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Knights complete their 22nd home for the poor in Appalachia

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For 20 years, the Knights of Columbus Father Sikora Council and the Church of the Nativity in Burke have partnered with the Appalachian Construction Crew Inc., a Christian nonprofit organization located in Bellevue, Neb., to help families in Appalachia obtain adequate housing.  

The nonprofit builds homes in McCreary County, Ky., an economically depressed area ranked 21 out of 3,000-plus counties for lowest median income in the United States. More than 59 percent of children live below the poverty level.   

After a four months’ delay due to COVID-19, Nativity’s Knights started building under the revised Kentucky guidance that allowed for groups up to 50 to meet. 

Normally, the council provides 16-20 volunteers who donate their time and are away from their families for up to 14 days to complete the home. This year, Nativity provided 17 volunteers that included Father Stephen M. Vaccaro, parochial vicar at Nativity, who participated in both the build effort and the house blessing. Ten volunteers sponsored by Appalachian Construction Crew, including two cooks, came from Colorado, Texas and Nebraska. The team deployed Sept.16-29, which included two days of travel. 

The group put protocols in place to protect the members, including daily temperature checks, restricting visitors to their living quarters, voluntary face masks indoors, daily restroom cleaning, hand sanitizing before all meals, disposable plates and serving items, limiting outside activities and arrangements for isolating any crew member in a separate facility. Good Shepherd Chapel in Whitley City could not accommodate the volunteers for Mass due to social distancing, so local priests celebrated Mass for them at St. Joseph’s Inn, where they stayed on two Saturday evenings. 

Nativity normally funds more than 70 percent of the entire effort. The home is completed and appliances installed. The parish provides the family with new beds and a truckload of donated household items to help family members get settled into their new home.

For this project, Nativity financed almost 90 percent of the cost, raising a record $80,000-plus. 

Good Shepherd Chapel selected the Marler family, who were living on around $20,000 a year. The family of five resided in a dilapidated trailer with significant mold and rotting floors. The only requirements are that the family own the land and demonstrate to the selecting committee that they can maintain the home and cover insurance costs. The family is not allowed to sell the home for 10 years. 

The Knights sent two crews this year to ensure they were able to do more of the finishing work and at the same time reduce the home costs and get the family moved in earlier. Before the Knights arrived, subcontractors installed the subfloor and completed the plumbing rough-in. The Knights use local contractors for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and installing a septic and electrical system, which helps support local businesses and craftsmen.   

The site had its challenges, with a large slope from the front to the back of the house and poor grading. Over the first five-plus days, the crew completed the exterior of the home with two porches and the interior rough-in work, including hanging  the sheetrock. 

Five days after it was started, the Knight’s 22nd home, a three-bedroom, two-bath, approximately 1,100-square-foot house, was blessed by Father Vaccaro and Father Danny Taylor of St. Mildred Church in Somerset, Ky., which serves McCreary County. At the house blessing, volunteers presented the keys to the family, along with some gifts from Nativity gifts, and told them of the storeroom full of household items waiting for them at the inn. 

On a Wednesday morning, the first crew departed and the finishing crew took over, completing all of the drywall finishing, as well as painting, hanging doors, trimming and installing kitchen cabinets. Most of the finishing crew left on day 14. The family moved in the weekend of Oct 10, after the final inspections were completed.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020