As your team enters one of the poorest counties in the United States, you’ll see not much has changed in the 50 years since President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” began in rural Appalachia. McDowell County, West Virginia was crippled after the decline of the coal industry, starting a cycle of generational poverty and dependence on government assistance to survive.
Appalachian mission trips give your team the opportunity to make a difference together as you invest in children through Kids Club and tackle major work projects for families in need. Many of the homes leftover from the coal industry era are in desperate need of repairs families cannot afford. Your willingness to listen, encourage and work hard will help neighbors begin to see change is possible. Will you commit to seeing hope and dignity restored one home and neighbor at a time?
When the area first became known as McDowell County over 150 years ago, the area was considered almost completely inaccessible. Railroads and roads have since improved the accessibility of the area and when McDowell County's coal production was at its peak, the population rose to nearly 100,000 residents. Today, the area is sparsely populated with less than 28,000 residents throughout the entire county.
Coal was shipped from this area in 1883 and ever since then, coal has been the running force behind the economy of McDowell County. As the coal industry rose, McDowell County began a rapid growth. During that time they were nationally known for their reputation in the coal mining industry. The county often set records for coal production and was a large boost to the state's economy.
The coal industry began its descent in the 1950s. The younger generation was quick to leave the area in pursuit of a better life leaving behind an older and more poverty-stricken generation. This did not deter the residents who remained. Even as the coal industry continued its descent throughout the 1960s and 1970s, McDowell County continued to lead the United States in total coal production. This continued strength throughout the decline was a hope for the area that ended in a heartbreaking collapse when foreign coal companies began to provide newer and more efficient steel plants producing better steel at lower prices. During the 1980s the Appalachian area lost more than 70,000 coal mining jobs. McDowell County was among the highest of losses. The year the US Steel Corporation shut down their coals mines McDowell County average personal income decreased by 66%.
In 2001 the West Virginia Department of Education took over the county system and began reorganizing the schools after many schools in the area had fallen into disarray and academic failure rates escalated. Some schools were closed while others were either reconstructed or refurbished for the inevitable consolidation of the schools. Because of how far back the lack of education had gone, school systems found themselves educating and bringing hope to two or more generations at a time. It did not take long before the county was able to self-govern again.
Today, McDowell County continues to press on. Residents who have stayed make their living through working at landfills, mines, various stores, and Walmart. Public officials and other citizen groups have worked hard attempting to rebuild the local economy, including the efforts President Lyndon B. Johnson's national War on Poverty that are still continued in McDowell County today.
The natural landscape of West Virginia is beautifully timbered mountains and long winding roads. Elevations in this area range from 875' to 3400' above sea level. The narrow valleys within the mountains have caused many streams to flow through the area that are a base for the roads and homes. Homes are often built alongside streams so it's not uncommon to see small bridges covering the gap from road to home. Today, the mountains are still plentiful with coal and other natural resources.
The roots go down deep in the hearts of those who reside in McDowell County. Residents of this area are full of pride toward where they have come from, boasting on their region's history, deep family ties, and their courage to survive even the toughest of circumstances. While many people do live with modern conveniences such as running water or electricity, there are some who have chosen to continue the simple life of their ancestors and have forgone those conveniences.
Many people continue to make their living in the coal mines while others have found work in local stores, one of those being Walmart, the largest private employer in the county. There are also an incredibly high percentage of people in the area who live on Disability and Welfare.
Poverty in McDowell County has traveled down through the generations since their economy began to decline in the 1950s. This poverty is escalated due to the region's remote location and the loss of a middle class who either left in search of a new life or were forced into poverty. In 1990, over 50% of all children in McDowell County were living in families who lived below the poverty level.
According to the 2000 US Census, only 50% of adults living in McDowell County had received a high school diploma. Beyond that, less than 6% had received a college diploma. The median income of the area is less than $17,000 a year. As poverty has increased, there have also been increased rates of domestic abuse, suicide, and substance abuse.
Many of the people living in poverty have overlooked basic home repairs as the need to provide food and a roof for their families has risen to the top of their priorities. Homes have gone into disrepair and are in dire need of fixing up. Leaking roofs and floors have caused many homes to become unhealthy living environments.
Religious roots go deep down in the hearts of those who live in West Virginia, especially in the older generations. 75% of the people in the area claim Christianity as their religion. Small churches including many mainstream Protestant churches are found throughout the local towns. Small mountain churches with no affiliation as well as some Roman Catholic churches also exist.
