Volunteer workers are a common sight in Harlan County, as people come in from near and far to help with projects, but it’s not so common for one person to devote 17 years to volunteering in the area.
Christine Collins, youth minister at Our Lady of the Woods Catholic Church in Orland Park, Illinois, has been coming to Harlan to volunteer with COAP Inc. for the most part of two decades.
According to COAP Inc. executive director Blake Enlow, Collins is a unique volunteer leader.
“Most years she comes twice a year,” Enlow said. “This year, she’s brought 120 volunteers (to Harlan). She’s encouraged other churches to develop volunteer groups and come to Harlan.”
Enlow said Collins has shown other groups how to be successful volunteers.
“She’s mentored them on the system, how to rent the vans, how to raise the money and what to expect,” Enlow said. “There are four other groups that come to Harlan that she’s mentored. Whenever they need advice, she’s the one they call.”
Collins says she comes to Harlan because she believes it’s important for her church to be helpful wherever they can.
“I keep coming back because this is a home away from home for us,” Collins said. “I’ve lots of friends here, I miss them when we’re not together and I look forward to coming back. I love Harlan County and I love the people who live here.”
Collins remembers her first time in Harlan as a rewarding experience.
“The first time I ever came here, we stayed at Camp Blanton,” Collins said. “We stayed in the cabins, there was no running water and the bathrooms were very far away, it was very rustic.”
Collins said her first day of work in Harlan was on Bailey Hill.
“There was a house in jeopardy of falling off the mountain because of erosion,” Collins said. “As a group, we worked together to lay boulders on the hill so that house wouldn’t fall. The opportunity to do that together as a team really taught me a lot about teamwork.”
Collins said she also has done work at Black Joe.
“One summer I came down and we dug ditches for the conduit for all the utilities that were going to go to those homes,” Collins said. “It was the hardest work I’d ever done…it helps you really focus.”
Collins said the biggest reason she keeps coming back is relationships.
“I feel dedicated to this community, so I want to continue to come here and contribute and be helpful to the community,” Collins said. “I’m grateful to all the people who’ve come with me to Harlan all these years. I think that takes a lot of courage and a lot of trust that this will be a rewarding experience and something that can change their lives in addition to changing people’s lives here in Harlan.”
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-909-4132 or on Twitter @joe_hde.