Cranks Creek Survival Center: Cranks Creek, Kentucky

Dates: March 23-30
Group Size: 2 student leaders, 8 participants
Cost: $550

Quick Facts:

  • Stand in three states at one time
  • Hike the Kentucky mountains that surround the Survival Center
  • Visit a mining museum and historical mining town to learn about the history

Host Community:

Located in the spiny Appalachian backbone of the Eastern United States, Cranks Creek Survival Center was started by Becky and Bobby Simpson in 1982. It has been rated as one of the top 100 “groups that change communities.” Cranks Creek is in Harlan County, one of the poorest counties in Kentucky’s Appalachian region. The Center works with the Cranks Creek community to improve housing, provide food and clothes, and assist people in need. Sadly, Beck Simpson past away last summer, but her wish was that the center continue, so husband Bobby and family continue to have devoted their entire lives and limited personal resources to this ministry, which covers not just Harlan County, KY, but a region that extends in a 100-mile radius. In these corners of Kentucky coal country Becky Simpson was called “the Mother Teresa of Appalachia.”

Justice Issues:

Coal—  Many of the struggles of the Appalachia region stem directly or indirectly from the fluctuation of the coal industry.  For many years coal in Appalachia has provided Appalachians with a very undependable and dangerous source of income.  As long as there is coal and demand, the people work.  Much of the coal industry abandoned the region as a result of an increase in environmental regulations.  In the mid 1980s 100,000 coal workers lost their jobs nationwide.

Rural Poverty— In the 2000 census, the median income for a household in the Harlan County was $18,665, and the median income for a family was $23,536. The per capita income for the county was $11,585. About 29.10% of families and 32.50% of the population were below the poverty line including 40.10% of those under age 18 and 21.00% of those age 65 or over.

Cultural Opportunities:

The group will have chance to experience the unique culture of Appalachia, complete with bluegrass music, storytelling, and bonfires. By being invited into people’s homes, churches, and farms, participants will learn about the lives of people in Harlan County, especially the mining culture. The group also will be able to form relationships with the Simpsons and the people of Harlan County. The group will work mostly on building or repairing homes. It doesn’t matter if you are a professional carpenter or if you have never swung a hammer in your life; with the help of skilled local volunteers, the group will work on building houses, repairing roofs, or renovating structural damage. The group may also help sort and distribute the donated food and clothing that the Center provides.  Good physical condition is recommended. 

A Sample Week:

Monday—Awake and prepare breakfast in the mess hall before heading out to begin construction at the work site.  After working all morning, take a break for a picnic lunch and then spend the afternoon finishing up the morning’s project.  Head back to the Survival Center for a game of basketball with students visiting from other schools before making supper.  That night, build a bonfire and take in a fresh Kentucky night while reflecting as a group.

Tuesday— After a day’s work, have time for rest and relaxation at the Survival Center before attending church with Bobby Simpson, our host at the Cranks.  Experience a Southern Baptist service and then return to the Center for group reflection, s’mores, and another star-filled Kentucky night.

Wednesday— Take a hike in the nice, cool morning before grabbing lunch and then heading out to the work site for the afternoon.  Return from your day to make supper and then spend the evening visiting with Bobby and his family and enjoying the company of other visiting schools.

Thursday— This morning you will visit the Center’s past work sites to witness the immense difference the work of the Simpson’s has brought to the Cranks Creek and surrounding communities.  Then, head out to the day’s work site for a picnic lunch before getting to work for the afternoon.  That night, have the option to rest, play games, hike, or spend time reading or journaling before group reflection and bed.

Friday— Spend the whole day finishing up your work projects before visiting the natural spring to fill up on fresh water and taking the night to enjoy a long dinner and early bedtime.

Saturday— This morning, the group will pack up and drive out to the Cumberland Gap.  After hiking the area, the group will then have the chance to hike up to the Tri-State Peak, where members will stand in states of Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee all at once. 

Food, Lodging, and Travel:

The group will drive a 12-passenger van to Cranks Creek and stay in the dormitory-style housing at the Center, where the group will prepare all of their own meals.


The trip fee of $550 includes van rental, site transportation, lodging, work materials for the site, meals, and programmed group activities. Students should be prepared for additional expenses not included in the program fee, which include:  spending money (as determined by the group agreement), and food en route to site (~$30).

Student Reflections:

“The simple nature of service I experienced in Kentucky will always remain within me. Bobby and Becky Simpson demonstrated the ability we all have within us to continuously extend our love to those around us. Despite the harsh history of coal mining in Harlan County, and the ongoing effects of extreme poverty, the Cranks Creek Survival Center provides a wellspring of light within such challenges.  The Appalachian mountains and the beauty of the Mongolia blossoms mirror the hope that one feels within the sometimes overwhelming reality."

-Meg Veitenheimer (2011 leader)

map of kentucky