Project Faith Can Move Mountains – Or Make Them Look Better

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Faith Christian students work at Jubilee Acres during a previous service project.

Faith Christian students work at Jubilee Acres during a previous service project.

by Gene Marrano

Faith Christian School in southwest Roanoke County will celebrate its 10th annual Project Faith day of volunteerism next Friday (April 29) by pitching in at several locations on or near Mill Mountain. Volunteer chairman Stacy Lilley (she has three children at the K-12 school) says the 500 or so volunteers – about 300 students in all grades, parents and others – will be spread out among several work projects: mulching wildflower beds outside Mill Mountain Zoo, cleaning up at the Roanoke Mountain campground and doing some work on horse trails near the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Project Faith is also a major fundraiser for the school, with expected pledges of $150,000 from businesses and individuals. The school spends months preparing students for the day of volunteering, which ends with a celebration on campus in the afternoon. Previous Project Faith efforts took students to the Salvation Army, Roanoke Rescue Mission, the YWCA in downtown Roanoke and Jubilee Acres, a summer camp for the underprivileged in western Roanoke County, for cleanup and painting.

“We’ve outgrown going to just one place,” said Lilley.  The 10th anniversary was a chance to go to places “that don’t get many services. We wanted to get stuff done.” Kindergartners through second graders will work with local garden club members at Mill Mountain Zoo; third through fifth graders will head to the campground, where “huge budget cuts” in the Blue Ridge Parkway budget have led to less maintenance. “They are in desperate need this year,” said Lilley.

The recent threat of a government shutdown could have meant that a backup plan was necessary, since the parkway is part of the National Park Service; Lilley said the organizing committee pledged “not to talk about it” but she was relieved when the U.S. Congress found a way to pass the federal budget plan.

On the 29th sixth and seventh graders will head to adjacent horse trails near the campground and older students will work on the Gorge River Trail that starts at a bridge on the parkway. “These trails haven’t been touched in years, they just don’t have the manpower. They are really excited [by Project Faith],” said Lilley. Trail maintaining, brush clearing and the painting of park benches are on the agenda.

Parents will help out and in some cases, chuckles Lilley, they are asked to back off and let the kids do some of the work, “because they are so eager.” For the most part Project Faith has been blessed with good weather over the past ten years during its annual day of volunteerism.

For many of the younger children it’s the first time they’ve ever pitched in for a worthy cause, a good life lesson notes Lilley, who is also a mental health therapist. “There’s not enough [volunteer] service going on,” she adds.

Students were encouraged to send out at least15-20 letters before Project Faith, all part of the effort to raise $150K for the school. “We feel very confident we’re going to make that goal this year,” said Lilley. “Its [part] of our operating budget.” Corporate sponsorships will raise another $25,000, with company names going on the back of Project Faith t-shirts and brochures. Letters asking for pledges have gone out across the country and internationally in some cases. Even with the sluggish economy and tight family budgets, Lilley expected that fundraising would hit its target.

School administrators toyed with the idea of splitting Project Faith into several days this year, since it’s become so popular with a growing student body and adult volunteers. “It’s a good problem to have,” said Lilley of an undertaking they began planning for last August.  (See faithchristian-school.com for more on Project Faith or to make a donation.)