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Big Youth Group, BYG, was formed in 1992 for the sole purpose of giving high school youth from area churches the opportunity to have fellowship with one another. That first year a summer mission trip (BYG Work Camp) was planned that involved the high school youth, with adult volunteers, to spend a week doing construction work for families they had never met before. Since that first year it has been a summer tradition for many high school and college youth and adult volunteers to spend a week in July working side by side with others and serving families, who before, had not been a part of their lives.
Many of the participants do not have any construction background or have even heard of some of the tools that they will become experts at, many do not know the poverty that they will see, but all go with open hearts. Since 1996 BYG has been volunteering with Appalachia Service Project (ASP), www.asphome.org, whose mission is to make homes warmer, safer and drier in Central Appalachia. ASP works in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, where in most communities there is a poverty rate of up to three times the national average and one in four (25.04%) people live in poverty in these areas. In 2012, ASP is expanding their reach into North Carolina !
It is hard to explain to someone that has never been to Central Appalachia or been on a summer work camp what their week will be like. How do you put a life changing experience into words? How do you explain that at the end of the week of working harder than you ever knew you could that all you want to is to stay and keep working? How do you explain that the family that you didnt know seven days earlier has let you into their homes and hearts and will forever be with you?
Throughout the year, starting almost with our return home each summer, we plan for our next trip. The trip has many aspects to plan renting vehicles to drive to Central Appalachia and to use all week to carry construction supplies and the volunteers to their worksites, organizing paperwork, training for all participants of the basic tools they will use, determining the best route to travel, and of course fundraising. Each year the biggest hurdle is raising enough money to go. With our ever growing group of 37 strong and gas prices increasing every second a $33,000 budget is the reality of what needs to be raised to go, but with the memories of the past summer we buckle down and work all year to get ourselves back to Appalachia. This summer BYG will once again be traveling to the hills of Appalachia to make homes warmer, safer and drier for families we have not yet met.
It is with everyones support that we will have the opportunity to see the smile of the child that greets you when you arrive Monday morning, the hugs from the family members that are so tight you would think that you knew them your whole life and the tears in their eyes (and your own) when it is time to leave on Friday. These are all images that stay with you a lifetime, these are part of the life lessons, what you think of at the strangest of times and what goes home with you after a long week of hard work in the hot July sun.