Students on mission trip repair tornado damage
By Paula WalterAlthough it's more than a year since tornadoes ravaged parts of Johnson County, there are people still living in homes with extensive storm damage. For those who had no insurance or were under-insured, their plight continues.
In any disaster, The Red Cross initially comes in to assess the situation and provide immediate shelter, food, water and clothing. The Johnson County Disaster Recovery Group (JCDRG) was created after the Federal Emergency Management Agency left the area after the April 2011 tornadoes. The group formed in response to the needs of Johnson Countians that occur after a natural disaster, such as storms, floods or lightening. “It is for Johnson County only,” said Ellen Watkins of JCDRG. She is not only the caseworker for the organization, but Watkins is also one of the first responders in the local Red Cross chapter.
When JCDRG was initially formed, they received a $25,000 donation from the Butler Ruritans. With that money, the group was able to purchase windows, doors, lumber, insulation, underpinning and sheet rock necessary to make repairs to damaged homes. They also received $10,000 from Mountain Electric’s Pocket Change program, $3,000 from the United Way and other donations from individual contributions. “Money stays in Johnson County and goes nowhere else,” Watkins emphasized. “We have been able to help 20 to 30 families already.”
During the month of July, a group from the Buffalo, New York area came to Johnson County to assist the JCDRG with repairs to a home located in Doe Valley. Most of the youngsters were from the Pendleton Center United Methodist Church, just north of Buffalo and the surrounding Niagara Falls area. The group of 42 high school students was spread out among three to four work sites in both Johnson County and Glade Springs, Virginia. This is not the first time that Pendleton Center United Methodist Church has sent people to Doe Valley to lend a helping hand.
Each participant came up with $400 for expenses associated with the week long missions trip. A portion of the money goes towards their expenses, but the remainder is used towards the purchase of materials needed for their weekly projects. “This week gives them an experience of helping people,” said Pastor Tom Kraft. “This is good for them. They connect with each other and learn Jesus a little better.” According to Kraft, the youth start to realize and understand that bad things can happen to good people and hard times can fall on anyone.
The youth quickly got to work repairing the roof, put in insulation and underpinning, along with installing a new floor and toilet in the singlewide home. Each person had their own task they were assigned to do and worked as part of a team. Despite the work going on inside their home, the residents would return each night to their home to sleep and leave the worksite area again the next morning. The group also made some repairs on another home in Doe Valley where they fixed a leaking roof and built a porch with a platform. Watkins stressed JCDRG tries to purchase all supplies from local businesses and to use local labor wherever possible.
A group of four young women were hard at work replacing the flooring in the singlewide home. Several had previous experience and were undaunted by the use of power tools and laying flooring. For Olivia Mahar, this was her third missions trip. She had helped her family with repairs of all kinds and was at ease with the job assigned to her. Although Alissa Hunt was on her first missions trip, her mother was a realtor and she had extensive experience refurbishing homes. Sarah Schlee had spent time helping to put an extension on a house, building decks and repairing roofs. A confident Elizabeth Stricklin piped in, “I know exactly what I’m doing.”
When they were not working, the group stayed at the Methodist Church Camp Ahistadi in Laurel Bloomery. The camp is associated with Shady Grove Methodist Church, part of the Abingdon District United Methodist Church. According to church member, Bo Boyd, Johnson County falls into this district. Due to his job traveling throughout this part of the country, Boyd is able to see where there are people in need and coordinates the efforts of many to get the job done. Both Watkins and employees at Big Johns are instrumental in directing Boyd to people within Johnson County who could use some assistance. Abingdon District United Methodist Church is able to help people throughout the area because of the donations they receive.
Despite Watkins’ efforts to reach out to approximately six families in need within Johnson County, they have yet to accept help from any organization. One family in particular was in need of a singlewide as their roof was blown off during the tornado. Although they continued to live in the home, the inside had sustained mold damage and is unfit to live in. “They had nowhere else to go,” said Watkins. She recently reported a home was found for the family. “They are just thrilled to death,” she said. According to Watkins, there was a lot of theft and looting that occurred in homes ravaged by the tornadoes.
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