TEARS AND laughter filled Wilde Lake Interfaith Center on Sunday as a group of Howard County residents from the Church of St. John the Evangelist United Methodist-Presbyterian and St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Community shared their experiences after a week's work on the Appalachia Service Project in Tennessee.
ASP is a home-repair and home-building ministry affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The organization invites high school and college groups, individuals and families from all denominations to assist with the housing needs of economically disadvantaged people in Appalachia.
Since 1980, the congregation of St. John the Evangelist United Methodist-Presbyterian has sent a group of teens and adult leaders to participate in the program. In 1991, St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Community joined them in sending a team from its congregation. The two congregations have collaborated in an interfaith effort to serve the residents of Appalachia ever since.
"It's a very good project, and I think it's a good interfaith project," said Fred Riedel, who along with his wife, Nancy, has led the Howard County ASP volunteers since 1996.
"It's a winning situation for the people in ASP, but it's a winning situation for our teen-agers, too, because they get to see a different culture. It's a win for us adults because you build these great relationships with the kids."
"One of the reasons I like the project is that we belong to a community that's very rich, with a lot of education. This is not the real world," Nancy Riedel said. "We take the teens into other parts of the country to see what life is really like. It's very enriching."
As they shared stories of their week in the mountains of Tennessee, it was obvious that many of the teen-agers were deeply affected by their experiences there.
"Low-income housing in Columbia can't compare to the level of poverty we saw in the South," said Catriona Hays, 16. She and members of her crew helped repair plumbing and replace a kitchen floor for a family with a disabled 11-year-old son named B.J.
Matthew Gilmartin, 16, said that working to repair B.J.'s home was a life-changing experience for him. "They really opened up to us," he said. "They were a family that shared their lives, their hopes and their dreams with us and we did the same."
Jamie Stephens, 18, helped repair electrical wiring and plumbing as well as build an addition on a house.
"You can't go into ASP and not be affected," she said. "These people really don't have much materially, but they have a lot emotionally and spiritually, and they give you so much more than you can ever give them. They give you insight into their lives, and it completely changes who you are."
"How many kids would give up a week of their summer vacation to go to Appalachia where it's hot, they don't have air conditioning, and sleep on the floor of a gym and go to work and sweat all day?" asked Brad Barth, a resident of Harper's Choice who has been an ASP volunteer for 10 years.
Barth said he sees a big change in the teens after the trip. "We're going from one of the richest counties in the country to some of the poorest areas, and the kids grow up. It's a humbling experience," he said.
Clara Powell, a member of the Church of St. John the Evangelist United Methodist-Presbyterian, enjoyed hearing the teens speak. "It gives us an opportunity to see kids in a different light - the ones that we don't read about in the newspaper and we don't see on television - doing good and giving of themselves," she said.
Information about the Appalachia Service Project: www.asphome.org.
Teen volunteers needed
The Columbia Association's Volunteer Corps has published a guide for teen-agers who want to enrich their community through volunteer work.
The "2000 Teen Guide" lists opportunities for camp counselors, research work with the Columbia Archives, clerical work for local organizations and more.
Information: Sandra Fairhurst, 410-715-3163.
Vagabond Puppets and the Wilde Lake Community Association's Rainbow Theater will present "Beauty and the Beast" at 10:30 a.m. July 15 at Slayton House Theater.
Tickets are $4 each and should be purchased in advance. Call ahead to see if tickets will be available at the door.
Information: 410-730-3987 .