It is one of the most naturally beautiful parts of Kentucky, but the hollers of Eastern Kentucky are also home to some of the poorest counties in the state. Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) has been committed to providing self-help human services programming in this region for nearly 60 years.
CAP works primarily with children and their families, the elderly and individuals with disabilities, providing basic needs of food, shelter and clothing. CAP’s longtime presence in the area has earned the trust of Appalachian communities and because of those long-standing relationships, CAP is more equipped to provide sustainable impact on a wider scale than many other local agencies. Over the past year, CAP repaired or rebuilt 226 homes and provided nutritious food to 2,400 through a pantry network that includes Rockcastle, McCreary and Magoffin Counties. At least 790 people volunteered their time in a variety of CAP programs.
“Although CAP has been serving families in Appalachian for nearly six decades, there is still much work to be done,” said Guy Adams, president/CEO of Christian Appalachian Project. “Food insecurity and substandard housing in Eastern Kentucky will continue to be a challenge largely due to poverty and isolation. Some of our earliest efforts focused on providing a residential summer camp for Appalachian youth. Investing in our young people as future leaders is an important initiative for us right now as we build on those relationships that many times start with camp.”
CAP is the largest human services organization in the nation that serves Appalachia exclusively, providing a network of 17 interrelated service programs that includes a thrift store, preschool and elderly services. These services stretch across 11 counties. Shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating impact across human service organizations, disrupting the channels that connect staff and volunteers with participants.
“We were blessed that our IT staff had CAP in a position with both hardware and software to make the transition to remote work easier,” said Adams, who has led CAP since 2012. “As a human service organization, our work is face-to-face: visiting, transporting and praying with our participants. The pandemic meant we had to serve in different ways. So, we had visits from a safe distance, did home repair work more cautiously, packed food boxes and loaded them into vehicles, and our mental health counselors increased the use of telehealth.”
Understanding the challenge of compassion fatigue during those two and half years, CAP’s leadership team also continued to emphasize self-care for staff. “Perhaps my proudest moment as CAP’s leader was how our staff performed during COVID-19,” Adams said. “They were amazing.”
Christian Appalachian Project emphasizes a self-help approach where participants partner with staff to uplift their own lives and make positive changes. “This provides an opportunity for participants to maintain their dignity while we instill hope that they can take steps toward self-sufficiency,” Adams noted.
That ethos is applied equally to investing in staff. The organization’s leadership team prioritizes a culture that values its staff.
“Each individual has the ability to maximize the talents and strengths which God has endowed them,” Adams explained. The extent to which an individual takes personal responsibility in becoming the best version of themselves determines to what extent personal growth and development efforts—both offered by CAP and embraced by each employee and volunteer—will be impactful. We believe it takes a partnership between CAP, as an employer, and staff to embrace and maximize opportunities for personal growth and leadership development.”
This was even more evident after recent flash flooding ravaged 13 counties in Eastern Kentucky. CAP’s Disaster Relief and Operation Sharing Programs coordinated efforts to meet the overwhelming needs of families already struggling in poverty. There were 442 volunteers who served the community, including nearly a third of CAP employees.
Two months after the July floods, CAP’s Disaster Relief Program had served over 6,000 adults and 1,000 children through the Disaster Distribution Center while employees and volunteers completed nearly 100 muck outs and 200 assessments. To date, CAP has recorded 18,495 volunteer service hours.
“In our recently completed fiscal year, Operation Sharing distributed $137 million in goods to families in need in Eastern Kentucky and across the Appalachian region, with $10.5 million going to flood victims,” Adams added.
“It is my hope that in the coming decades CAP will continue to build hope, transform lives, and share Christ’s love through service in Appalachia,” Adams said. Kentucky has more of distressed Appalachian counties than any other Appalachian state—by more than double. CAP has historically been an organization that pivots when basic human needs shift, whether that is moving out of a county that is no longer distressed (according to the Appalachian Regional Commission) or shifting programming to meet current needs.
“With the help of our donors across the nation and volunteers, we continue to make an impact,” Adams added. “We are seven years into a 30-year vision. There is still much work to do.”