Kentucky Youth Project: TEENS on a MISSION

Teens, adults make a difference in lives of impoverished Appalachian residents


Summer for most teenagers means trips to the beach, fun with friends and relaxation. For a group of teens from St. Barbara Parish, Harrison City, and Mother of Sorrows, Murrysville, their summer break included a selfless devotion of time and service to families in need in Kentucky.

The parish’s Kentucky Project began 16 years ago when Sister of St. Francis Alice Retzner spoke to parishioners about the plight of the people in Appalachia. Her heartfelt discussion moved parishioners to work together to support and help those in need, an effort coordinated by parishioners Barbara and Al Kustra and former pastor Monsignor V. Paul Fitzmaurice.

Parishioners adopt children in Kentucky whose families are in dire financial need. They commit to sending them at least one week’s worth of non-perishable food and supplies each month until they no longer have the need or until the youngest child graduates from high school.

But the parish didn’t stop there. Christie Smith, former Director of Youth Ministry, felt guided to organize a mission trip for parish teenagers and adults. Smith reached out to Kirsten Thorstad, Parish Administrator at Church of the Good Shepherd Parish in Campton, Ky., whom Smith knew from graduate school, and plans began to fall into place.

Nineteen teenagers and five adults quickly signed up for the Kentucky Youth Project trip. They held fundraisers to support the construction projects they planned. Two dads stepped in to make sure the teens had the right equipment and supplies.  84 Lumber provided lumber for the teen’s mission outreach.

Smith said the teenage volunteers worked hard and never complained because
they wanted to make a difference. They also were able to get to know the families they were serving.

The teenagers built a new deck, worked on a roof, repaired a mailbox and installed a new front door on the home of a woman named Ellen. Afterward, Ellen became emotional and couldn’t stop crying in gratitude for what the teenagers had done for her, Smith recalled.

At a second home for a woman named Dorothy, they built a new deck and a wheelchair ramp. Smith described a mutual feeling of joy between the young people and the homeowners.

The teens were also able to have some fun and build relationships with each other. They went ziplining and underground kayaking, and also spent time in prayer, including a rosary walk through a national park, praise and worship nights, and Mass and dinner with a priest from Appalachia.

The Kentucky Project and its outreach continues at St. Barbara Parish. Currently, more than 100 volunteers continue to send food, support and the love of Christ. 

If you are interested in helping, donations can be sent by check to:

     St. Barbara Parish
     with “Kentucky Project” on the memo line to
     111 Raymaley Rd.
     Harrison City, PA 15636


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