In the mountains and valleys of Appalachia many homes are on the other side of creeks and streams from the main roadways.
When the rains come and water roars down the hillsides into those innocent looking streams, they soon become destructive waterways. The carry off propane tanks, mobile homes, autos and trucks, and stack them up against turns in the stream bed and major concrete state highway bridges.
But the bridges homeowners depend on to get from the highway to their property cannot stand against the flood’s onslaught. Families are cut off. Without their bridges they have to go over the mountains the “back way” or find other ways to cross the creek when the water goes down.
It is not uncommon that persons stuck on the “wrong” side of the creek need special medical assistance , need regular visits to clinics, have jobs they need to get to, or have emergencies, let alone getting to food and supplies.
Over the years Ohio Conference and neighboring conferences have sent hundreds of great volunteers into Appalachian counties to replace decks and doors, build ramps, repair floors replace cabinetry, dry wall and paint walls, replace ceilings and roofs and water heaters, but not bridges.
Years ago when Jim Ditzler recruited me to host work camps, we did all the tasks named above, but not bridges. I remember standing at one of the washed out remnants of a bridge where the woman needed to go out regularly for dialysis. Even in good times, it was a 75 minute drive to a clinic. Without a bridge, it was a tough two and a half hours on mostly dirt back roads – one way.
We really wanted to build a bridge for her. But a wise home construction professional shook his head. Too much we don’t know, too many skills we don’t have as volunteers, we don’t know what weight or width of traffic will use the bridge, what materials to use, how to make it safe, and how to handle liabilities for volunteers, the owner of the property, and the Church. Google is good, but not for this task! So we had to say, “sorry, we don’t know what to do about this.”
But Jim Ditzler and engineers and savvy people got together. They figured out how to move beyond household repairs to becoming bridge-builders.
This link is to an excellent story about a recent ribbon cutting to open the 50th bridge built by volunteers. It is a story about ecumenical community-wide efforts to meet a serious need.
Jim Ditzler is the Ohio Conference Disaster Response Coordinator. His work well exceeds those emergency supply buckets and work camps for which the Conference is known. Read the article and you will see it is not only houses that get our attention!