SNEEDVILLE – While many churches are raising money to dig wells in Africa, Jubilee Project just wants to bring clean water to poor families in Hancock County.
In fact, “access to clean water” is one of the five basic needs Jubilee Project is tackling under a new set of core values and leadership. The other prioritized needs in this part of central Appalachia, hemmed in by the Clinch and Powell Mountains, are food security, shelter, health, self-worth and love.
“When you try to tell people from the outside that there are so many homes here without running water, they can’t grasp it,” says Heidi Taylor, Jubilee office manager. “That doesn’t happen in America.”
Twenty-two years after it was founded by Steve and Diantha Hodges, missionary volunteers now serving in South Sudan, Jubilee Project is still trying to make a difference in one of Tennessee’s poorest counties. Thirtytwo percent of Hancock County residents live below the poverty level compared with 17 percent state-wide, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“We want to let people know what is going on out their backyard,” says the Rev. Allen Karnes, Jubilee’s executive director since June 2012.
In the past year, Jubilee Project has helped 13 families get clean water into their homes by putting in infiltration systems, replacing pumps, or digging wells, Taylor said.
“We take for granted the everyday luxuries – going into your bathroom and turning on the water, brushing your teeth, having clean underwear and socks,” she said. “We try not just to help the people that everybody helps, but the people who fall through the cracks.”
Three years ago, Jubilee Project had three full-time and five part-time employees. Today, the organization operates with three employees
Karnes, a United Methodist preacher, balances his director responsibilities with pastoring three churches. Taylor, the office manager, is part-time. A parttime AmeriCorps volunteer, Rhonda Utermoehlen, will soon be joined by two more part-time AmeriCorps workers.
Jubilee did undergo reorganization with budget cuts and staff changes, including the resignation of long-time youth/work-camp director Randy Hildebrant in December 2010 and the unexpected death of Director Terry Schnell in March 2011.
The 2013 budget now stands at $134,000, compared to $349,000 in 2009. Some programs, such as the Clinch-Powell Community Kitchens, have been shut down.
During the reorganization, Jubilee Project strengthened its ties with the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church, based in Alcoa, and created the list of core values where they believed they could have the most impact.
“Jubilee is serving an area of tremendous need, and it has repositioned itself to serve those needs,” said Turner. “In such a poor community, a strong connection with the church is critical.”
With the help of churches, Jubilee still hands out large amounts of food and supplies. Last year, the organization distributed 11,498 pounds of food, 515 emergency food boxes, 1,000 Thanksgiving meals, 1,350 Christmas gifts, and 366 backpacks with school supplies.
A newer program, Bread of Life, provides fresh hot meals to the homebound. Five days each week, Utermoehlen prepares and delivers meals to about 20 homes, driving 100 miles daily on rural, rough roads.
“They’re not just the elderly but people with physical disabilities,” said Taylor.
Replacing the 17-year old van is on the needs list, says Taylor.
When Jubilee rounded up eight youth for a Holston Conference spiritual retreat in Gatlinburg last month, a Morristown volunteer had to drive them because the van was deemed unsafe.
Donations are always appreciated. Taylor says residents may send donations to Jubilee Project, 197 N. Jockey Street, Sneedville, TN 37869, or contact 423-733-4195 or firstname.lastname@example.org.