Jackson County church youth group helps those in need

Photo by Chad Adkins Nikki Nicholson, right, watches as McKenzie Grandon finishes a wheelchair ramp in Jackson County on Wednesday.

RIPLEY — For the last 19 years, churches have gathered their youth groups in Jackson County to help people who can’t help themselves.

The youth participate in Brothers’ Keeper, an annual community outreach program that does basic construction and clean-up on properties for the disabled and needy in the county.

The Rev. Frank Miller, director of operations at Parchment Valley Conference Center, said the center is the staging ground for 120 kids from 30 churches in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. He said they live at the center for five days in a celebration of giving and worship and that the experience helps the seventh-12th grade children better understand the world around them.

“You can watch them grow as the week goes on,” Miller said.

Pastor John Bannoy said the projects at the 45 homes in the county won’t be too technically difficult for the novice workers. Painting and landscaping require more of a strong back than a lifetime of construction knowledge, he said.

Bannoy said that he and Troy Bain, Jackson County EMS director, visited each of the 70 homes that applied for help during the year.

“We determined whether or not it is a want or a need,” he said. “A lot of the bigger projects are fixing porches, stairs and wheelchair ramps. It doesn’t cost the homeowner anything.”

Miller said each team of four to five youth workers is led by an expert chaperone who guides them through the processes, teaching them skills and empathy for those in need.

Bain is among the experts and said all the credit for the work should go to the youth that sacrifice a week of their summer to help others.

“These young men and women have come from near and far to help,” he said. “They are hard workers and get it done.”

Emily Ammer, 14, of Pittsburgh said working at Brothers’ Keeper was an eye-opening experience.

“It’s not everyday I get to go into people’s homes and help. Plus I made a lot of new friends,” she said.

The home Ammer was working on belonged to Donna Fields. The 86-year-old’s daughter, Theresa Fisher, also lives there as do Fisher’s two granddaughters.

“I’m my mom’s caretaker,” Fisher said.

She said Fields in May fell while trying to step down from the back porch and received minor injuries. But Fisher said after Brothers’ Keeper built a ramp off the back porch and extended a ramp on the front porch, her mother will never have to worry about using steps to leave her home again.

“I’m blessed, really blessed,” she said.

Even though Fields had the work done for free, she said she had to help pay it forward when she had the opportunity. Before the team came to her house, Miller said Fields showed up at his office and donated $300 to Brothers’ Keeper.

“I had the money, so I thought I’d help,” Fields said.

“That absolutely never happens,” Miller said. “What an amazing person.”

The benefits received in the county from Brothers’ Keeper aren’t just felt by the residents in the community, it also affects the government as well. Miller said before Brothers’ Keeper, some wheelchair bound individuals couldn’t make it out of their home because they couldn’t afford to build a ramp. He said they would have to call EMS to get them out of the house.

“We would build them ramps and they would be crying tears of joy saying that we set them free,” Miller said.

If a resident of Jackson County wishes to apply to Brothers’ Keeper for the 2020 year, visit Parchment Valley’s website at parchmentvalley.org.

Chad Adkins can be contacted at cadkins@newsandsentinel.com.

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