2018 is the “Year of You”
We are celebrating the “Year of You” in 2018. You sweat on our worksites in Central America and Kentucky. You invite guests to our events to hear our story. You write checks. You remember us in your estate planning. You give us your time, your talent and your treasure. And we treasure you!
This year we want to know what, and who, inspires you. If you have an immersion trip experience, favorite Hand in Hand memory, or favorite person you have met, we would love to talk with you and share your story with others through our eblasts, social media, newsletters and website. Everything begins with you, so if you have a story to share please reach out to us and let us hear your tale at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Tom Wittman, board member
I first came to Hand in Hand somewhat reluctantly. Marla and I attended the same church (Middletown Christian) and there were several times that she got up in front of the congregation and talked about Hand in Hand and invited folks to go on an immersion trip, specifically to eastern Kentucky. I would hear this and convince myself that “mission trips” are not my thing. Besides, I am a terrible handyman (as my wife Cindy and other tripsters can attest), I do not like hot weather, and I am just too busy (and probably other excuses as well). One day after church my wife said she signed up for a trip to Auxier with Hand in Hand and since I had just retired, I had run out of excuses and went with her.
The experience changed me (although I am still challenged with actually working with tools….yes really). “Lend a Hand, Change a Life” is written everywhere within Hand in Hand and I did not realize until I went on a trip (to Appalachia in my case) that the life being changed is not the people of eastern Kentucky, but it was me being changed. It is not about the work being done (which as I have stated is a good thing in my case), but it is the people and relationships formed during the trip experience that make a difference. This is true not only among the tripsters and Hand in Hand staff, but also the individual people who we get to meet and talk with during the trip (see picture of Miss Lillie and me from a couple years ago to the left).
Our world is a better place because of what people experience on a Hand in Hand immersion trip. There are books people can read that describe the importance of relationships to each of us as human beings (the Bible, Purpose Driven Life, etc.), but an immersion trip provides a real life experience to what is only written down on paper in these books. A trip really does “change a life.”
In October 2016, I gathered into a twelve passenger van at Villanova University, almost 600 miles away from Hand in Hand’s Auxier Center. Five hundred and seventy-five miles and one week later my life was changed by the people, experiences, and mountains. I had not only learned valuable home repair skills, but I also met incredible people who made their life goal to give people a hand up.
The Auxier Center created a beautiful community that made me want to return, so in October 2017 I did! Again, I had an experience that opened my perspective, allowing me to meet wonderful people and form deep relationships, and challenge me. Not only was I able to learn to replace a roof, build a floor, spackle and drywall, and build a ramp, but I was able to learn about the lives of those who live in “Hillbilly Heaven,” as the people of Auxier say. I learned of the hardships that the community endured, such as a lack of jobs and increased drug use. I learned about the joys of the community, such as the Jenny Wiley Festival and the simplicity of sitting and looking at the mountains.
Above all, Hand in Hand changed my career path. Before Auxier, I was on the path to law school and then corporate law, and I may return to that someday; however, after experiencing my week in Auxier with Hand in Hand, I saw that I was being called somewhere else. I encountered a girl on one of the sites; she was deaf in one ear and had learning disabilities. After spending a week with her, I realized I wanted to work with students as a population, so I applied to Teach For America.
For the next two years, I will be teaching in a low-income community to help combat education inequality. Without Hand in Hand, I would not have been called to teach. I feel absolutely blessed to have been welcomed into the Auxier community by Gail, Gloria, Joe, Jackie, and Rick. I know my heart and home is with Hand in Hand at the Auxier Center.
We figured when your high school son asks to do a service trip with his family before he leaves for college, it doesn’t get any better than that – we would make it happen. Six months later and our family of five was in Belize with Hand in Hand.
Our week in Belize was amazing for all of the expected reasons: we were able to build a house (in a week!) for someone who was in desperate need of housing; we met fabulous, fascinating people we would never have met otherwise; we learned about Belizean culture (in ways we would never have, had we come on a cruise ship). However, the surprises were even better. The woman who was going to live in the home we were building – the woman who was there, side by side with us, hammering away on her house in the hot Belize sun – decided to cook lunch for ALL TWENTY of us, not once, but each day!