Work projects are organized to support the needs and vision of the community and designed to connect team members with the local people of McDowell County. Experience Mission staff will coordinate projects and get materials and tools ready. Your team will be responsible to provide project oversight. While we will always have plenty of work for your team, the extent of the projects may be limited based on the expertise your team brings with you.
Your team will be involved in home repair and community restoration work projects that reach out to those in need in various practical ways. We will work in neighborhoods with a diverse group of people and circumstances. Team members will have the opportunity to share their lives through service, prayer, and time spent with the families and children they come to work among .*Experience Mission works closely with local leaders to identify work projects and ministry opportunities that address authentic needs within the community. We ask that you come with a servant's heart and willingness to adapt to the unique qualities represented in each location. Opportunities can vary significantly from one week to the next. Your team may work at one location or serve at multiple locations each day. Due to the changing needs of our community partners, we cannot confirm your specific daily activities until your team arrives.
Due to the unique nature of this community, the opportunity for relational ministry may take place directly at project worksites as volunteers come alongside and encourage those come to serve.
There may be additional opportunities to serve in various types of relational ministry if the need arises. These could include: visiting the elderly, singing at a nursing home, gardening, cleaning, etc.
Experience Mission holds a daily Kids Club during the summer to provide a fun, safe way for local kids to spend their free time while learning about Jesus. We typically need 5-7 people to help with this each afternoon. To best serve the needs of the local kids we feel it is optimal for one team to consistently lead Kids Club throughout the week. In light of this, we will offer Kids Club to teams on a first come, first serve basis. Leading Kids Club is an important outreach ministry. We ask teams who request participation in this ministry, to embrace that responsibility and come well prepared for their role in leading Kids Club. If your team has a strong desire to work with children please contact us early on to see if this ministry opportunity is still available. Your team must be registered for the trip to be assigned Kids Club.
Kids Club is held consistently each week throughout the summer. In the event that no teams sign up to lead Kids Club, Experience Mission will take the time to talk with teams and assign the role of leading Kids Club to the team with the strongest interest. Experience Mission will provide the curriculum for your team to use. This Kids Club curriculum will be sent out to Team Leaders in the spring via email.
Teams will be responsible to bring the craft supplies needed for their specific crafts and should budget appropriately. While we do our best to make sure craft materials are cost effective, teams may feel free to augment any materials to make them more suitable to their budget. Experience Mission will supply scissors, staplers, paper hole punches and rulers. There are plenty of opportunities to connect with local children through games like soccer or Frisbee. Tuck in a hackysack, football or jump rope as they are sure to come in handy!
Due to staffing limitations and varying school schedules in our community locations, Kids Club and Evening Gathering are not offered during spring break trips. Teams should plan to prepare their own worship and devotional materials for trips from February-May.
Each morning, there is time set aside for devotions and quiet time. This is a valuable time and we strongly encourage all team members to spend it with God, journaling their thoughts and experiences as the days unfold.
Our staff will lead a time of debriefing and a short devotional in the evening (what we call "Evening Gathering") and it is always a great addition to have musical worship. Our programming does not include musical worship as we can't guarantee that our our staff will have this ability. Please let us know if you have anyone who sings or plays guitar on your trip so that we can help to coordinate the musical aspect of worship when able. If teams aren't able to help in the area of music, it may not be a part of the trip.
3-6pm Groups Arrive
5pm - Leader's Meeting
6pm - Dinner
7pm - Orientation Meeting
8:30pm - Team Time (a time for your group alone)
11:30pm - Lights Out
7:15am - Breakfast
7:45am - Devotions and Quiet Time
8:15am - Group Prayer
8:30am - Teams leave for Sites
12pm - Lunch
3:30pm - Finish work for the day
4pm - Break and Clean-up
5pm - Leaders meeting
6pm - Dinner
7pm - Evening Gathering (as a whole group)
8:30pm - Team time
7am - Breakfast
7:30am - Cleanup/ Packing
9am - Pictures and Good-Byes
Teams in West Virginia will stay in an old local school building that has been converted into a dormitory for mission teams.
Bunk beds have been built in the school that have basic mattresses. Temperatures vary during the summer and while the days can tend to be hot, the nights can get pretty cool. Team members should plan to bring light bedding or a sleeping bag and a pillow.
There will be showers for your team. There is not always hot water available to be prepared for cold showers.
There will be bathrooms at the place you stay. Most work sites will have bathrooms. On the occasion that there are no facilities where you are working, teams will need to take breaks midday to use a public restroom.
There is running water in West Virginia.Teams will have access to it where they are staying, and at most work sites. Teams should plan to bring refillable water bottles to stay hydrated at work sites.
