Local volunteers build homes & hope

They left in the rain, sometimes worked in the rain, came home in rain, but they brought sunshine into many lives with what they accomplished in Appalachia.

A mission team of 109 young people and adults from Saint Thomas the Apostle Parish and Saint Catherine Laboure Parish built two homes complete with electric and plumbing, five porches, a handicap ramp and an addition.

Father Dan Sweeney, pastor of Saint Thomas the Apostle, described what the missions mean to everyone. “I wish you could share the feelings and emotions of the homeowners and the members of our group,” he said.

“What we do for the people lifts them up, gives them that extra push they need. But the real spiritual benefit is what the work does for us. It changes the volunteers,” Father Sweeney said. “Parents ask, ‘What did you do to my child? They are so much more appreciative of what they have now.’” 

Father Sweeney has led missions for 39 years, including last year’s “Camp Corona” when the volunteers couldn’t go to Kentucky because of the pandemic. Instead, teenagers camped out in tents in the parking lot of Saint Agnes church in West Mifflin, put a new roof on the social hall and built a ramp. 

Volunteers from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish spent the week of June 19-26 at Saint Vincent’s Mission in David, Kentucky, completing work projects at a school. In addition to putting a new floor in the school café, they also jacked up a house and put new supports and new flooring, built two decks, installed a kitchen and bathroom in another, and fitted new support beams under one home.  

“This year’s group included two high school students and 25 college students,” said coordinator Katie Dorman.  “The parish has been engaged with Project Hope for four decades.  Families recognize us when we return, and we invite them to a picnic to celebrate.”

The Piarist School in Hagerhill, Kentucky, hosted volunteers from Saints John and Paul and other Beaver Valley parishes for the week of July 11-17.  “We had 34 people, including 12 adults,” said Karen Walker, pastoral minister. “Father Jay Donahue, our Parish Administrator, participated as well as two staff members. We had parishioners from across our grouping.”

“We painted school classrooms, sorted through items donated to their Outreach Program, installed shelves and built steps into their new consignment shop located on the school property,” Walker said.  “We also did some repair work on residents’ houses. While we were staying in cabins located in Jenny Wiley State Park we did some work to upgrade those, as well.”

The parish found out about the need in June of 2019 when the principal visited as part of the Missionary Co-op Appeal.  He invited them to send a group down to help with the school’s Outreach Program.  After a year’s delay, “we were excited to go this year,” Walker said.