For the past three years, Pastor Frank Broughman and his congregation from Under the Bridge Ministry in Vinton have hosted student volunteers working in the REACH program for dinner each Thursday night, celebrating their completion of a successful mission trip to the Roanoke area.
REACH is described by organizer Pastor Tim Dayton as a non-profit organization involved in Sustainable Community Development in Roanoke. Their aim is to “connect and engage individuals in positive service experiences where they discover local assets and begin to use them to transform their own communities.” Their vision is that the world will become a place where “Here are my hands, what can I do to help” will become a way of living.
This is the seventh year for the REACH program in Roanoke. Last summer over 8,000 hours of community service were performed.
Pastor Frank is one of their local community partners. He formed Under the Bridge Ministry in 2012 as a non-denominational outreach program— sending a group out to share the gospel and the love of Christ with the area’s homeless and disabled.
The outreach program became a bus ministry and then an independent church, now located in Vinton. Broughman holds services on Sunday at 1:30 and 6:30 and Bible studies on Wednesday in addition to the bus ministry.
Last year Broughman received the Roanoke City “Unsung Hero Award” for his efforts.
The REACH volunteers generally arrive on Saturday and leave the following Friday after a week of mission work in the community. Options they choose from are working with Angels of Assisi, the Roanoke Community Gardens project, the Christian Soldiers Food Bank, the Rescue Mission, or the Presbyterian Center. Some assist with renovations at the REACH 709 Project rehabilitating an abandoned house for eventual sale to a low-income family.
The REACH program is managed this year by Sadie Remington from AmeriCorps VISTA who recently graduated from Furman University with a degree in Politics and International Affairs and will be spending her year of service working on marketing, fundraising, and coordinating volunteers.
Laine Hodges is the new REACH executive program director. She is a recent graduate of James Madison University and will be facilitating the program and directing the student volunteers.
Interns for 2017 include Demi Fernandez, Grace Stewart, Jordan Moore, Shenoah Manter, Zach Hubbard, and Alex Hoen. Fernandez is from Miami and a student at Broward College, studying Business Administration and Finance. She hopes to become a financial advisor and to own a non-profit organization one day.
Stewart is a business management student at Radford University from Oakton, Va., just outside Washington, D.C.
“I first learned about REACH when Pastor Tim spoke in my social entrepreneur class during the spring semester,” said Stewart. “His speech led me to intern with REACH over spring break and return for the summer. I believe in REACH because it not only helps Roanoke, but it opens people’s eyes to new ways they can make a difference in their own community.”
Intern Jordan Moore is from Virginia Beach and just completed her freshmen year at Christopher Newport University, with a major in Social Work.
“REACH will give me first-hand experience working with a non-profit and engaging with the Roanoke community and I’m super excited to see how this internship will shape my social work career path,” says Moore.
Hubbard studies religion at Shenandoah University.
“I am so excited to get to REACH in Roanoke because I find great value in learning how to serve your neighbor,” says Hubbard. “Spending a week at REACH as a junior intern gave me a peek into the Great Mission, and I can’t wait to spend a whole summer living it out.”
Shenoah Manter is a sophomore at Hollins University planning to major in Political Science and minor in Psychology.
“Two years ago, I was a REACHer and fell in love with the REACH program,” says Manter.
Interns apply for their REACH positions and have responsibilities for programming, food service, counseling, administration, music, activities, marketing, team leadership, and home repair. Some earn college credit for their work.
This year’s first week for the summer REACH program included about 30 volunteers from St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and Warwick Memorial UMC, both in Newport News.
The St. Andrew’s crew was led by Jen Kimball, in her first year as Minister for Youth and Children. She came with four high school students and one middle schooler, driving in two cars “loaded to the gills.” She said her church had learned about the REACH opportunity by word of mouth from someone who had participated before. St. Andrews was looking for a new type of mission service, and also wanted to travel to the mountains where they could enjoy the outdoors and hiking.
She says her students “loved working at the Food Pantry and with disabled adults at Goodwill.” They did food prep at the Rescue Mission, and weeded at one of Roanoke’s Community Gardens.
Kimball said her group “got an awful lot out of REACH volunteering, meeting and interacting with different people than they have met before.”
The Warwick group with youth leader John Evans had been on the road doing service missions for several days and stayed only two nights in Roanoke. They had started out at Lake Junaluska in Charlotte, building a memorial bench honoring elementary students who had passed away there. He says most of his youth enjoy getting to take part in construction work and find it a challenge to learn. While in Roanoke, they worked at the REACH 709 Project on Stewart Avenue, repairing a deck and footers.
Evans has been coming to the summer REACH program since 2013 and will return in July with his middle school students. He says he has found it profoundly moving over that time to see his middle school youth mature into high schoolers, melding as a group through projects such as REACH.
“They get to see God’s place in their lives and how this service can be part of God’s plan for them,” said Evans. “They come to appreciate everyone regardless of their situation in life and, in that way, serve themselves as well as others—a rare opportunity anymore.”
REACH volunteers are housed at Pastor Dayton’s First Christian Church in Roanoke, with YMCA privileges that include a place to shower. And on Thursdays they get a Grand Finale meal prepared by Pastor Frank. The REACH youth had an opportunity to fellowship with his church members during dinner.
This summer’s REACH will extend through August, with different groups each week. During the week of June 26, volunteers from Providence UMC in Charlotte and Charlotte Charge Church in Charlotte County, Virginia started the week spending Sunday evening at the Roanoke Mountain Campground listening and dancing to the live music and visiting the Mill Mountain Star.
“People like Pastor Frank are vital to the REACH program—they already have connections in community and that allows us to grab on to their coattails.,” said Dayton. “REACH volunteers fix houses, clean up the community, and feed people, but it is 100 percent relationships—breaking bread together. The tasks completed are incidental to the relationships formed.”
One facet of the REACH program is their stated belief that “you experience joy when engaging in selfless acts. You are known by your actions. All people have a responsibility to use their assets to help and serve one another.”