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Jeannette grad, brother volunteer for trip to Appalachia to build homes

| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
John Howard | Trib Total Media
From July 5-13, 20 members of Ascension and Sacred Heart Youth Groups joined 90 others to build homes and additions in the Appalachian region of Eastern Kentucky. In front, from left, are Sam Rehard, Sage Lander, Dena Horn, Mike Doench and Laura Kerestes. In the second row are Alex Bearley, Anthony Johnson and Bobby Horn. In the third row are Josh Ferar, Evan Oblak, Mason Kemerer, Maria Doench, Patrick Lazar and Dan Fleming. In back are Kaitlyn Garris, Caroline Kerestes, Regina Fleming, Jordan Sadler, John Ridilla and Lisa Kemerer.
Bobby and Dena Horn enjoyed their time volunteering in Kentucky.

For Dena and Bobby Horn, serving as volunteers on a mission trip to the hills of Appalachia, Ky., found that they have much to be thankful for in Jeannette.

Dena Horn, the daughter of Bob and Claudia Horn, just celebrated her 20th birthday on July 22 and is a seven-year veteran of the project. She is a Jeannette High School graduate and is preparing for her sophomore year at West Liberty University (her dad's alma mater), and is majoring in business.

Her brother, Bobby Horn, is entering his junior year at Jeannette High School and is second-year participant. He entered the project after hearing his sister's stories about how she and her friends helped the financially strapped people of the hills of Kentucky and decided to join her last year.

“I liked hearing Dena's stories,” he said. “I thought it was pretty cool.”

Dena and Bobby Horn are the most important part of an organization called The Appalachia Work Camp, a nonprofit program under the direction of the Rev. Dan Sweeney. With the support of the Rev. Paul Lisik, pastor of the Sacred Heart/Ascension Parish, each summer, a number of volunteers load into 12 passenger vans and head south to assist with home improvements, such as building sturdy porches, additions, installing waterlines and adding fresh coats of paint.

This year, 20 people from Sacred Heart attended, including John Ridilla, the parish's youth minister and adult volunteers Regina Flemming and Lisa Kemerer.

There were 113 volunteers in all, with the remaining volunteers coming from St. Joan of Arc Parish in South Park and St. Therese and St. Maximillian Kolbe churches in Munhall and Homestead, respectively.

The Horn family became involved through Sacred Heart Ascension Youth Group.

The program has a number of work sites in Kentucky. This year, they constructed two 24-foot-by-36-foot houses, four additions, nine porches, dug three water lines and installed two handicapped ramps — in eight days. A number of volunteers dig out posts two days before the rest of the volunteers arrive to help expedite construction.

Typically, volunteers rise in the morning at 6:45 a.m. and leave for work at 7:45. They start at 8:30 a.m. and work until 6 p.m.

Their off-time consists of playing football and soccer. The team also schedules a “family night,” where the families, who have lived in run-down shacks, barns and broken trailers, sometimes with no running water or electricity, can celebrate with the volunteers.

Dena Horn said, “Some are very friendly, some are embarrassed. There's a lot of kids, so they loosen the tension. They want to help.”

Family night happens on Thursday and is loaded with food, arts and crafts and fireworks. The group also accepts clothing donations before leaving for the trip and shares them that night.

The trip has two purposes. The first, according to, is to teach kids “a sense of self-worth and accomplishment.” The other is to assist those who are less fortunate and change their lives.

Dena and Bobby Horn have also learned to be a little more thankful for what they have.

Claudia Horn, their mother, said, “When she (Dena) came home the first year, after that, she was like, ‘Mom, you wouldn't believe the way these people live.' She was amazed.”

Dena Horn said there is little industry nearby, only a lumber mill. There's no easy access for businesses to thrive, as the region they visit is right in the middle of the mountains. Residents have a Save-a-Lot for groceries, but most are thankful to make $20 a day.

According to Ridilla, it's one of the poorest regions in the country.

“It has the poorest per capita income in the United States outside of Puerto Rico, but interestingly enough, it has the highest percentage of home ownership in the state.”

Ridilla said over the course of the 33 years that the program has been in existence, they have built 80 homes, and 100 percent of the fundraising goes towards the trip. This year, they raised $100,000.

With the nearest hospital two hours away, the volunteers are careful not to get hurt and there is a nurse on staff at all times. Dena Horn said there is a Med-Express in the area, but they are so crowded that the injured and sick may be turned away until the following day. Many use it in the place of a primary care physician.

The weather, too, can be a challenge. While the weather was pleasant this year, Dena Horn said she has worked when the thermometer reached 106 degrees.

“It was really nice. It was in the mid-80s. Staying hydrated is the biggest challenge.”

As volunteers, they bring their own tents. The Horn family brings their own tools. Sweeney owns 14 acres in the region, which includes showers for the volunteers, a bathroom and a kitchen. A kitchen crew supplies the food.

As always, project organizers encourage volunteers to join. They must be active members of the church and members of the Sacred Heart/Ascension Youth Group or the former St. Boniface Youth Group and be willing to participate in fundraising activities.

Ridilla can be contacted at his office at 724-527-6483.

Maria Tyger is a contributing writer.

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