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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Joy of Helping a Teacher Bounce Back

When we drove the streets hardest hit by the Minot flood we entered a wasteland of abandoned homes, abandoned belongings, and - in many cases - abandoned dreams.

No one washing their cars, weeding their gardens, blasting their stereos or heading for the convenience store. No families out for bike rides, no one walking their dogs - not a pet in sight. No kids playing hop-scotch or running through sprinklers.

No usual Saturday hustle - just quiet desolation.

We were confronted with street after street of empty homes, all bearing outdoor scars of where the badly behaved Souris River ravaged their contents and turned Home Sweet Home into financial headaches for thousands.

Answering the call
We were all answering the call of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to clean out these houses - rip out every wet sofa, tear down every soaked wall, remove every carpet, every bloated hardwood floor, every heavy appliance, literally anything that had been touched and tainted by the water. It all had to go, right down to the studs, and be piled on the front property along the street so the owners could rebuild.

Everything touched by the Souris flood waters had to to be piled out front.
You couldn't help but feel for the owners, most of whom were advised against getting flood insurance, and who were now taking shelter with family and relatives anywhere but in the homes on which they were still paying mortgages.

So, when we and 300 other Mormons rolled into the parking lot of the Latter-day Saint Chapel - from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana - we were amazed.

The Church turned the chapel into a command centre that operated for weeks, filled with food, equipment, generators and everything needed to tackle the mess. We supplied the labour.

I'm a lot more comfortable writing press releases than wielding a hammer.
Shouldn't wrecking things be easier?
The Church is big on organization. Our organizers, Brother and Sister Ludlow from Thousand Oaks, California, had just finished wrapping up a similar project in Joplin, Missouri, and didn't have time to go home before being called to do the same work in Minot.

They put us into groups of 10 and we fanned out to clean or "gut" as we called it, the homes.

Usually, this could be done in one back-breaking day. Ours took the weekend. Many of us had office jobs - a few were handy, and the work we would do would be valued at anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000 depending on the home. But we wouldn't have taken a dime for our work.

The first day's shift was 10.5 hrs. I was whipped after the first two - or thought so at least. It was a hot day and the masks we wore because of the possibility of inhaling mould felt were like breathing through a scarf. I was surprised at how hard it was to "destroy" a home. Shouldn't wrecking things be a lot easier?

But like most things in life, you don't know what you can do until you push yourself. My second and third wind came. By the end of the day, I was whipped but very satisfied. The coolest part of the whole project - the thing that made it even more worthwhile than I knew it would be was this... 

Meeting Kelly and Sarah
Kelly Warren is a K-12 special ed teacher who lives with her two-year-old son and her mother Sarah. Coming face to face with Kelly and Sarah was such a wonderful feeling. The fact that Kelly was a teacher was especially gratifying to me since I work for a teachers' union and they always have my respect.

Kelly and Sarah filled us in on the flood, the evacuation - all the details surrounding this major trauma in her life as a first-year teacher. We were so relieved to know that she had signed a contract in a neighbouring town 40 miles away and that it came complete with teacher accommodations.

Both Kelly and Sarah expressed heartfelt appreciation for the work we did and followed it up with this warm and thoughtful email.

"Sending out a heartfelt thank-you from Minot from Sarah and Kelly Warren! When left with only words to try to convey our gratitude, I am left feeling inadequate to say the least. Your group and their cheerful and giving attitude doing such "dirty" work was very uplifting and helpful at this glitch in our road. Your help gave us a much-needed surge of energy to take steps forward instead of feeling paralyzed by this overwhelming situation. Thanks again and I have no doubt that your impact on us and Minot will be felt for years to come."

But the folks in Minot, including Kelly and Sarah, aren't out of the woods yet. They have so much work to do. We imagine the pressures at this point are intense. That's why we were so happy to have had a small part in opening up the possibility that they can rebuild their home.

Three hundred volunteers in 99 tents camped around the LDS Chapel.
Happy to serve
We left Minot Sunday afternoon with some minor aches and pains, but our hearts were definitely full. We had definitely pushed ourselves beyond our comfort zone. We had helped a wonderful family do what they couldn't do for themselves - in a very small way, like what our Saviour did for us.

We felt blessed to provide service to people who needed it badly. Of 4,100 homes affected, the Church cleaned out 570.

I love Sarah's closing comments in the short interview I grabbed above. "If anything comes out of this whole flood, maybe it's just a realization that we're all connected and that to work together is a wonderful thing - and to just stay positive."

That's a wonderful message to take away from this project.

Stay positive, Kelly and Sarah. It was a privilege to meet you.

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