ALCOA, Tenn. (March 20, 2017) – Holston Conference is showing gratitude for the nation’s outpouring of donations for Sevier County wildfire relief by pouring the funds back into the building of 25 new homes for survivors.
With a total $400,141 received in donations to date, the Holston treasurer’s office has advanced the first $125,000 to Appalachia Service Project (ASP) to kick off a new partnership that will help low-income families who lost their homes in the fires.
Conference leaders have recruited Mollianne Hubbs to lead Holston’s effort from the Alcoa Conference Center. Her title is “Sevier County Wildfire Response Coordinator.”
Now, the call is going out to volunteer mission teams to help build the 25 homes over the summer and beyond and to churches that can provide housing for incoming teams.
“The congregations of the Holston Conference are eager to assist our neighbors in the Sevier County area,” said the Rev. Mike Sluder, director of connectional ministries. “We are excited to work with ASP in these efforts and to draw on their expertise and our long-term partnership as we participate in the rebuilding.”
On Nov. 28, 2016, a fire that started in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was pushed by strong winds out of the park and into Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tenn. The fire killed 14 people and destroyed more than 2,800 buildings in Sevier County.
With several United Methodist congregations and pastors working in Sevier County, Holston Conference was immediately involved in outreach to fire survivors. An initial $42,500 of donations received from United Methodists and other givers from all over the nation was distributed to churches working in the thick of the wildfire response. An additional $25,000 was distributed from “Change for Children” gifts.
The partnership with ASP -- a Christian ministry with 47 years of experience in providing volunteer home repair in Central Appalachia – was developed over the last month to launch Holston into long-term recovery efforts.
“This is a sign of God working in the midst of this,” said the Rev. Charles Maynard, Maryville District superintendent, explaining how a conversation with his brother, a member of the ASP board, led to the partnership.
ASP has experience in and has developed a plan to help communities rebuild after disasters. In 2012, ASP built 25 homes for families after floods in Washington County, Tenn. Last year, ASP launched a multi-year project to rebuild after flooding in Rainelle, W.Va. and nearby Richwood, W.Va.
This summer, ASP and Holston Conference will work with Sevier County’s Mountain Tough Recovery Team and other agencies to build 20 homes for former homeowners and five homes for former renters.
“Most of these families have been denied federal disaster recovery loan funding due to lack of adequate income and are unable to secure other resources for rebuilding,” according to ASP leaders. “These home owners often fall through the cracks of long-term recovery and will be the focus of efforts by ASP and the Holston Conference.”
Several United Methodist churches in and near Sevier County have already been identified to build the 25 house frames that will get the massive project started. The churches will contribute some funding toward the homes with matching dollars from Holston Conference’s wildfire relief funds. Some funding will be provided by Federal Emergency Management Agency and Tennessee Housing Development Agency.
Area pastors invited to an organizational meeting on March 14 praised the partnership effort, which Maynard said was made possible through “the power of the connection” in the United Methodist Church.
“We thank the Holston Conference for what you’ve done for the immediate needs,” said the Rev. Dennis Ford, pastor at First United Methodist Church of Pigeon Forge, Tenn. “This is a fantastic plan and we appreciate it.”
“This is wonderful to have ASP partner with us so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said the Rev. Catherine Nance, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church of Maryville, Tenn.
ASP is currently enlisting volunteer mission teams to complete the remaining construction for the 25 homes over the summer and beyond. Teams may include six to eight members with a maximum of 15 members, ages 14 and up. Contact ASP at (800) 289-4254 or Volunteers@ASPHome.org.
Area United Methodist churches with facilities that could house incoming work teams are requested to contact Molliane Hubbs at (865) 268-9453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
See previous stories about Holston's response to Sevier County wildfires
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.