Mountain Outreach, a ministry program of University of the Cumberlands, is constructing its 151st home for a local family this summer.
Christopher and Bridgett Dezarn of London had never heard about Mountain Outreach (MO) before Bridgett's friend mentioned to a co-worker that the Dezarns were struggling with their mobile home. The family of seven had outgrown their two-bedroom trailer, and the list of problems that needed fixed - including leaks, old flooring, an open stream of sewage runoff in their front yard and flooding issues in their driveway - was just too long and expensive for the young family to handle on their own.
"We were looking at different places, trying to do something, but nothing ever worked out," Christopher explained.
"By February, I figured we hadn't gotten chosen for the MO house," said Bridgett, cradling their newest baby girl in her arms. "Then one day, they called and said they wanted to come meet us. To look out our window today and see this house being built, I'm still blown away."
The new home lies on the Dezarns' property, directly in front of the family's trailer. Once the home construction is finished, MO will demolish the trailer, clean up the area and fence it in so that, for the first time, the Dezarns' five daughters will have a real backyard to play in. Not that the girls don't already play in what yard space they have - they do, regularly, often pulling over the MO workers to "cook" delicacies with them in their play-kitchen, bounce on the trampoline with them or push them on the neighbor's swings. The workers happily oblige.
The MO team, which consists of MO staff and Cumberlands students, has "fallen in love" with the family, according to Marc Hensley, director of Mountain Outreach.
"All five girls have different personalities," Hensley said. "What stands out to me is how well these parents interact with their children. They are tuned into their girls all the way from the oldest to the youngest. I'm impressed with their family relationship; they're good people."
Christopher is employed by the U.S. Department of Forestry, and Bridgett stays home to take care of the girls.
Mountain Outreach began construction in May and will have the home finished by the end of August. The new house will include three bedrooms, a kitchen area and living room area, two bathrooms and a front porch. Mountain Outreach raised the house's foundation high enough to avoid potential flooding and is using the best materials and equipment possible to ensure the home is of high quality.
"Is it more expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes," said Hensley. "You need to account for the value of a home. You can build a house with low-quality materials, but if the house has problems or the family can't pay the electric bill because of inadequate insulation, you haven't done that family any good. We find bargains when we can and calculate where we can save, but we make sure the home has real value."
The MO team uses newer building techniques and quality materials to build good homes for the families they serve. Yet secret blessings are hidden inside the houses themselves. Once the interior walls of an MO house are up, the workers write prayers for the family on them. The prayers are soon covered by drywall and paint, but families inside MO houses can gaze at their walls anytime knowing that, somewhere under the paint, there are words of blessing which were prayed over them by a Cumberlands student before the house was quite a home.
"My dad always says, 'It's not about the projects, it's about the people,'" said Jenna Hensley while holding a sleepy Dezarn girl in her arms, the girl's arms drowsily wrapped around Jenna's neck. Jenna is Marc Hensley's daughter and a senior at Cumberlands. "Thinking about these girls growing up in the home we're building makes you want to build more houses and do it even better. It makes you feel like you've done more than just build a home."
The MO program builds a new home from the ground up every summer, in addition to completing smaller construction projects during the summer and throughout the year. The ministry also gives away food and toys to families in need at Christmastime. In December 2018, MO loaded almost 40,000 pounds of food into families' vehicles, helping keep them fed during the weeks in which their children were home from school for Christmas break. Toys for Tots partnered with MO to supply families with toys for their children.
"Every year, we just realize how blessed we are to be able to do something like this," said Micah Linton, another Cumberlands senior. "Working with Mountain Outreach has really opened my eyes to being a true servant and putting my faith into action. It's by the grace of God. It's rewarding."