This was my tenth year going on the Appalachia mission trip with the Saint Peter’s youth group. Our parish has been participating in the program for over 30 years now. We took about 20 kids and 20 adults this year, and we took on five different projects helping to rebuild or repair homes in Preston County West Virginia. My crew consisted of eight people, four adults and four awesome girls. Our mission is not just to work on houses but also to build relationships with the families we serve, and to teach the kids. If you see people just sitting around, it doesn’t mean that they are not working. They are probably talking to the home-owners, Paul and Linda, or they are posting pictures on social media. At our house, we have several tasks, but the main one is to build a ramp from the driveway to the front porch. I am adding a roof above, because we will have the time and I think it will make the ramp much safer in the winter and the rain.
For the last four years, I have tried to take an all girl crew. I love teaching them how to build and they always impress me. This year was no different. I let the adults help a bit, but 90% of the construction of this project was done completely by four teenage girls.
Day one had us digging post holes in the mud. We discovered that Jane made a perfect depth gauge for a 36″ deep post hole…
Since we were adding a roof over the ramp, we set 12′ tall posts in the ground on top of an 8″ deep concrete footing.
We made sure the posts were plumb, then packed the dirt (mud) back around them to hold them up.
Once the posts were set, the girls took turns digging trenches for the joists.
We added blocking in to hold the center joist straight. Normally I would place a header below the joists, but we were already mostly below the ground.
By the end of day one, the girls had the posts set and the joists in place. They were a bit muddy, but they had fun.
Day two had a lot more sunshine and things were starting to dry out for a bit. The weather man was calling for more rain so I had Rachel get started painting the soffit and fascia for the ceiling with two coats of exterior paint. We finished attaching the blocking and the girls back-filled the extra dirt around the joists.
By mid-morning, they were able to start laying down the decking.
They all worked really well as a team, each taking on a different task, then trading jobs when they wanted to try something new. My new Daughter-in-law Elizabeth came along with me this year and was eager to learn as well. She did the measuring for the decking, while Rachel applied a second coat of paint and her sister Sarah started cutting the decking.
Jordan and Jane attached the decking. We cut one thin piece of decking to add in as a spacer so that the last deck board was a full piece.
Since today was sunny, it was a great time to prep the rails. We will attach them later after the roof is on so that we have something to do when it is raining. I had an idea for making a graspable handrail that you will see later, but it required the girls to use a router with a 1/2″ round-over bit to create a 1″ bull-nose on one side of a 5/4 deck board. They each took turns. I needed four boards, so they each got to do one. After the bull-nose was added, I gave them my orbital sander to knock back any rough spots.
This will be the hand rail, so I wanted it smooth.
The clouds were starting to move back in, so we got back to work setting the headers in place. After I marked and cut the tops of the 4×4 posts, we clamped the header in place, then drilled holes for carriage bolts.
It was a bit of a stretch getting them bolted in place. I let my buddy Rob drive them in with a hammer and the girls followed along with the ratchet and cranked them down tight.
It was fun watching them see who could crank theirs down the tightest.
By the end of day two, we were feeling good. We were ready to start the roof, and Paul could now use his ramp.
Day three started with good weather again. Since they are calling for rain tomorrow, we had to get the roof up today.
My plan is to build small roof trusses, so I set the girls to cutting out all of the gusset material I would need.
While they did that, I laid out the prototype truss and then used it as a pattern for them to cut out enough parts to make nine trusses.
They worked together to hold the trusses in place while the gussets were attached.
I had them use about 12-16 roofing nails in each gusset to tie together all of the connections.
The girls had a blast working together on the trusses.
These little guys were so cute…
We even covered the gable truss completely with plywood and Rachel painted it as well.
It was a very hot day, so I let the girls all go take a break to cool off. They picked up some more nails and screws for the roof and then took a nice ride to a coffee shop. When they came back, they had lunch while I set the mini trusses. We are going to be limited for space to work on the roof so I nailed some 2x4s along the bottom of the trusses for people to stand on.
One of my other adults, Lisa took the opportunity to get up on a ladder and help me install the fascia boards while the girls finished up their lunches.
After lunch, we cut some OSB and installed it on the back side of the roof. Rob got up there and helped the girls start installing the roofing paper.
I installed drip edge all around and helped them get started with the shingles. Mainly I just installed the ones under the power lines, then Rob and the girls did the rest.
It was a hot day and we got a lot done. I sent most of the team back to the camp to get showers and cleaned up for dinner. Sarah and Rob stuck around for another hour or two, to help me get the front side of the roof installed and papered for the rain tomorrow.
I had spent about 6 hours straight working on the hot roof, so Rob and Sarah had to finish up, I was toast for the rest of the day.
Day four, we had about an hour or two before the sky opened up, so Rob and the girls got to work on the front of the roof.
When it started raining, I sent Rachel and Sarah inside to put a couple of coats of polyurethane on some handrails for the basement. The rest of the girls were out under the new roof, installing the new rails along side the ramp.
The hand rail is a simple but sturdy thing that I came up with for Paul. The deck boards with the bull-nose was attached to a 2×4 which was attached to the posts, parallel to the ramp. It is mounted at the exact same height as Paul’s walker handles so he can comfortably grasp them to walk up and down the ramp.
