Youths and adults work to improve living conditions in Kentucky

Rachel Nugent and Conner Vance work on a roof project at a home. They did work during a mission trip to Kentucky in June.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

For more than 19 years, Michelle Montgomery and her husband, Deacon David Montgomery, have brought youths and adults to David, Kentucky to better the condition of homes in one of the poorest areas of the country.

Michelle, who recently retired as youth minister at St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville, said 20 youths and 14 adults made the Appalachian mission trip through St. Vincent Mission June 17-23. The volunteers were from St. Patrick Parish-Melrose, St. Mary Parish-Oxford and the Coralville parish.

Each year’s mission crew grows in their understanding that “we can all make a difference in people’s lives,” Michelle said. “We are so blessed that we can see God in action though all the participants on this incredible experience, one of the most rewarding experiences that youths and adults can do together.”


The poverty they witness motivates the mission groups to try to rebuild people’s homes to give them a better and easier life, she added. This year, the large group of volunteers divided into three teams, each working at a different site for a family living there.

“We were very lucky to have so many highly qualified adults that understood home repairs and were good teachers for the youths. Each site involved jobs that needed extreme repairs that seemed quite daunting but in four days we were able to complete all our assigned jobs and a few more that needed to be done at each home.”

Projects included chimney repair, floor replacement, work on windows, doors and gutters. Other projects involved rewiring and replacing ceiling fans, leveling a bathroom floor, resetting a toilet and water heater, installing new linoleum, fixing basement support beams, installing insulation, constructing a new deck and stairs and cleaning a flooded basement.

Pat Zimmerman, a member of St. Thomas More and its Knights of Columbus council, said, “I know that we made an improvement in these folks’ lives. At the end of each day — humbled by the poverty, exhausted by the labor — I totally enjoyed the fellowship of the great group.”

Fellow parishioner Will Aitchison, a junior at Regina Catholic High School-Iowa City, said the mission trip “has been one of the best weeks I can remember. I had fun through all of it; building decks, suiting up to tackle some poison ivy or hanging out at the mission house. All of the group leaders and staff of the trip were kind, patient and fun. I think this experience gave the kids, including myself, an elevated view on true poverty in the U.S., and how you can meet and help those in need.”

Regina sophomore Kennedy Dardis, also of St. Thomas More, said, “I had no idea what I was walking into but over the course of a week I had my eyes opened to the reality for some living in Kentucky. Through the power of Christ, we were able to help out a woman named Roberta and improve her living conditions to the best of our abilities. My favorite task while at the job site was taking down the gutters and replacing the rotted wood all while learning how to use a drill and hammer.”

Her favorite memory of Roberta “took place while I was inside her house cleaning off her newly installed window. I looked over at Roberta and she was smiling at me and said ‘I can’t believe my house got this bad and I didn’t know.’ Roberta had joy in her eyes as I cleaned off her window and turned her air conditioner back on after the window had been taken out and put back in numerous times! Even though she could not get out of bed, her smiles told all of us how appreciative she was.”

“New friendships were built while others were strengthened — all while Christ worked through every one of us to give all we had for people in need in David, Kentucky. I would recommend this faith-strengthening trip for everybody as it is a once in a lifetime experience that is truly incredible.”

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