Brooks Leftwich Impacts Lives in Tennessee Cumberland Mountains
Brooks Leftwich (University of Tennessee, 2019) spent his summer impacting the lives of the needy in the Tennessee Cumberland Mountains area, while learning skills that will be valuable as he pursues a career in mechanical engineering.
As a service project ministry coordinator at Mountain T.O.P. (Tennessee Outreach Project), an interdenominational, non-profit Christian Mission, affiliated with the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church, he was one of 16 coordinators who helped make connections with local residents, coordinate minor home repair, and plan and lead activities for campers.
His nine weeks of service included a week of training in May, followed by seven weeks of working with campers from different churches across the country. Each week 75-160 campers would travel to “the mountain” to bring hope to those less fortunate in the Appalachian community by helping to meet their physical, spiritual, social, and emotional needs.
“Many of the residents on the mountains of the counties we served – Bledsoe, White, Van Buren, Sequatchie, and Warren – lived in housing which was in need of repairs, or additions like a wheelchair ramp, in order to improve their standard of living,” Leftwich said.
Celebrating 40 years in partnership with the Cumberland Mountain people, Mountain T.O.P. serves to eliminate sub-standard housing; to foster growth among staff, participants, donors and the community; to engage in solutions with the community partners for holistic and sustainable community growth; to provide and support opportunities for lifelong learning and personal growth for all ages; and to promote lifestyles that support healthy choices.
Through partnerships, Mountain T.O.P. has been able to inspire change in the lives of over 1500 people each summer. The families (about 400) that receive volunteer services, such as minor home repair, yard work, painting, and wheelchair ramps, are interviewed and screened and must be true “partners,” by making any size donation to Mountain T.O.P. Donations range from monetary contributions, to an item of value, to cooking a homemade meal for the group. Mountain T.O.P. as a ministry tries to find ways to say “yes” to assisting families. Mountain T.O.P. will never say no to a family that is eager to partner in ways other than monetary. Leftwich attended Mountain T.O.P. for six summers as a youth camper with Lewisburg First United Methodist Church and was lead to join the summer staff in 2016.
“This was one of the best experiences ever and it will impact me for the rest of my life,” said Leftwich, who serves Delta Delta Chapter as secretary. “I’ve learned not only carpentry skills, but also leadership, public speaking, database management and worship leading skills.”
Mountain T.O.P’s partnership philosophy also applied to the summer staff. Each staff member had to raise half of their salaries plus $1000 for expenses, for a total of $2100. Leftwich raised this with the support of family, friends, and his local church.
“I cannot thank my partners enough for giving me the opportunity to work this summer at Mountain T.O.P.,” he stated. Adding, “My only wish is that they could all experience the joy of seeing these families who we worked with. I got to experience God’s love, hope, and compassion every day this summer!”
One of Leftwich’s church groups built a porch and stair combination to assist a family that had suffered many injuries and were having difficulty getting in and out of their house. Another large project, and his “favorite,” was a 55-foot wheelchair ramp that a group worked on for just under three days. The wheelchair ramp benefitted a single mom who works 17 hour days and whose twins both have cerebral palsy.
“It was amazing to see how hard the group worked in 95-degree heat. They were eager to tackle this project, and the family was elated with what they accomplished,” noted Leftwich, who was responsible for making sure all completed projects met expectations and were built to code.
After working on projects for partners in the community during the day, the participants would return to camp – either Camp Baker Mountain (Spencer, Tenn.) or Camp Cumberland Pines (Coalmont, Tenn.) – and enjoy a family-style dinner, followed by a weekly campfire on Friday nights, games like volleyball and 9-square, crafts, vespers, and worship services. Another hit with campers is “Octoball,” which uses dining hall benches to form a rink and played with a volleyball, similar to dodge-ball.
The evening activities were very special and personal, and at times very entertaining” said Leftwich. “You got to know the campers, share the word of God, and enjoy each other’s talents.”
A Mountain T.O.P. Closing Celebration was held Saturday, July 30 at Community Harvest Church in Coalmont, and included a worship celebration conducted by Executive Director Rev. Ed Simmons, introduction and recognition of all staff members, and an inspirational message from founder and the first Executive Director, George Bass, who unfortunately, passed away a month later. His legacy and lasting impression will be near to the hearts of everyone who has been in contact with Mountain T.O.P. over the past 41 years.