There is electricity in West Virginia that will be available where teams stay as well as at most work sites. *Keep in mind that there will not be air conditioning.
McDowell County is a safe area in general. The facilities where teams stay will be locked throughout the night and Experience Mission Staff members will do a sweep to make sure the facilities are secure before retiring for the evening. There is minor petty theft in the area. For this reason, we recommend teams leaving all valuables (smartphones, computers, jewelry, etc.) at home. If a team does bring some valuables, the best way to keep them safe is to store them in a locked vehicle during the day.
A wonderful team of local cooks, alongside your Experience Mission Summer Staff, will be preparing and serving your meals. Breakfast and dinner will be served buffet style, and your team will pack their own lunches each morning.
Your team's transportation to, from and while in West Virginia is NOT COVERED. You will need vehicles throughout the entire week to transport your team to various locations for work and ministry. Using a school bus as your main mode of transportation while in this community is not an option. Our work in West Virginia can only accommodate standard 15 passenger vans or smaller.
Wondering what all goes on during our McDowell County mission trips? Youíre not alone! Hereís a list of frequently asked questions about this trip.
What age group can you accommodate in McDowell County, West Virginia?
We can accommodate late elementary and Jr. High/middle school students in this location as well as high school students, college students, and adults.
How much do McDowell County mission trips cost?
The cost for this trip is $335/person for 2019. This includes all lodging, food, staffing, and trip-related expenses. Transportation is not included. Note that all construction projects are generally provided at no cost to families. Your fees help cover this blessing for homeowners.
What seasons do you offer McDowell County mission trips?
Mission trips to McDowell County, West Virginia are available during the summer. Check out this list of all available spring break trips if you are looking for trips outside the summer months.
Do you offer spring break trips to West Virginia?
Spring break trips are currently closed for registrations for 2019. Check back soon for 2020 availability. Check out our spring mission trip locations for all available options.
What will volunteers do on a mission trip to McDowell County, West Virginia?
Ministry in McDowell County has a few primary focuses. Teams can expect to work on home improvement projects with local families and lead a Kids Club through the local church.
Will we work with children in McDowell County?
Because we need only a limited number of volunteers for this activity, Kids Club is available on a first come, first served basis in McDowell County.
What paperwork is required for this mission trip?
Each team member will need to fill out a team member registration form and liability waiver, and all adults are required to pass a background check. Your mission trip support representative will contact you if any other paperwork is required.
Where will my team stay in McDowell County?
Teams will stay in rustic, bunkhouse style lodging in Gary, West Virginia. While there is running water on site, there is not consistently hot water and there will be no air conditioning in the sleeping quarters. Your team will need to bring light bedding/sleeping bags.
How does transportation work during West Virginia mission trips?
Transportation is entirely up to groups to arrange. We recommend 15 passenger vans and smaller. We donít recommend relying on buses as a mode of transportation for this trip. Keep in mind that groups are often split into teams of 8-12 for construction projects. It works well if you are able to plan transportation accordingly.
When should I arrive?
Check-in is between 3 and 5 PM on the first day of your selected trip. Our staff will be awaiting your arrival. You can expect dinner and an orientation meeting to get you ready for the week that evening as well.
What should I pack for this trip?
A packing list will be available to you once you register for the trip. Generally, be prepared to bring along work clothes. All tools will be provided to you, but donations of additional tools are welcome!
Does EM offer mission trips to any other Appalachia communities?
Yes! We also currently offer Appalachia volunteer trips to Pike County, Kentucky, Webster Springs, West Virginia and Jackson County, Ohio.
Have more questions about Experience Mission trips? Check out our general FAQs, or call our support team at 888-475-6414.
Experience Mission has specific policies regarding registration and withdrawal. Please refer to the document below for specifics.
All volunteers on a week-long EM mission trip must be part of a team of at least six (6) people, with at least one team member age 21 or older to serve as the Team Leader. Not part of a group? All young adults ages 18-30 are eligible to apply for EMís IMMERSION program.
If you still have questions about this community after reviewing Details & Logistics or you want to take the first step toward bringing your team on an EM mission trip, Fill out a Mission Trip Interest Form and someone from our staff will be in touch with you shortly!
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You must have a group size of at least 3 members to join this trip. Please view the Small Team trips or call our Servicing Department for more options at 888-475-6414.
For most trips, you must have a group size of at least 3 members. Please view the Small Teams tab on each Community page or call our Servicing Department for more options at 888-475-6414.