ROWLESBURG, W.Va. — Lynda Monk and Christine Grobert were 16 years old when the Flood of 1985 devastated much of Preston County.
The girls were moved to lend a hand but didn’t want to collect money; they wanted to physically help. So, they gathered a group of seven, themselves included, and they traveled to Rowlesburg the following June with their Catholic priest and two chaperones.
“We were gung-ho and ready to go when we got here,” Grobert said. “We stayed in the Veterans of Foreign Wars building on Chestnut Street, the same place we stay in now.”
What really sticks in their minds was the conditions coming up W.Va. Route 72 into Rowlesburg. They admitted the road was non-existent.
“It was just rocks and mud everywhere,” Monk said. “Our group gingerly worked our way to Rowlesburg, only to find the town didn’t really exist. We just saw destruction everywhere.”
Grobert said the first house they worked on needed painting, and it was a nice house.
“It really wasn’t damaged by the flood, and we wanted something that needed real help,” Grobert said. “So we asked Sister Priscilla Weidenschlager, who was in Preston County for the summer also. Who can we help who had flood damage?”
Monk said Sister Priscilla came through and took the group to a home in Manheim near the train tracks that was nearly destroyed by the flooding.
“There was so much mud and mildew and just ick — nothing but a shell of a house,” Monk said. “But the family taught us a lesson I don’t think they know they showed us.
“They were so grateful to have a house and saw something we couldn’t see — a home,” Monk continued. “They had a vision, and they had hope.”
The family was living in their car with three small children until they could get back into their home; they weren’t giving up.
“We worked very hard that week,” Grobert said. “We were making it look livable again. We cleaned, painted, speckled, scrubbed and scrapped.”
“I remember painting one child’s room pink. Not just pink, but a Pepto-Bismol pink, and the other room was blue,” Monk said. “Those children were so excited to have rooms with beds.”
Thirty-years later, what was a one-week, eye-opening experience for seven girls has turned into an annual summer home repair program organized through the Catholic Church of Preston County. More than 14 different volunteer groups now spend the summer months repairing homes owned by needy families.
“It is pretty awesome and makes us proud,” Grobert said with tears in her eyes. “I think this program is a sample that all you need is one person to start a great thing.”
“It shows you that you can do anything you want,” Monk said. “Seven girls shouldn’t have been able to do what we did, but here we are 30 years later and still helping people in this beautiful county.
“To be honest, if it wasn’t for the three adults willing to come here with us, it wouldn’t have happened that summer,” Monk said.
This year the group from Chatham, New Jersey, had 43 students in their first week of volunteering.
“We have volunteers that come into the county every week,” Monk said. “And we stay for a total of five weeks working on homes.”
“We have people on a waiting list to come and be a part of this program back home. It means that much to these kids,” Grobert said. “Some come back year after year.”
Grobert and Monk said a lot of these kids have culture shock when they come here.
“Where we live, things are sometimes judged on what you have or don’t have how you dress, and there is a keeping up with the Jones’ type of life,” Grobert said. “When they come here, they see how people can live without having a lot of material things. People here are happy and focus on family and friends.”
“These (New Jersey) kids go to New York City or Europe for vacations on a regular basis — it is not unusual,” Monk said. “When they come to Preston County, they realize they don’t need the material things as much — it is about building relationships.”
After the 30 years of volunteering, what was there left to say that hadn’t been said? “Come on down,” Grobert said. “Open yourself up to the experience.”
“It is not going to be what you think it will be,” Monk said. “It will be so much more.”