When Lorene Bostic moved into her Mt. Vernon home in 1969, she was 14 years old and recently married. With two kids and not much money, Bostic was glad to get all the help she could.
The Christian Appalachian Project helped her the most, she said Friday, bringing her Christmas baskets, clothes and food when her family had none, starting when she was 9 years old.
Fifty years later, the group is still there for her.
The organization, which started in 1964, held a 50th anniversary reunion Friday and Saturday, bringing past volunteers from across the country back to Kentucky to help renovate and rebuild houses in Rockcastle County, including Bostic's.
Never miss a local story.
"They do more than any organization around here," Bostic said. "They help the poor people here in Rockcastle County. They've done quite a bit and I'm proud of them."
Outside her living room's thin walls, volunteers power washed and repainted the side of the house, put new wood on the front porch and stained the back porch. Down the narrow hallway, two other volunteers worked to replace the bathroom floor.
The Christian Appalachian Project rebuilds homes throughout Appalachia, charging nothing for their labor. There are 500 homes on the group's waiting list in Kentucky alone.
"That's how many people need help in Eastern Kentucky," said Felicia Carter, a spokeswoman for the group.
Some volunteers spend months building and renovating a single home.
Vincent Birch, a volunteer who worked on Bostic's house, said the relationships he built through volunteering seem as important as the work itself.
Though patching leaking roofs and sanding splintered porches are why volunteers show up, the bond between the builders and the home owners creates something stronger than the physical structures they build, he said.
"It's more than a worker-employer relationship," Birch said. "A lot of participants want to keep up with the volunteers. I've met with participants after finishing jobs just to catch up."
The work at Bostic's home on Friday was part of a larger project to completely renovate her house with a new roof, among other things. Bostic thanked the group, saying her physical disabilities make it difficult to do things like replace broken floors or paint the walls.
Churches and schools refer families in need to the Christian Appalachian Project, but the families can also ask the group to help with construction projects directly. The group also runs a food pantry and thrift store in Mt. Vernon called Grateful Threadz and Grateful Bread. Volunteers regularly bring Bostic food and clothing when she runs low.
"We're poor and we don't have that much, but we've got love," Bostic said.
Susan Gemma, who cleaned and stained Bostic's back porch, drove from Massachusetts to participate in the reunion and to volunteer. Gemma said she always wanted to come to Appalachia when she was growing up, so in the late 1980s she drove south to join the Christian Appalachian Project.
"I was really excited that I had the chance to come back," Gemma said. "It was a great, great experience."