Past Newsworthy Dads

‘God’s Little Miracles’

By renovating homes in rural Kentucky, a group of Knights and their wives are filling the poverty gap in Appalachia.

Glenn Greenwell and Gary Kehne met when they volunteered to help rebuild homes in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. Both were members of the Knights of Columbus in Kentucky and ready to put into action the Order’s principles of charity, unity and fraternity.

 

Volunteers gather with Msgr. Ralph Beiting (center) outside a home they are renovating.

When the two returned home, they decided to continue their charitable work in their own region. A natural option was Appalachia, one of America’s poorest areas that extends through Kentucky and neighboring states.

“I have to tell you that the conditions we found in Appalachia were worse than anything we saw in Mississippi,” Greenwell said.

In the past three years, Greenwell and Kehne have organized seven weeklong trips to Appalachia, where they work with local charitable organizations to rebuild and renovate homes. They have given new life and hope to families that had been living in sheds or mobile homes due to poverty or natural disasters.

“The people who live there are very appreciative,” Greenwall said. “They can’t believe that these people come down on their own time and work so hard for a week or more and don’t expect to get paid. I tell you, though, we are the ones who go away with more than we give. I’ve never had anyone refuse to go back as a volunteer. You know your work is helping families with the basic necessities of life.”

The two started their mission with just a handful of volunteers, but last October they traveled with 26 workers, who came from three Knights of Columbus councils and four Kentucky parishes. Greenwell recruits volunteers and raises money for building materials, and Kehne, a general contractor, oversees the work site. Their wives, Shelly Greenwell and Jan Kehne, also help at the building site and prepare food for the work crew.

 

“I have what I call my little 15-minute lesson on how to do the basics of home renovation,” Kehne said. “What I have seen being done by our volunteers in Appalachia I call God’s little miracles. It changes you as a person to get down on your hands and knees and do something for these people who need so much.”

Kehne added, “If you don’t do something to break the cycle of poverty in that region, then it will just be repeated from generation to generation. If a bunch of us going down there for one week breaks the cycle for even one young person, then our efforts will be worth it. There’s simply no price tag you can put on it.”

The Kentucky team works with Msgr. Ralph Beiting, who has lived with the people of Appalachia for 60 years and runs the Point of Hope mission, which assigns volunteers to the most needy families.

“We go there ahead of time and Father Beiting gives us our assignments, and I check out the site and make a list of materials we’ll need,” Kehne said. “When we come the next time, we have our volunteers, our materials and we get right to work.

“The first time you show up, the people look at you as an outsider coming to their territory,” he added. “But when they see the work you do and how you can help improve their lives significantly, you become part of their families. You gain their trust because you’ve done what you promised to do.”

If you wish to donate time or money to this Appalachian project, contact Glenn Greenwell, glenng@insightbb.com