Although they are only a short drive from cities such as Lexington, Kentucky; Morgantown, West Virginia; and Knoxville, Tennessee, the communities of southern Appalachia are a world away from most of modern America. Residents of these areas live in some of the worst conditions in the nation — officials estimate that 50 percent to 60 percent of children in this area fall below the poverty line, with many living in substandard homes that lack basic necessities like electricity and running water.
These conditions brought the Rev. Ralph Beiting, a Catholic priest, to the region in 1946. Beiting soon formed the Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) to help meet the physical and spiritual needs of people living in those rural mountain communities. The organization opened a camp for impoverished boys in the 1950s and then began an outreach program to help provide housing in the region.
Today, church groups from throughout the eastern part of the United States go to Appalachian Kentucky to take part in two housing programs that CAP coordinates. Volunteers repair the homes of elderly people in the region and build new houses for families living in old campers or other poor conditions.
From May through October, CAP offers service trips for groups of adults and youth ages 14 to 18. Program costs include room and board, construction materials and all tools necessary for the project. College and high school groups can also take part in alternative spring-break projects in March and April.