STEUBENVILLE - With week one under their belts, the new leaders of the Journeys of Service Helping Upper Appalachia hope the summer program that pairs volunteer groups with low-income homeowners to do needed repairs brings blessings to both sides.
Glen Fontenot, a native of Sugar Land, Texas, is the director of the outreach more commonly known as the J.O.S.H.U.A. program through Urban Mission Ministries, which had its local beginnings in 1990. Austin Jones of East Orange, N.J., is the assistant director.
In mid-May the two came on board with mission-minded hearts to organize and supervise the program that so far has nine volunteer groups coming to the area from Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania now through the middle of August.
MAKING PLANS — The Journeys of Service Helping Upper Appalachia program through Urban Mission Ministries, has new leadership in Austin Jones, left, assistant director, and Glen Fontenot, director, who came on board in mid-May. The program helps low-income homeowners with improvement projects that are done by volunteer groups on mission outreaches. — Janice Kiaski
Church groups from the Ashland area and elsewhere are in town this week, with about 40 volunteers ready to tackle five projects, according to the program leaders.
"We're recruiting more," Fontenot said of the need for more volunteers - big groups or small - to help see through the 30 homeowner projects on this summer's agenda.
Groups or individuals interested can contact the mission at (740) 282-8010.
Fontenot is a new graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville with a degree in psychology and a position there as its head assistant rugby coach. He said he grew up in a family where service to others was a priority.
"We always served those in need, and where I get all my construction background was from Habitat for Humanity. I did that back in Texas and was on the board for my local affiliate in Fort Bend County, Texas," he said. "I really got to meet some amazing people that I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet."
Habitat for Humanity fostered in him a love to help others, according to Fontenot, who said he grew up "a naive little kid" in a wealthier neighborhood, not exposed to poverty or people struggling.
Fontenot was touched by the love shown by the people that program helped. "No matter how hard of a time they're having, they always say thank you. They're just amazing people."
He initially connected with Urban Mission on a spring break mission trip and ultimately interviewed for the job, grateful, he said, for the chance to serve those he said deserve to be served.
"I am excited to see how it goes the rest of the summer," he said.
Jones said this is his first time to do mission work on this scale, but he was drawn to it and ironically had two acquaintances independently encourage him to apply, thinking he was well suited for the duties.
One of them was Dan Wilson, AMVETS Post 275 commander, according to Jones, who has local ties. His father, Nathan Jones of New Jersey, is from the area, and Jones spent summers and holidays here visiting his grandmother.
Jones is a 10-year Army veteran, seven years' active duty with two tours in Iraq, a tour in Korea and one in Germany. He spent three years in the reserves.
"I did 10 years in the Army and have been to Third World countries and seen the epitome of poverty," Jones said. Being familiar with the area and people here, Jones said helping others and giving back are priorities to him.
"Being able to help people and see the smile on their face are my priorities," Jones said. "There are a lot of people less fortunate than I am, and it's humbling, the whole experience is very humbling and that's what makes me want to do something like this, and I'm just happy to be here, happy to have the opportunity," Jones said.
"I read the job description, and I was interested in it, and it is something that I felt that it wasn't going to be me just working, it was going to be a learning experience as well, so I think that's what kind of drew me to it," he said.
Jones said he's grateful for the chance to help.
"Just take a minute to think about the things that you have and then realize that if you count all the small things, it adds up into the big picture," Jones said. "Most people are like, oh, I don't have this, I don't have that. There is someone out there always less fortunate. Being able to realize what you do have is key to life," Jones said.
"I wake up every morning and I am thankful - I've got my hands, my legs," he said, noting he served as a fueler in the Army in harm's way.
"I am thankful I made it back home safe without a scratch."