After showing the girls how to attach the first side, they attached the opposite side perfectly with no help from me, while I was on the roof, installing flashing at the connection to the porch roof.
Rob was our social media person, for the week, so he spent some of his time uploading photos for the other four crews, while visiting with Paul and Linda. The girls also got to hang out with Paul and Linda when they needed a break.
The rails were up and it was pouring again.
While the girls were taking a break, Rob and I set up some saw horses under the tree to cut down the soffit. Since it was raining, we had to work quickly. When the girls came back, we installed the soffit on the ceiling. I didn’t show it but I set the headers 1/2″ above the top of the 4×4 posts so the skinny piece of soffit could slide in, on the overhangs. It worked pretty good, we just slid them in from the end and screwed them in place.
The rain let up for a couple of hours, so we were back on the roof again.
I tied in the valley while Jordan ran caps. Lisa held the shingles in place Rachel had the awkward job of laying on the roof and nailing them down.
Sarah and Elizabeth worked together installing the soffit on the back overhang.
It was hot, soggy work.
Paul liked to come out and watch us work.
We finally got the roof finished in between the rain drops. Just in time too, another storm was brewing right behind us.
Day five, last day on site. besides clean-up, we had a couple of tasks left to do. We had to replace a broken downspout on the back of the house so I taught some of the ladies how to install pop-rivets, to assemble a 20′ long downspout.
The other half of the team was sanding and applying polyurethane to the handrails. They also did some touch-up painting on the soffit, to cover the screws and the cut edges.
I installed the new downspout and tied it to the house with a couple of straps. It wasn’t pretty, but it works.
One of the really cool parts of these trips is getting to know the people we serve. Linda showed Lisa some beautiful porcelain dolls that were hand-made by her sister. Lisa just fell in love with them.
The girls did some final cleanup outside while Elizabeth did some final sanding to make the rails look nicer.
Paul had lots of stories to tell us all. Here he is showing the girls photos of some very old tractors. He is a member of a club that collects and restores antique tractors.
The final project we have to do is install the handrails to the basement. We had to be a little creative, but Rob and the girls helped me get them installed before we left.
Linda can now safely walk downstairs and Paul can now easily get from his car to his porch.
This was the first time we saw him walk anywhere without his walker. He was so happy that he gave all of the girls a hug while telling them how much he appreciated all their hard work.
It was hot, wet, and muddy, but none of us would have missed this week. We had a great time and the girls did a fantastic job. I hope they all come back next year.
On Thursday and Friday nights, everybody starts working on making up crew T-shirts to have something to remind them of the week spent up here serving others.
The kids also have some fun back at camp, playing volleyball, Gaga, Frisbee, praying, and just relaxing at the end of the day.
One of the cool things we are able to do is bring along a Deacon and have a communion service every evening. It really ends the day on a contemplative note for everyone. I thought the picture below was really neat. On the left is Sam who was just accepted into the seminary. On the right Is Deacon Joe who was my crew leader on my first trip here eleven years ago. He was my first mentor at leading these kids here in West Virginia. And there is nothing more enjoyable than listening to Joe, sitting on the bunkhouse porch at the end of the day, strumming his 12-string guitar and singing Jimmy Buffet songs.
On our last night at camp, we sit around a bonfire and pass around the hammer. Whoever is holding the hammer tells everyone something about their trip that stood out to them. Some stories are funny, some are deeply moving.
And then we make Smores!
This, by the way, is my buddy Bryan who stepped up this year to be a crew leader for the first time.
Not only did he do a fantastic job on his site, but he was able to help out another crew with his tiling expertise after his site was done.
Day six, back at the camp. By the end of the week, the bunk house is a mess, but we wake everybody up nice and early to start packing up. We have to clean the entire place top to bottom so that it is ready for the next crew which will arrive tomorrow.
All five crews did a fantastic job, I unfortunately was only able to document my week. The four other crew leaders Jim, Bryan, Todd, and Don did a lot of good work too.
Jim’s crew had to install carpet and linoleum upstairs, as well as completely build a bathroom from scratch and finish part of the basement so their homeowner could live in the lower level of his house. He is not able to get up and down the stairs very easily.
Todd’s crew had to replace the flooring in the house of an invalid man. His floors had been destroyed by a flood. The crew replaced the destroyed engineered wood floor with a vinyl one that should hold up better to moisture. They also replaced the kitchen cabinets that also got wet and did a lot of cleaning and patching of walls.
Don’s crew had to completely tear off all the shingles on a leaking roof and re-sheathe and re-shingle the roof. They did it in record time in between several rain storms. They also rebuilt some porch stairs, the old ones being dangerous.
Bryan’s crew had a curve ball when they arrived on site. They were supposed to add some stairs to a deck and repair a roof. When they arrived, the homeowner reported that the deck was so rotten that her sister had fallen through the week before. They wound up tearing down the entire deck and building her a new one that was much safer (the new one has railings…) They also repaired the leaking roof and built steps for the front porch as well.
My final shout-out for the week is to Jay. He has been our chef for the last couple of years. He makes it his mission to serve us, while we are there. He cooks, cleans, and serves us breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, as well as running errands for anyone who asks. Thanks Jay, we would starve without you!
Finally back at Saint Peter’s in Libertytown, MD. We are all a little tired and soggy, but happy that we were able to make a difference in the lives of several people.