December 17, 2020 / On Mission...Just Closer to Home / Source: Amber Grim

You have defined a new kind of payback during the pandemic: With money saved on utility bills, Campton Baptist Church has re-purposed fundraising that used to cover winter utility expenses. Instead, they use those resources to fund a local scholarship supporting first-generation college students with clothing, computers, dorm fees, and other essentials.

Like you, SonLight Power shifted plans in 2020, especially when travel restrictions to mission fields like Haiti and Honduras made overseas travel almost impossible.

We looked for ways where the SonLight Power mission aligned with needs right in our own backyard, pivoting to vulnerable communities in the U.S. In September, SonLight Power equipped two churches with solar power – projects that are already generating returns in rural Campton, Kentucky.

Campton is nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in eastern Kentucky. Just a half hour’s drive from Red River Gorge, Campton is surrounded by scenic hills and majestic landscape. The small town is a community proud of its roots, with residents calling their home “the friendliest town in the mountains.

But just beneath the surface of this beautiful place lies a community struggling with economic hardships, unemployment, and poverty. Over a third of Campton’s population lives below the poverty line. Because coal mining, tobacco farming and manufacturing have dried up locally, most residents must travel one, two or more hours away for a good paying job.

But the community of Campton is strong, and efforts to help families in need and revitalize higher education persevere. SonLight Power teamed with two local churches – Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd and Campton Baptist Church – using solar power to equip their missions serving the people of Campton.

Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd is run by Parish Life Director, Sister Susan Marie Pleiss, OSF. The church operates a large food pantry complete with shelves of non-perishable items, five freezers, and one commercial refrigerator.

The food pantry serves not only Campton, but all of surrounding Wolfe County – providing food for over 170 families every month. Stocked by in-kind donations and generous local support, the foodbank distributes enough food to feed a family in need for 3 to 4 days.

“It’s just enough to make a difference in feeding your family,” says Sister Susan.

Just down the road from Sister Susan sits Campton Baptist Church, led by high school science teacher and Deacon, Zach Collier. With a heart for education, Zach’s primary mission is to show the love of Jesus by providing educational opportunities for both kids and adults alike. 

“My hope is that a better trained workforce will spark entrepreneurship and attract industry to the area,” says Zach.

Thanks to SonLight Power supporters like you, Church of the Good Shepherd and Campton Baptist Church were equipped with two new solar power systems this fall.

“We were very humbled by the generosity to equip our church with solar power,” says Sister Susan. The installation was definitely a team and community effort, including a small group of local teenagers who not only invested their own sweat equity in the project, but also learned more about solar power, sustainability, and STEM.

“I love how SonLight Power gets young people involved,” explained Sister Susan. “A few of the teens stayed from sun-up to sun-down, working on the roof, pulling electrical wires through PVC pipe, and learning how solar power works.”

The new system will go a long way to save on electric bills – not only reducing Church of the Good Shepherd’s carbon footprint, but also ensuring the parish is more financially sustainable for years to come. With the cost savings, Sister Susan plans to propose funding the church’s loan fund, an outreach ministry lending zero-interest loans and stress-fee payback options to families burdened with a high electric, gas, or water bills.

For Zach and Campton Baptist Church, this latest solar project was an expansion of the 22-kilowatt system SonLight Power installed at the church three years ago. The impact of the expansion will be felt well beyond the church walls.

With the pandemic restricting school and library access, Campton’s limited online resources and internet access have posed major obstacles to advancing education. The system expansion allows Zach and other community leaders to extend Campton’s educational capabilities by offering a quiet learning space and more consistent internet connection for online students.

“While many students may have internet access at home or at public hotspots, dedicated learning spaces eliminate distractions and create a better learning environment,” explains Zach. He has teamed with a nearby technical and community college to make online study a reality for Campton students.

“Until now, no college or university has any dedicated distance learning space in Campton,” explains Zach. “We hope to change that by opening our church campus to distance learning several days a week.”

And the payback? With money saved on utility bills, Zach says Campton Baptist has re-purposed fundraising that used to cover the church’s winter utility expenses. Instead, they use those resources to fund a local scholarship supporting first-generation college students with clothing, computers, dorm fees, and other essentials.

Thanks to your prayers and faithful support, SonLight Power uses solar power to share God’s love with the people of Campton. While your impact is felt closer to home than in most years, it is clear from Sister Susan and Zach that equipping vital programs like the food pantry and distance learning are transforming lives in significant ways during the pandemic.

For more information: Video: Zach Collier of Campton Baptist Church explains impact of SonLight Power partnership

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