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Changers come to Whitley County


Rachel Freeman celebrated her 14th birthday by tearing off old shingles on the home of a single mother of two children.

WILLIAMSBURG, Ky. Summertime, to most young people, means a break from school and long, lazy days to hang out with friends. The teenagers who came to Williamsburg last week as part of Kentucky Changers see summer the same way, but with one important difference—their long days are anything but lazy—at least for one week.

Kentucky Changers is a mission program of the Kentucky Baptist Convention that challenges Christian youth to live out their faith while getting their hands dirty doing hard work. The youth who serve not only volunteer their time but also pay for the privilege, just as they would for a more conventional summer camp experience.

From July 5 through 13, more than 350 volunteers—middle school, high school and college students and adults—representing churches in all areas of Ky., and at least one in northern Ohio, completed jobs for 28 local families and individuals in Williamsburg and Whitley County who for physical or financial reasons need assistance to repair or maintain their homes. Materials for the work were graciously provided by businesses like 84 Lumber and W. D. Bryant and the city of Williamsburg, and were distributed to the various worksites by students in the Mountain Outreach program at University of the Cumberlands.

Before arriving in Williamsburg, where they were based at University of the Cumberlands, participants attended “On Mission” training sessions, conducted by their church groups, to help prepare for the work expected of them. Upon arrival, individuals became members of a crew of 8-13 workers, including adult crew chiefs and at least one adult encourager. Since assignments were not based on church groups, workers who started out as strangers ended the week as friends. Each crew member received a job title, such as break master, devotion leader, evangelism recorder, medic, safety inspector, or tool master, and because the crews at Williamsburg stayed in University residence halls instead of a school or church, each crew also had a key master to keep track of room keys.

While most crews put on new roofs, painted, repaired windows, made other repairs or built wheelchair ramps, one crew poured the concrete floor and framed an addition to the Emergency Christian Ministries building on U.S. 25W in Williamsburg. Despite almost daily storms, which caused delays and even prevented an afternoon off at Kentucky Splash Water Park that was provided by the city of Williamsburg, the crews pushed to finish their projects by Friday. As some crews completed their jobs, they joined other crews to help ensure that all the work planned was finished on time.

Representing a cross section of Kentuckians and residents from some neighboring states, participants in the Kentucky Changers are young and old, experienced and inexperienced workers, male and female and black and white. They come from different family backgrounds, and the adults represent many professions, including nursing, education, construction and others. Perhaps the characteristics that all Kentucky Changers share are the happy expressions that they all seem to wear and the willingness to give of their time and energy to minister to others.

Rachel Freeman, from South Marshall Middle School in Benton, the medic for Crew 26, celebrated her 14th birthday by ripping off old shingles on the porch at the home of a single mother of two. She smiled as she worked, saying, “This is my second year, and this is an awesome crew. I will do this again.”

A program like Kentucky Changers requires a great deal of planning. In fact, Peggy Murphy and Philip Ritchie, project coordinators, spent ten months planning the three summer projects—Maysville, Monticello and Williamsburg. There are also two spring projects, one for college students during spring break and one for adults. Murphy, an employee of the Men’s Department of the Kentucky Baptist Convention for 15 years, has seen Changers grow from one project with 80 volunteers in 1994, to the current five events with more than 1,000 volunteers last year. “It’s amazing how God has grown the program,” says Murphy. “Really cool.” Ritchie, who works at the water plant in Lawrenceburg, is a volunteer who devotes all his vacation time each year to Changers. He says that it gives him an opportunity to change things, and, “Seeing the change—what God has done in the lives of these kids—that’s my pay.”

Friday evening, the entire group of volunteers, as well as the home owners, community members and representatives of the University, attended a celebration service at Main Street Baptist Church. As “before and after” pictures were displayed on large screens, each crew and the home owners shared their memorable experiences of the week.

Although unable to attend the celebration, Mayor Roddy Harrison had this to say about the group’s positive impact: “With all the pessimistic outlook on our world by some, it’s a blessing to see groups like The Kentucky Changers show that there are so many great things going on and good people doing them. It’s especially heartening to see so many youth giving of their time and understanding the need for charitable deeds. I’d like to thank them, Mountain Outreach, Marc Hensley and The University of the Cumberlands for being positive aspects of our Great Town. They are a big part of why we say Williamsburg. . . ‘Feels Like Home.’”

The volunteers with Changers seem to agree with Mayor Harrison’s opinion of Williamsburg and the University. This was the third year that Laura McCoy, from Virginia, had served with Changers, and she said, “I am so grateful to University of the Cumberlands for going out of their way to make this the most accommodating and comfortable Changers ever.” Murphy and Ritchie said that this is the first time that Changers has worked in conjunction with another group like Mountain Outreach, but they were thrilled with the support and cooperation from the students and staff members who served as “runners” throughout the week.

Although Kentucky Changers were in Williamsburg for only a week, the results of their work will be visible for years to come, not only in the building repairs they made but also in the lives they have touched. They, too, have gone home changed, as the goal of Kentucky Changers, according to Murphy, is “To encourage youth to adopt missions as a lifestyle.”