No need to read the story of the Widow’s Mite, when it is being lived in front of your very eyes…Before the week was over, all three of our kids agreed; we needed to go on another trip, but next time we needed to bring their cousins (and Aunt and Uncle!) and most importantly, Grandma. Nicaragua brought more surprises – perhaps my favorite memory was the look on Grandma’s face, when one of the gentlemen we were building with complimented her, remarking that he had never seen someone look so elegant while doing cement work!
So, our family says: GO! Go often! Bring family! Bring friends!
You will arrive back home richer than when you left!
Alex Cox signed up with some friends for a trip to Nicaragua his sophomore year of high school and he’s been involved with Hand in Hand ever since.
“I really liked the cultural immersion aspect of it and seeing the impact,” Cox said.
Alex’s group built a house for Nan, our cook in Belize. “It was really cool because we knew her before we even went to help with the house.”
By the time he needed to decide on an Eagle Scout project, he was invested in Hand in Hand’s mission.
“I like your focus on hand-ups, not hand-outs.”
Hand in Hand moved offices in the summer of 2017, which was the perfect time to help out, Alex said. After talking with staff, he decided to revamp our garage space. This space is used to house tools and equipment for our Louisville Urban Immersion groups that serve in West Louisville.
“I just wanted to create a space that’s going to be helpful for you all,” he said.
In order to raise money for the project, Alex hosted a trivia night. Over 70 people were present at the trivia night where parents provided snacks and prizes were donated. Alex raised over $1,000 dollars for the garage project.
“I just wanted to do something a little different. I knew we needed a relatively large amount of money…” he said. “I wanted to do something kind of fun.”
With what he raised, he was not only able to finish the space, but also add electric and lights. Henderson Services donated their time and services for this project.
Alex’s favorite part was seeing it all come together. “Just seeing the finished space and thinking about how useful it’s going to be for you guys, hopefully, in the future.”
Alex still remembers what he learned from his immersion trip experience last year.
“I have gained a different view on the world,” he said. “Seeing the people there (Nicaragua) and seeing how grateful they were even with how little they had, really has changed the way I look at things.”
Hand in Hand can’t thank Alex enough for his passion and hard work with this project! The garage space will serve hundreds of volunteers in our Urban Immersion program.
When I first met Jeptha on a cold February day in 2016, he was elated to see us. He was a little disheveled but a gentle soul living in a four-room, concrete block home on the top of a steep hill in Hagerhill, KY. He was heating his home with a kerosene heater and the heat was escaping through a large hole in his ceiling. He had no bed and was sleeping on an old couch with springs exposed. He had no running water, but access to water from the cistern behind his house.
With no access to a washing machine, he simply wore the same clothes and the ones he didn’t wear were piled onto a chair or in black garbage bags. The bathtub and sink were useless and he did the best he could to keep his house clean, but also struggled with throwing away items he no longer needed.
As a team, we patched the hole in his ceiling, removed the old, dirty carpet and couch, and sorted through the belongings that were strewn through his house. Slowly, he began to help.
He worked with the group to sort through his own belongings and decided himself what he wanted to keep and what he wanted to throw away. We cleaned the bathroom and it was ready for demo. Jackie (Project Coordinator) installed a new shower with a bathtub and a new sink. A group later hooked up his cistern to the house and he had access to water in his home.
Now, he is healthy and happy. His home has been painted and a bed was donated so he no longer needs to sleep on an old, broken-down couch. He also has in-home care assistance which helps him pay bills, arrange doctors’ appointments and maintain his home. Gail (Auxier Director) now takes groups to visit Jeptha, someone who has transformed not only himself, but also the volunteers who have spent time with him.
I remember a tripster asked him how his day was going the first time we met him and he responded, ‘I have no complaints today.’ Looking around at the living conditions, we all agreed to not complain about the blessings that we do have, and now Jeptha is one of those blessings.
To see more of Jeptha and his home, skip to the 4:15 mark in this video of Assumption High School’s 2016 trip.