Burke Knights build homes for the needy in Appalachia

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The Knights of Columbus Fr. Vincent S. Sikora Council, in partnership with Church of the Nativity in Burke, recently built two homes for poor families in rural Kentucky in less than three weeks. These were the 17th and 18th homes built by the council alongside the Appalachian Construction Crew since 2001. With the help of their largest-ever group of volunteers, it was the first time the team completed two homes back-to-back without any outside assistance.

Appalachian Construction Crew is a nonprofit corporation that builds homes for families unable to afford adequate housing in McCreary County, Ky. - one of the poorest counties in the nation. Bob Corsi, a Father Sikora Knight who previously had worked with the crew, became aware of the challenges they were facing more than a decade ago due to lack of funding and reliable workers, and offered the council's assistance. Corsi is now council coordinator of the Appalachia home-building effort, and this 15-year partnership has put several impoverished families in newly built homes.

Corsi said the Appalachia home-building effort is special in that it helps the "very poor" rather than the "working poor" - reaching families who are not eligible for assistance from organizations such as Habitat for Humanity. The families helped by the effort are not required to have a certain income or make monthly payments on the home. The house is forever theirs if they own the land, carry insurance and make a formal agreement to not sell the home for 10 years after moving in.

The council and construction crew work with Good Shepherd Catholic Chapel in Whitley City, Ky., to identify families in need. The two families selected for this year's build, the Gibsons and the Moores, both have annual incomes of less than $15,000.

Corsi said the Knights contribute $3,500 a year to the project to cover transportation costs, and the rest of the fundraising is done with donations from Church of the Nativity parishioners. With parish support, the council has provided more than 70 percent of both the designated funds and the crew in past builds.

This year the council was able to cover more than 90 percent of the costs and labor, due in large part to one generous parishioner, Nora Sinclitico, who died in 2014. Sinclitico left a percentage of her estate specifically to the Appalachia home-building effort. Corsi said at first, they had no idea what that percentage equated to. They were soon amazed to discover it was $80,000.

This brought the total funds raised to $120,000 for the build, with another $10,000 worth of furniture, appliances, clothing and school supplies donated by more than 40 families.

Church of the Nativity pastor, Father Robert C. Cilinski, said he is inspired by the generosity of parishioners, and called the project "an amazing witness."

Both homes are approximately 1,000 square feet and include three bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen and a common living and eating area. The Virginia crew of 20 knights and one parishioner from Nativity worked 12-hour days from June 1 to 17 to complete the project. The Gibson family moved in June 20, and the Moore family moved in a week later.

Corsi said the project follows the philosophy of Father Richard Martin, Church of the Nativity's previous pastor who passed away two years ago. "You've got to take your good works outside of this parish, across the street, across the state, across the country."

He said the relative affluence of the Northern Virginia area combined with its strict building regulations and high construction costs meant that the council could make a much larger impact in Appalachia than in their backyard. The Knights and their construction partners already are planning their June 2017 build of a home for a widow and her four children.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016