need. We're there to serve and not to judge. We accept people where they are and just the way they are.
   "We try to make the homes warmer, safer and drier," Ermer said. Adding insulation or a heat source are examples of how a home can be made warmer. Repairing the electrical system, fixing holes in the floor, or adding wheelchair ramps make homes safer. Repairing roofs and fixing plumbing leaks helps drainage problems.
   The volunteers complete a rigid training program. "They have to do a lot of preparation work, study services and learn about the Appalachian culture," he said. "They also do construction training. A lot of the youth who come are in their teens and have never worked a power saw, so they'll get some experience measuring and cutting."
   Adult leaders must accompany the youth on the projects. "They have to come with adult leadership," Ermer said. "The ratio is usually two adults for every five youth."
   Approximately 13,000 volunteers serve ASP's clients. Approximately 500 volunteers are expected to work on ASP projects in Carter County this summer. About 500 different church groups, mostly youth groups, from 31 states and Washington, D.C., are working on approximately 450 ASP projects nationwide. In addition to time, the volunteers also raise or give funds. Each person pays a $175 "volunteer fee," and each work crew of 4-7 people pays $375.
   The summer program's budget is about $2 million. "Ninety percent of that comes from the volunteer fees, the money that they raise," Ermer said. Volunteers are involved in a lot of fundraising activities to raise the needed moneys for transportation and for materials to repair the homes.
   Volunteers representing approximately 13 denominations work on ASP's projects. "It's a form of evangelism, but we don't try to convert anyone to a certain faith," Ermer said. "The reason we're doing this is we believe God is calling us to serve other people. We want to share his love with them.
   "One of the main focuses of our ministry is on relationships. We're not only there to repair homes, we try to build relationships with the homeowners and share God's love with them."
   Those who want to serve as ASP summer volunteers must submit an application in the fall of the year preceding the one in which they want to serve. Weekend volunteer opportunities are available year-round in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.
   ASP ministers in the following Tennessee counties: Carter, Cocke, Hancock, Union and Scott, as well as Eastern Kentucky, Southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.
   ASP's volunteers and paid workers are working out of Little Milligan Elementary School. "We are definitely grateful for all the support we have," Ermer said. "We're appreciative of the Carter County School Board and Little Milligan Elementary School for their hospitality."
   For more information about how to apply for home repair assistance, visit your local Neighborhood Service Center. For more information about serving as a volunteer, call 854-8800, e-mail or log onto the Web site,
   Tax-deductible donations may be sent to ASP, 4523 Bristol Highway, Johnson City, TN 37601.