Salem, East Liverpool students will give ‘extreme makeover’

Morgan Day

Operating rental trucks, lugging around heavy appliances, sweeping up construction debris.

It’s not the typical workload for Kent State students, but sophomore pre-nursing major Amy McKnight didn’t mind when she volunteered to help construct the Big Reach Center of Hope in Greenford.

McKnight and about 14 other Salem and East Liverpool students joined forces with faculty and staff to help build a 22,000 square-foot facility, a ministry of the Greenford Christian Church, just 10 minutes north of the Salem campus.

Volunteers worked 24 hours a day for seven days in September to construct the building, which houses a library, kitchen, laundry room and the Giving Tree, an outreach that provides food, clothing and other items to those in need.

“It’s like a miracle, really,” Sondra O’Donnell, Workforce Development coordinator at the Salem campus, said about the amount of work put into the project.

She said workers from the church weren’t sure how they were going to get a bigger building, which they badly needed. WYTV, a local affiliate of ABC, initiated a group called “Extreme Makeover: My Home Town,” which chose the project and the project’s recipient.

McKnight said she had seen “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” on TV and considered this a great opportunity to help the community.

“It’s just one of those things that you want to be a part of,” she said. “I met a lot of really nice people, not just from Kent, but from some of the other organizations that were there that day. It was nice to see that there are so many good people out there.”

O’Donnell and Diane Kloss, director of Workforce Development and Continuing Studies, agreed the college generation is interested in service learning.

“We’re just helping (students) by making them more aware of what’s going on in the world, other than MySpace and Facebook, and I think they’re very receptive to that,” O’Donnell said.

With more than a month under its belt, the new Big Reach Center of Hope has seen significant increases in the number of community volunteers. It is currently preparing for its annual “Big Reach Christmas,” said Lynne Kappler, assistant coordinator for Big Reach.

“The number of families we’ve been able to help has increased tremendously,” she said.

Shortly after completing the building, the Greenford Christian Church offered a two-day workshop, “Bridges out of Poverty.” The program was aimed at people working with individuals in poverty, like ministers, social and case workers, teachers and family and marriage therapists. The program began six years ago at the Salem campus and continues to grow in popularity, O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said they are hoping to bring another program, “Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World,” to the church soon. That program is a companion to the first and includes a 35-40-hour course aimed at those living in poverty.

“The Getting Ahead program and the Bridges out of Poverty are programs that really help prescribe a process that people can use to make plans, set goals and challenge everyone to change and to build positive interpersonal relationships to support people that are living in poverty,” Kloss said.

She said she would like to see the programs spread beyond the social service and volunteer arenas and become business-oriented as well.

As for the “next big project,” O’Donnell said there’s nothing planned for the campuses as of yet.

“We’re so in touch with the needs that we don’t know what will come up next,” she said, “but you can be sure if there’s something, we’re there.”

Contact regional south campuses reporter Morgan Day at [email protected].