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Knights alleviate Appalachian poverty one home at a time

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The $19,000 a year Jonathan Strunk makes to support his family of four left him unable to buy a home. So he, his wife and their two children lived in a rented trailer. Strunk takes pride in his work at a lumber company, and though the minimum wage salary couldn’t support the purchase of a home, the roof trusses he makes now support the frame of his new three-bedroom house in McCreary County, Ky.

The Strunks’ house is the 20th home that the Father Sikora Knights of Columbus Council has built in one of the poorest counties in Appalachia. Knight Bob Corsi began building homes with the Appalachian Construction Crew Inc. when he lived in Nebraska. When he moved to Northern Virginia, he joined Nativity and the Knights, but he couldn’t forget the people of Appalachia. When he reached out to the Crew, he learned they were struggling financially. So he got his parish involved. 

“Because of Nativity’s support, the whole organization was able to continue the mission of one house per year,” said Corsi. "(Without) Nativity, this would have all stopped in 2005.” 

Every January, the parish holds a special collection, which garnered $63,000 this year. Then in late spring, a caravan of materials, tools and Knights drive more than 500 miles and start building with volunteers from Nebraska. The process takes two to three weeks. The only things they outsource to local contractors are laying the foundation, the electricity, heating, cooling and plumbing. 

Each home comes with appliances, such as a washer and dryer, and the group buys the occupants new beds. Families from Nativity donate household goods, too. Every year, Good Shepherd Mission in Whitley City, Ky., selects a family to receive the home, and the local priest blesses it once it’s completed. Then, they present the keys to the family — often an emotional exchange. 

“When you came here you were strangers, and now you are almost family,” Strunk told the crew. 

The volunteers take time away from their families and some take time off from work to build a home every year, but they know it’s important work, said Corsi. 

“I've been incredibly fortunate and this is my way of giving back. I think that's the case with every member of the crew,” he said. Other volunteer groups come into Appalachia to repair homes, but few build homes from the ground up, he said. There is significant need in this area.

“Not everybody has indoor plumbing in this country,” said Corsi. “(This) area is our third world. It can be overwhelming but (you have to be) comfortable helping one family at a time. We take great pride at being able to do that.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018