SWAP Program Repairs Homes, Builds Understanding

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SWAP Crewby Jeanne Marie Hibberd

More than 50 families in Knott County Kentucky have safe, warm and dry homes; and more than 500 volunteers have learned powerful lessons thanks to a partnership between a group of local nonprofits.

Four years ago the Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) Appalachia program coordinator approached Hindman Settlement School executive director Mike Mullins about providing housing for a missionary family from Canada who were moving to the area. Their goal was to establish a SWAP Program in Knott County. Mullins agreed, and together with the Hindman United Methodist Church, the Settlement School became a SWAP Program partner.

SWAP stands for “Sharing With Appalachian People” and is a “serve and learn” program that operates in three Appalachian counties in Kentucky and one in West Virginia. SWAP seeks to put faith into action by working among people suffering from poverty, conflict, oppression and natural disaster. The Knott County program is directed by Peter and Kristin Farquharson, who moved to Hindman Settlement School’s campus three years ago with their children: Cameron, Megan and Ian. The kids have all worked with the program.

SWAP Volunteers“Our primary objective is to serve individuals and families who have fallen through the cracks,” Peter says. “But the folks who volunteer their service reap equal or greater benefit.”

Most SWAP volunteers come from out-of-state churches, schools and youth programs. Each volunteer pays a $300 fee for the weeklong experience. The fee helps to support the program and cover some of the food and housing for the groups. The Hindman United Methodist Church provides space to house the Knott County work crews each summer.

SWAP currently operates in McDowell County, WV; and Letcher, Harlan and Knott Counties in KY. In 2008 there were 77 volunteer groups with 1,369 volunteers. More than 100 homeowners received help making their homes safe, warm and dry.

Most volunteers participate in a weeklong project during the summer. Many learn new building skills, but they also receive another kind of education.

“The lasting impact is that relationships are built which help breakdown stereotypes between the homeowners, locals and outsiders.” Each evening, volunteers share “Highs & Lows” of the experience. The week is something that most first-time participants never forget.

“We have learned anew that being blessed is not dependent on physical and financial well being. We must guard against becoming rich in things and poor in soul . . .”
—SWAP Volunteer Couple

Applications for local assistance are typically screened through the LKLP Community Action Council, which serves Leslie, Knott, Letcher and Perry counties and operates a home weatherization program. Homeowners are typically expected to provide some materials, assist in the labor and help to feed volunteers. “It’s a hand up, not a hand out,” says Kristin. Occasionally they arrange a payment plan for the owner.

Projects are chosen both on the basis of need and on whether the job can be accomplished by a group of volunteers, during a period of one week, or several weeks during the summer.

“We do a lot of wheelchair ramps, roofing projects, some gutter and soffit work, retaining walls, ditches, painting, drywall,” Peter said. “We do less with plumbing because that requires a higher level of skill and fewer volunteers.”

If you are interested in making a donation to support the SWAP Program, you can download a list of Hindman Location SWAP Needs for 2009.

For more information, visit

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