JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — The head of a regional non-profit says it was an honor to attend the National Prayer Breakfast last week and to see elected officials from both parties come together to pray for the nation.
Appalachia Service Project (ASP) President and CEO Walter Crouch was invited by Sen. Marsha Blackburn to attend the annual event last Thursday in Washington.
ASP is a 53-year-old Christian non-profit that does home repairs and replacements for low-income families across five states in Central Appalachia. The Johnson City-based organization focuses on major home repairs, like replacing roofs, drilling wells, and fixing foundations.
Leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, ASP was helping around 400 families each year.
Crouch is thankful for Blackburn’s invitation and says it was nice to see Republicans and Democrats put their differences aside for the annual event.
“It was really an honor to be there, to see some different people from both sides of the aisle come together and pray for our country,” Crouch said.
The ASP president says he enjoyed the event’s “amazing lineup.” He also appreciated President Joe Biden’s remarks on unity and reconciliation.
“The whole theme was about reconciliation and the president spoke some great words,” Crouch said. “He told a story that I’ll probably repeat. He said when he was a kid his uncle would say, ‘Joey, keep the faith,’ and then his grandmom would say, ‘No Joey, spread the faith.’ And I thought it was really kind of a neat story.”
Before leaving Washington, he also spoke with Sen. Tim Kaine and with Reps. Diana Harshbarger and Tim Burchett.
“I met more senators and congressmen than I’ll ever recall,” Crouch said.
In the 12 years that he has been president of ASP, Crouch has learned the importance of networking with elected officials from both political parties. He said both Blackburn and Kaine are among those who have worked to help his organization.
After years of establishing relationships with longtime lawmakers like former Rep. Phil Roe, attending an event like the National Prayer Breakfast helps Crouch connect with those who are still relatively new to Congress.
“You have new faces now and you have to make those connections to keep the good working going,” Crouch said. “So, the Prayer Breakfast provided an incredibly great opportunity for me to get back, and to get to meet with some of these people and establish a stronger relationship.”
This wasn’t the ASP president’s first trip to the nation’s capital. He says he visits Washington around two to three times a year to advocate for issues like affordable housing and rural poverty and seek federal funds, although he does not like to rely on government funding.
“You don’t like to get dependent upon public money because the whims of an election changes that,” Crouch said. “So, we get very few public dollars, but the dollars we do are important, every dollar is important.”
As a leader of an organization that is often involved in disaster recovery, building relationships with elected officials is just as important now as ever. Appalachia Service Project is rebuilding homes in eastern Kentucky and in Waverly, Tennessee after both experienced deadly flooding.
He said disaster recovery in the country is “broken.”
“We rebuilt our first home in Kentucky within three months of the flood. Within three months,” Crouch said. “We can respond that quickly. The issue is will the system respond that quickly, and it just doesn’t.”
Crouch encourages people to pray for their elected leaders.
“We need to pray for our elected officials. The Bible even tells us to do that. And to pray for each other,” he said.
For more information on how to volunteer or support Appalachia Service Project, visit asphome.org.