For the past four years, Pastor Frank Broughman and his congregation from Under the Bridge Ministry in Vinton have provided dinner and fellowship for volunteers working in the REACH program, providing a respite during their mission trips to the Roanoke area on one night each week.
REACH is a non-profit organization founded by Pastor Tim Dayton of First Christian Church in Roanoke. Youth volunteers, mainly middle and high school students, come from around the country to perform a week of community service and learn that they can make a difference in the world. This is the eighth year for the REACH program in Roanoke.
Pastor Frank is one of their local community partners. He formed Under the Bridge Ministry in 2012 as a non-denominational outreach program— sharing the gospel with the area’s homeless and disabled, starting out under the bridge near the Rescue Mission.
The outreach led to a bus ministry and then an independent church, now located on Walnut Avenue in Vinton where Broughman holds services twice on Sundays and Bible studies on Thursdays.
Dayton commended Broughman at the July 3 volunteer dinner for earning Roanoke City’s “Unsung Hero Award” for his community service efforts in 2016, saying he “epitomizes a giving, loving person within the community. He has a heart for people and takes care of hundreds.
“Frank takes people to get new teeth in a one-day service who don’t have access to dental care,” said Dayton. “He does the same with eyeglasses for those who can’t afford them. He helps them obtain their prescription drugs if they are too costly. He feeds people as often as he can, gives away food, and has a clothes and furniture closet— while living in Section 8 housing himself— ‘not a person of means.’”
Broughman picks up donations for the Rescue Mission from Kroger, Food Lion, Fresh Market, and Earth Fare, serves on the board of the urban garden organization, and is president of the council at Morningside Manor.
One of his favorite ways of giving to others is preparing dinner for the “REACHers.”
REACHers generally arrive on Saturday and leave the following Friday. While the program may be best known for the rehabilitation of homes in the southeast Roanoke community, the youth also fulfill other areas of need.
This year they worked at the Rescue Mission, at the Roanoke Community Gardens Association, with the Christian Soldiers Food Bank, with neighborhood children in the Community Outreach Program, and with the Abandoned Homes Project, rehabilitating two abandoned houses for eventual sale to a low-income family, one in northeast Roanoke and another in southeast.
Volunteers, with some expert guidance, rebuild homes given to or bought by REACH. After they acquire the properties, volunteers fix them up and sell them to someone in the community who plans to remain in the community. The profit they make goes to purchase more abandoned homes and make them habitable again. Statistics indicate that one in 10 homes in Southeast Roanoke is abandoned.
REACH projects also receive donations of materials from local businesses or groups. Currently, volunteers have been tearing out walls, replacing roofs, painting, and repairing plumbing.
Often the REACH groups purposely include adult volunteers with construction know-how. Dayton also makes every effort to connect with local individuals with construction expertise who donate a few hours here and there on projects.
One group of REACHers spent three totally focused hours cleaning, sorting, and labeling shoes at the donation shop at the Rescue Mission and ended up with six tubs full of shoes ready for sale.
REACHers are supervised and supporters by interns which this year include Jordan Moore, Lizzie Ferris, Connor Ferreri, Lauran Corbin, Emma Irvin, and Carlin Krause.
Moore is serving as REACH Camp Director. She is from Virginia Beach and will be a junior at Christopher Newport University this fall, majoring in Social Work. She hopes for a career with a community-based non-profit. This is her second year as an intern and her fourth year with REACH.
Moore says that REACHers “experience the joy of service themselves, but they also help empower members of the local community. Individuals see what REACH is doing and want to get involved to transform their own lives and communities.”
REACH brings together people from diverse economic and social backgrounds. REACHers live in the community they are serving for the week and generally develop a new perspective from seeing it close-up.
Volunteers gain a sense that “we did something for somebody else” and then “take the joy of service back to their own communities and help there.” Moore says their slogan is “Here are my hands; how can I serve?”
Moore expressed her admiration for Pastor Frank, saying that it is extremely “rare to find someone who gives everything.”
She believes that the interns may grow over the summer even more than the REACHers, by “seeing others serve wholeheartedly and selflessly.”
Lizzie Ferris is serving as the “Food and Fun” intern this summer. She is a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University majoring in elementary education. This is her third time as an intern and her fifth year with the REACH program.
“I started as a REACHer and never stopped,” said Ferris. “I kept coming back. I wanted more. It just feels good to do something selfless.”
Connor Ferreri is the “Abandoned Homes” intern. He is a senior at the College of Wooster in Ohio, majoring in religious studies and English. He hopes to be ordained in the ministry, in chaplaincy.
Ferreri says he has a “bit of experience” with different aspects of construction, having participated in similar mission trips in middle and high school. He has enjoyed meeting people from so many walks of life and realizing how much hope people have despite their circumstances.
Lauran Corbin will graduate from Radford University in December with a concentration in Public Relations. She hopes to have a career similar to her role at REACH—being the eyes and ears of an organization. This summer she is documenting activities with photographs from the different worksites, producing a video each week, and creating a Facebook page for the Abandoned Homes project.
The first REACH volunteers arrived in Roanoke mid-June. The project this year lasts for seven weeks, ending in early August. The volunteers during the third week were all from Medford United Methodist Church in Medford, N.J., a group of about 30 middle and high school students and adults, some of whom had participated in previous years.
REACHers are housed at First Christian Church, with YMCA privileges that include a place to shower. Their daily schedule begins about 7 a.m. and ends around 10:30 p.m. The workday is from 9 a.m. until noon and from 1 to 4 p.m. The evenings are spent in activities that allow time for reflecting on what they have noticed and experienced during the day.
Meals are eaten at the Rescue Mission or prepared at First Christian, except for Tuesdays with Pastor Frank.
Medford Pastor Joe Monahan, a Virginia Tech graduate, says that their community is rather affluent, and the youth don’t really see the conditions that exist in the Roanoke area on a day-to-day basis. He hopes the students will learn what it truly means to be in relationship with the community.
“It is important to take the time to really get to know people, not to see them as numbers,” said Monahan.
Dayton says that REACH is 100 percent about relationships— “the tasks completed are incidental to the relationships formed.”