HOPE stands for Housing Outreach Project Express.
Now in its 8th year, the construction whirlwind
sends CCHS juniors and seniors to the home of the Golden Delicious apple for
one week to perform emergency home repairs.
It’s unlike Habitat for Humanity, which builds entire
homes. Instead, student volunteers with
HOPE fix things like leaky roofs and shore up crumbling foundations.
Bill Mehle is the project’s coordinator.
He’s taught theology at Charleston Catholic for two
decades. Mehle said the week can be a
telling one for his students.
“Lots of times the week is a powerful one because it’s an
eye-opener.” Mehle said. “We’re only 45 minutes away from some of the pockets
of poverty in this county, and this county is representative of a lot of the
counties in the southern coalfields. I
think it opens their eyes to the tremendous needs of the folks in our state,
and helps them realize that they have a whole lot to give.”
Nearly a quarter of Clay County’s residents live at or below the
poverty according to 2010 census data.
At a two-story house at the upper end of the county seat Clay,
Drew Cable crouches at the crest of a pitched roof – ready to make
repairs. His stance is not unlike his
position behind home plate as the catcher for Charleston Catholic’s baseball team. A rising senior, Cable said he learned an
important lesson from his mom before the week started.
“A lot of these people don’t choose where they live,” Cable
said. “They don’t choose to be in a house that doesn’t have AC or cooling, a
good roof. To come out and do what
Christian teaching teaches is important to do in a young life for your
While Cable works on his metaphysical foundation, Emily
Sokolosky is working on the concept more literally.
At a house up Carr Street’s steep climb, Sokolosky acts as her
group’s work leader replacing footers beneath a house. She helps slice up a 1x12 board with a
A junior at West Virginia University and a 2010 Catholic grad, Sokolosky
is in her fourth year volunteering for HOPE.
She said the current crop of students helps to bring her back.
“I hope that I’m an example to them,” Sokolosky said. “Once
you’ve graduated, come back. You can
always help and they always need help.
It’s always better with someone with experience. So I keep coming back
and hopefully they see that.”
One of the students in Sokolosky’s group is Anna Wood. Wood graduated from Catholic and will enroll
at Wake Forest University in the fall. She said she’s glad the service project
“It’s not just a one year thing trying to get our name out,”
Wood said. “It’s an ongoing thing. We
really care about the people in our state, how they’re living and what they’re
In fact Charleston Catholic has been involved in some sort of
summer service project in the 23 years Mehle has been at the school. For 15 years it was with the Appalachian
Service Project, which bounced around the state. HOPE, on the other hand, keeps hammering away
in Clay County.
Recent Catholic grad Tommy Casto is perched on makeshift
scaffolding ripping off a gutter as a part of Mehle’s work crew. While it’s the first year at this particular
house, Casto said coming back to the area is part of what makes the week
“I had a blast last year, I had a ton of fun,” Casto said.
“Not only do you hang out with your friends for a week, but you’re helping
people. It doesn’t get any better. It’s like everything that makes you feel good
inside balled into one for a whole week.”
And that’s why Mehle said he sees many students make the
45-minute trek multiple times.
“It’s a big tribute to the students that come back after they
graduate,” Mehle. “We have quite a few graduated seniors this year that they no
longer need to participate in a project like HOPE to get their community
service hours done. It’s a testimony to
the power of the experience for them.”
CCHS requires students to complete 25 community service hours
their junior year and 30 as seniors.
Three days of HOPE take care of the commitment for rising seniors - a
little help that goes a long way for more than one person.
For a storying examining the effects
of HOPE on Clay County and how some homeowners react, click here