Appalachian Outreach History
Appalachian Outreach (AO) is a poverty relief ministry that began in 1984 through the Campus Ministries’ office of Carson-Newman University. Campus Minister Jim Wilson, along with Kerry and Karen Smith reached out to the community to provide students with an opportunity to make an impact on families struggling with basic needs. The program was modeled after Mountain Outreach located in Kentucky. Students began by organizing Saturday workdays, building wheelchair ramps, doing yard work, and cleaning and painting houses. Carson-Newman embraced the ministry but asked that AO be self-funded. The partnership began as students got involved and the community welcomed the help.
The Home Repair Ministry has continued since its humble beginning and now serves Jefferson, Grainger, Cocke and Hamblen counties. Through the years AO has served hundreds of families from building an outhouse to room additions. Short-term mission teams have provided the volunteer labor and funding to complete these projects. In 2018, Appalachian Outreach met with other home repair organizations and determined that AO would focus primarily on exterior projects. This was due to funding and the necessary skill set and licensing required to complete electrical and plumbing projects. This has been well received and has allowed clients to benefit more by working with other organizations.
In 1987, Will and Ester Rabienstein donated a five bedroom home located at 130 West Old Andrew Johnson Highway, Jefferson City, TN to be used as an emergency homeless shelter. Initially, the home was opened to anyone experiencing a housing crisis. However, within the first year it was determined to refer single men to a neighboring shelter and focus on families, women, and children. In addition, a food pantry was operated out of the home serving Jefferson County residents.
In 1995, Emmanuel Baptist Church offered a home they had purchased to be used as an outreach to the community. EBC and Appalachian Outreach partnered to create the Hope House, which provided an opportunity for families to receive clothing and furniture items. The community response was incredible. Volunteers became involved and donated items were dropped off.
In 2000, Appalachian Outreach purchased a two-story building located at 190 West Old Andrew Johnson Highway, Jefferson City, TN. The clothing closet, food pantry and home repair items were moved to this location to centralize services while creating a more private setting for residents at the Samaritan House. The staff and volunteers were enthralled with the size of the building and the ability to better serve the families.
In 2004, Appalachian Outreach began a partnership with Second Source Thrift Store. The mission of SSTS was to provide a second resource in the community for families that would not feel comfortable receiving free services. This allowed the working poor to purchase gently used items for their families at minimal pricing. Proceeds from SSTS, outside of operational cost were donated to Appalachian Outreach. Since its inception, SSTS has purchased two facilities, a dump truck and provided 75% of the necessary funds to build the new Samaritan House. Second Source has been instrumental in the growth of Appalachian Outreach.
In 2004, a core group of volunteers and staff began praying for God’s direction as the physical condition of the current Samaritan House began to deteriorate. After four years of prayer, it was determined that a capital campaign would begin to raise funding for the construction of the new Samaritan House. Jay Moser, a friend of the ministry donated over ten acres of land for the building site. It took four years to raise the necessary funding and two years to construct the new home. Volunteers from all over the United States helped with the effort. The most meaningful aspect in the construction phase was when local congregations came to pray over the building and the mission it would serve. Scripture and prayers were written on most of the wooden studs before the sheetrock was installed. God’s fingerprints are all over the new home. One unique provision was the flooded mine shaft located just feet from where the home was going to be build. With the help of Dick Kelso, Greg Campbell and J & F Mechanical, it was determined that the shaft was a viable option for a closed loop geothermal system. The 800+ foot abandoned mine shaft had over 600 feet of water. Samaritan House installed the first documented case of a geothermal system in an abandoned mine shaft. An independent company installed a monitoring system in the shaft and attached it to the building’s electrical panel to calculate the cost of heating and cooling the facility. This was monitored for five years. It was determined that for every $1.00 that was spent on a similar facility, SH spent only $.25, making the building sustainable for years to come. Local churches and families turned a building into a home by painting, providing furniture and decorating each room. Samaritan House Family Ministries accepted our first resident March 2013.
Everyone involved in the process was exhausted. However, God was not finished. In December 2013 Second Source Thrift Store purchased a building located at 511 Municipal Drive providing over 20,000 square feet of warehouse and office space. The Home Repair Ministry moved within a few months and the food pantry and clothing ministry relocated in August 2014. The new location provided additional space for families to shop for clothing and a larger food pantry. The former Ministry Center was used to receive donations.
In 2020, the upper portion of the Donation Center was converted into the Second Source Outlet Center as the partnership with Appalachian Outreach grew. During this year, the ministry was also faced with enormous challenges due to COVID-19. Adjustments were made in the services AO provided to the community. The most significant was to focus on the ability to increase what families were receiving from the food pantry. It was determined in August 2020 that our clothing area would be disassembled. Families could still receive free clothing, but this was in the form of a voucher to be redeemed at the Second Source Outlet Center. The clothing area was set up as a small grocery store allowing families to choose items they want to receive, instead of getting the pre-packed items they had been given in the past. This has been well received and we plan on continuing this type of service in the future.
As I reflect on the years since Appalachian Outreach began, I am reminded of all the blessings God has provided to this ministry. AO has a long history of serving families in Word and Deed. God has used countless individuals, families, congregations, and businesses to provide so much over the last 30+ years. Everything that has been accomplished and what will be accomplished in the future is because of faithful volunteers, dedicated donors, God called staff, and the willingness to not only hear God’s voice but to follow it. God is not finished. Appalachian Outreach will continue writing our history. Thank you for being a part of HIS provision! Jean-Ann Washam, Executive Director