Mission: Copperhill, Tennessee
August 25, 2010 - In the southeast part of Tennessee, nestled among the Appalachian Mountains, far from main thoroughfares, is the isolated town of Copperhill, population roughly 500.
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It was to this area that 43 teens and seven adults from Hillside Bible Church in Ortonville traveled last month to assist poor, elderly residents.
"The work our teens were doing was very important to those families and very needed in those households," said Ken Tison, a pastor at Hillside who accompanied the teens.
He explained that Copperhill residents spend a majority of their time during seven or eight months of the year out on their decks or porches, usually on their front of their homes. During their mission from July 11-17, mission workers built porches on three homes, splitting up into teams for each jobsite and designing and measuring each new structure. They also had to get rid of existing porches that were falling apart.
"We got to destroy things," said Mike Justice, 16, a Brandon High School junior. "You don't get to do that every day."
Kalyn Justice, a 2010 Brandon High School graduate and Grand Valley State University freshman, worked on the deck of the oldest man in town, a fellow in his early 90s, known as "Flathead," although at first he and the woman he lived with didn't welcome the offer of help.
"They were afraid of us and we had to sweet talk them into letting us in," said Tison.
Kalyn and her team replaced the stairs to the second story deck and the main entrance into the house. They built a railing on the deck and made two new steps. They also handbuilt cabinets and installed a kitchen sink and countertops, but at the end of two days of work, "Flathead" was ready for them to leave, she said.
Megan Justice had a different experience on the home where she helped build a deck.
"When we finished, the family was crying and so excited," she said, adding that the home was owned by a woman who was caring for her 25-year-old special needs grandchild. "They were hugging everyone and touching the deck."
At least one member of the group helped not by their physical labor, but emotional presence. Alex Noonan, 20, spent hours with a 90-year-old woman named Sylvia, who she said just loved to talk— asking about Detroit, sharing about her life, and expressing her love of food. While Hillside church members worked on Sylvia's deck, Alex enjoyed a big bowl of ice cream and listened to her friends tease her about it.
Sylvia was appreciative of her listening ear, however.
"She didn't want us to go," said Alex. "She said we didn't even have to build anything, just talk."
The porches were completed in two days and will last 30 years, said Tison. After that work was complete, they moved on to rebuilding an old observation deck. The group hand-made three crosses and made 12 benches to seat 70 people on the side of the mountain.
The week was a learning experience for the teens.
"I was so impacted by how little they have and that we can make a difference and how grateful they are," said Emily Gifford, 16, a Brandon High School senior. "Hopefully whenever they see the deck they will think of why we did it— to work through Christ."
"I feel like we left our mark on them and they opened up some," said Kalyn. "They'll always remember we did it for them and also for God."
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville