FRAKES, Kentucky — When Logan McKinney mentions mission trips he’s taken and where he did the work, his friends are sometimes surprised.
“In Kentucky?” they ask.
But Logan has found the nearly 300 miles between Hancock County, Indiana, and Bell County, Kentucky, to be far enough for him to find opportunities to help others and also gain a new perspective.
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“It opens you up to some of the world that you don’t see,” said Logan, who will be a senior at New Palestine High School in the fall. “You don’t have to go out of the country … to see poverty.”
Logan was one of nine people who traveled to Frakes, Kentucky, earlier this month in a trip organized by Mt. Comfort United Methodist Church of the Risen Christ. The group helped out in the community surrounding Henderson Settlement, a United Methodist outreach in Appalachia.
According to its website, the center began more than 90 years ago. A pastor watched a local murder trial in which witnesses appeared to be tight-lipped in their testimony to keep authorities from resolving the case, exasperating the judge.
After that, the Rev. Hiram Frakes shifted his ministry focus to people of this region. He traveled the area advocating for a local high school to be built. He found some people — including one by the last name of Henderson — who embraced that vision and donated land.
What Frakes built didn’t stop with the school. A sawmill, a farm, a church and a swimming pool were among other efforts that took shape in a community that would come to bear the minister’s name.
The school closed in 1976 and was turned into a community center. Today, a thrift store, children’s sports leagues and a senior center offer affordable opportunities to people living in a county where the median household income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is around $22,000 a year.
“People don’t have a lot,” said Rose McKinney, Logan’s grandmother and missions chairman for the Mt. Comfort church. “They try, but they just don’t have it.”
McKinney has gone on each of the 10 annual trips the church has made to Henderson Settlement so far. In the years she’s been going, she’s seen an addition go up on one end of a dormitory there. Groups often stay in the settlement dormitories, with as many as 200 volunteers visiting in a given week from spring through late fall.
They gather each morning in rows of benches on a hillside facing three wooden crosses, taking turns leading worship before going to their work assignments.
Often, their task is home improvement at a residence in the area. During its recent trip, the Mt. Comfort team installed foam board insulation and vinyl siding at the home of a man with disabilities whose son and grandson live with him.
“(The settlement’s) goal is to display the love of Christ through service,” trip organizer Dan Johnson wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter. “They accomplish this by partnering with individuals and churches across the country to touch the lives of the families they serve.”
Local residents apply to have a job completed by a work team. Staff at Henderson Settlement evaluate the need and then assign a team. Team members pay to go on the trip, which covers their dormitory stay and meals and also supports the settlement. The church pays for building materials, which are waiting at the site when group members arrive.
In the three trips he’s made, Logan has learned on the go from fellow group members with construction experience, whether they’re installing skirting and windows for a mobile home or hanging vinyl siding on a house.
Grateful homeowners often join the effort; those unable to do so often try to feed team members or make some other gesture to express their gratitude, Rose McKinney said.
“You meet a lot of good people down there,” Logan agreed. “They don’t have a lot, but they’d do anything for you, and they really appreciate (the work).”
What Logan appreciates is hearing their stories, listening to where people come from and how they grew up — and yet he finds that despite apparent differences, “you don’t grow up that much different.”