POINT PLEASANT — Volunteers from around the country will soon be bunking at the Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church and assisting local people in need regardless of denomination or faith.
The Presbyterian Church is one of eight mission locations for the West Virginia Ministry of Advocacy and Workcamps (WVMAW) in the state. Church volunteers have built two dormitories to house volunteer groups working for WVMAW with the first group set to arrive March 1 from Cabrini College in Pennsylvania.
On Monday, Joan Stewart, executive director, and Karen Robinson, resource director, for WVMAW, broke bread with volunteers and members of the Presbyterian Church to speak about the organization’s mission in Mason County.
The WVMAW is supported in part by the Presbytery of West Virginia, the Synod of the Trinity, and gifts from churches and individuals. The group has a close relationship with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, particularly in times of disaster recovery. The groups the WVMAW recruit come from churches of various faith traditions, as well as from colleges and universities. Stewart said the group initially came together in 2001 after severe flooding in Southern West Virginia inspired a desire to be there for the “long haul” for those recovering from that disaster.
Stewart said obviously flooding isn’t the only disaster in West Virginia, citing poverty, unemployment and issues related with getting older. Sometimes simply having a roof that doesn’t leak or a porch that is safe seems unattainable for those who are struggling with those West Virginian and, very human, disasters.
Stewart said WVMAW’s goal in Mason County is not to perform some extreme home makeovers but to simply make homes warm, safe and dry for families.
“We need to be able to reach out to families,” Stewart said. “This is not about a handout or something free. We are here to work side by side with our brothers and sisters and hear what’s happening in their lives.”
Stewart said the relationships built with families in need are “the most important nail we drive” when it comes to repairing these homes and lives.
The first project the volunteers will take on is repairing a home for a family in Mason County. The home suffered fire damage in the gables, needs new wiring and plumbing, as well as work done to the walls, ceilings and basement. The family has been living in a trailer since the fire and had no money to repair their home.
Cabrini College volunteers will take this project on but they will be followed by others, and other projects, this year. Other groups set to arrive are from Penn State University, the University of Notre Dame as well as groups from Philadelphia, Pa., Warrenton, Va., Mebane, N.C., California, Pa. and more.
Elaine Matheny, church member, said she and others volunteered for WVMAW in Southern West Virginia and saw the difference the group made as well as the similarities of needs in Mason County. This begged the question, “Why not here?”
Enthusiasm for the project spread throughout the church and its members and as Stewart put it, this desire is what put the mission site at the Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church.
“This is a brave thing, opening your home to strangers,” Stewart said to members who gave up space in the church and will be hosting these groups as they arrive.
Stewart said across West Virginia, often other local churches will get involved with offering fellowship to those volunteers who arrive - she said in some places, volunteers are fed every day of the week by not only their host church, but churches surrounding the area in which the volunteers are making a difference.
Pastor John Holland said the projects WVMAW take on in Mason County are chosen through a referral process involving members of the community, other pastors, social service agencies, case workers, etc.
“It’s exciting to be here and know you’re part of something very big,” Stewart said to those volunteers gathered at the church Monday.