Summer of SWAP

SWAP (Sharing With Appalachian People) is a home repair program of Mennonite Central Committee Great Lakes in partnership with the Hindman Settlement School and the Hindman United Methodist Church. SWAP, a “Serve and learn” program that provides safe, warm and dry housing for families living in substandard housing in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.

Summer starts with 3 days of all SWAP staff orientation at the Harlan site. The first week in June is designated for Hindman SWAP summer staff orientation. This year our job site coordinators were Michael Shirk from Austin Texas, Matthew Blosser from Elkhart Indiana, and locals Matthew Hicks and volunteer staff Darrell Slone. In June the new West Virginia location coordinators, Lee and Peg Martin, worked alongside us to learn the ropes. There was not a consistent cook staff and this job was met by Peg and weekly volunteers.

From June until mid-August a total of 116 volunteers from ten different groups came for a week of service here in Knott County.  Groups came from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Thirteen homes were repaired. Volunteers fixed plumbing leaks, cleaned gutters, constructed handicap ramps, fixed porches, covered roof leaks, put on new roofs, installed new windows, put in new doors, painted walls and ceilings, patched sheet rock, ran new electrical circuits, put down new sub flooring and laid new laminate. Many of the homeowners were elderly widows and widowers. New friendships were formed between volunteers and homeowners. Some are writing to each other and sharing pictures.

A special project was being worked on alongside the above-mentioned repairs. SWAP in collaboration with its other partner, the Hindman United Methodist and a volunteer group of professional contractors and electricians from Dover, Ohio built a small two-bedroom house for a local man whose house had burned down in July of 2016. The group from Dover raised money, donated materials, and brought walls constructed in Ohio to Kentucky. They put the walls up in a morning and had the building under roof in 3 days. The Hindman United Methodist Church collected donations, did the site prep work, and laid the concrete slab. SWAP volunteers provided the labor during the summer months. Peter Erb, SWAP location coordinator drew the house plans, oversaw the construction, and did the finishing work. The homeowner worked alongside all during this process. The group from St. Joseph Catholic Church in Dover Ohio initiated the project but it has taken the cooperation of all three groups to make this miracle happen.

Another important component of SWAP is educating volunteers about Appalachia- its culture, its people, and elements of systemic poverty.  We are very fortunate in Hindman to take advantage of the cultural resources provided by the Settlement School. Musicians Randy Wilson, Jacob Mack-Boll and Brett Ratliff entertained and educated volunteers about Appalachian music. Weekly speakers included retired coal miners, teachers, and others who shared about life growing up and working here as well as historical perspectives.

We continue to be most grateful to the Hindman Settlement School for providing us the opportunity to work in the community and share its heritage with volunteers.