After a painful car accident impacted her family five years ago, one small low-income Kentucky town showed a Gainesville teen its ability to share its love and gave her a passion to help them in return.
Tracy Taphouse was traveling in Kentucky on a mission trip with Belmont Baptist Church when disaster hit. As the church van traveled along Ky. 92 East in Williamsburg, Ky., a tractor-trailer crossed the center line and struck the driver’s side of the vehicle.
Her father, Terry Taphouse, suffered a severe leg injury almost costing him a limb; her mother had other injuries requiring hospitalization.
Immediately, Marc Hensley’s phone rang. The Mountain Outreach ministry director at the University of the Cumberlands heard some scary news.
“They called me and told me one of my groups had been in an accident,” Hensley said. “I told them I didn’t have a group working in that area, but they insisted it was one of mine. So I went up there.”
Hensley encountered the group from Belmont Baptist Church of Gainesville, but didn’t know any of the crash victims at the time. However, he and the surrounding Kentucky community joined forces to help.
“My parents were taken to the hospital in Lexington and we continued to work,” Taphouse said, referring to the mission trip. “The whole community just came together to support us and show us love.”
Two years later, Taphouse returned to the area, enrolling at the University of the Cumberlands. She then contacted Hensley about being on Mountain Outreach’s summer staff to give back to the community that helped her family and church congregation through the hard times.
“I got to know Tracy and her story,” Hensley said. “One day, we were in that area (of the accident), and I could tell she was nervous. So I asked her about it. She said ‘This is where the accident happened’ and it clicked.”
Since enrolling in college and meeting Hensley, Taphouse has been an active member with the ministry group. Then in 2013, she and her father, who is youth pastor at Belmont Baptist Church, had a Gainesville group return to the area once again for a mission trip.
“We have church groups that come help us for a week at a time throughout the summer,” Tracy Taphouse said. “So I got my dad and my boss (Hensley) together and got them involved here.”
The Gainesville group was eager to find new ways to repay the community for its kindness.
Taphouse emphasized she enjoys helping the community in ways she never considered possible.
“We are a construction ministry,” Taphouse said. “We build everything from wheelchair ramps to entire homes and help the people in the area. I never thought I would be doing construction before I came here.”
This summer, Taphouse led the Belmont Baptist Church group on building homes and completing wheelchair ramps. The mission groups usually construct one or two ramps and help build one home during its weeklong experience.
The groups, which fluctuate in size from week to week in the summer, are guided by the 13 student members of Mountain Outreach and its permanent staffers. The projects are completed during the summer by the students, staff and mission groups.
“We build two homes from the ground up every summer,” Hensley said.
Working with Mountain Outreach has bonded Taphouse to the community. But she said she felt connected already because the town immediately accepted her and made her feel at home.
Once she graduates in 2016, the University of the Cumberlands senior plans to work on her doctoral degree and volunteer with the organization in Williamsburg.
“I plan on coming up to work whenever I can,” Taphouse said. “It’s not about the projects; it’s about the people.”
Recipients of Mountain Outreach projects must meet a certain criteria, which includes filling out an application to prove their need and willingness to work with Mountain Outreach on the project. The application is long and student volunteers select the recipients.
After the selection, the potential participants go through a “homeowners education” course.
“People have to go through a seminar to learn about caring for the home, financial stability and other things the bank doesn’t teach them,” Hensley said. “They also must invest ‘sweat equity,’ meaning they work alongside us building their home.”
With the completion of the 2015 homes, Mountain Outreach has built 147 homes for those in need in the Williamsburg, Ky., area. However, Taphouse pointed out sometimes, the smallest projects are the most rewarding.
“Last summer, we were doing yard work for a lady in the area who lived by herself,” Taphouse said. “When we were finished, she just broke down and said she had never been shown so much love.
“She said that sometimes, she had to choose between getting the medicine she needs and buying food. We filled her fridge for the summer.”