Mountain Outreach changing lives, building leaders

On Thursday afternoon, Mountain Outreach Director Marc Hensley spoke to members of the Corbin Rotary Club about the transitions the program has made over the past 37 years. | Photo by Angela Turner 

In 1982, two students from Cumberland College took it upon themselves to help an older gentleman that lived in the area. Although at the time they didn’t know anything about building or construction, they were laying the foundation for what would become Mountain Outreach, a non-profit organization best known for building homes to those in need.

On Thursday afternoon, Mountain Outreach Director Marc Hensley spoke to members of the Corbin Rotary Club about the transitions the program has made over the past 37 years.

The non-profit service organization operated by the University of the Cumberlands is led by students and volunteers, and has completed over 150 home building projects and completed renovations to hundreds more. The program’s outreach includes numerous service projects that help provide children, the elderly, and financially struggling families with critical and urgent needs.

Each summer, 10 to 12 students are chosen to serve on the summer construction team. One or two students are chosen as student coordinators who are responsible for seeing that all materials are on site for each day’s work. Students coordinate projects and work with volunteer groups to help build homes for deserving families.

Currently the Mountain Outreach summer team is building a home in East Bernstadt with help from groups out of Florida and Alabama. Hensley said the group now only builds one home a summer. They used to start several homes and ask the families to finish them. Now, although the program only builds one home, it is completely ready to be lived in by the times the summer ends.

Hensley informed members of the Rotary Club that he doesn’t select the families that get homes built for them. Families are selected after students look over an intense application and home visit interview process. Hensley said he is more of an enabler, making sure students have what they need to complete their missions.

The holiday season is one of the busiest and most exciting times of the year for those in Mountain Outreach. Making sure local families have enough food through the holiday season is always a priority for our students and volunteers.

Annually, Mountain Outreach hosts Gift Day where parents who cannot afford to purchase toys for their children for Christmas can select two toys for each child.

Hensley said most importantly what happens at Mountain Outreach is the building of community servant leaders.

“We will use the home build, and the wheelchair ramps and the roof repairs to do those things,” said Hensley. “Those are tools for us to develop these young students.”

When students leave the University of the Cumberlands, if they’ve been involved in Mountain Outreach they’re going to leave with a sense of community service, said Hensley.

“If you want to know what could possibly save America, that’s it,” he said. “Until we all start looking out for everybody and assisting everybody we’re not going to last must longer. We need community service leaders. Not only that, but it’s biblical.”

Hensley said he knows it’s working because multiple servant leaders have graduated and are all over the world changing lives and giving back to their communities just like they did in Mountain Outreach.

Several Rotary Club members had questions about the program.

The Mountain Outreach homes are 1,200-square-foot homes with three bedrooms and two bathrooms for under market value. Families do not have to own their own land anymore. Families who have a home built for them do make payments for it based on the cost of the materials over 20 years with no interest.

“It’s not free. It’s respectable,” said Hensley. “We want people to have self-respect to know that it’s through their work and effort and people are out there who will help them."

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