WHITESVILLE - Members of the St. Aquinas Catholic Church from Alpharetta, Ga., have faithfully traveled to Whitesville every year since 1992.
For a week each summer, the group makes the trek north on I-77 to help repair and renovate homes in communities all along the Big Coal River.
About 50 teens and 25 adults participate in the Whitesville Mission Trip.
The group usually takes on seven jobs each year that have ranged in the past from repairing floors and leaky roofs to constructing a residential wheelchair ramp and public picnic shelters at two local area schools.
The trip is funded by generous contributions from parishioners, family and friends of the group.
The teens and their chaperones sleep at Whitesville Elementary School and have their meals at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church.
Holly West, one of the mission organizers, has traveled with the church group to Whitesville for a decade, “this is my 10th year and I’m very blessed I get to do these trips and get to give back to a community near where my parent grew up outside of Beckley (Prince) and Summersville.”
Her connection to the Big Coal River area goes beyond the mission trip though, “My great uncle worked in the UBB mine and my dad inspected it while in Engineering School at WVU. I feel like I come home every summer.”
West and three teens from the church group traveled back to Whitesville last July after the mission trip to assist the Upper Big Branch Mining Memorial Group in serving food and photographing the Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial Dedication.
This summer, in addition to repairing and renovating homes in the area, the group will be assisting in building two picnic pavilions at The Coal Heritage RiverWalk under construction in Whitesville.
The park is being built on the site of the former public pool near the Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial and is the UBB Mining Memorial Group’s second project in town.
Over the course of the week, they will construct the roofs of both pavilions.