Four hurricanes hit the state of Florida in the year 2004. Recovery continues as homes are repaired and rebuilt. Volunteer work groups faithful to the needs of people impacted by these storms continue to travel to Florida. Information on volunteer work groups.
Heather Moyer is a member of the UCC and a writer for Disaster Network News (DNN). DNN regularly reports on faith based activities related to disaster preparedness and response. Here is her family’s story.
Our Clewiston vacation (written by Heather Moyer).
As someone who writes about disaster response for a living, it's really hard for me to just write about it and not somehow get involved physically. That's why some family, friends and I traveled to Clewiston, Fla., during the last week of February to help repair homes damaged by 2005's Hurricane Wilma. A team of us went to Port Charlotte in February of 2006 to help repair a home damaged by Hurricane Charley, and we had a great time - so we decided, 'Why not do it again?'
A team of seven went down this time, including my partner Amy (a UCC pastor), my mom, dad, brother and two of our friends. We worked with the Clewiston's Community Rebuilding Ecumenical Workforce (CREW). I picked them because 2005's Hurricane Wilma was quickly forgotten by everyone outside of south Florida, but through articles I'd written about CREW and the Wilma recovery, I knew there were still many people in need of help. Also, I won't lie: going to sunny south Florida from a wintry Maryland in the middle of February is not a bad thing.
Our team spent the week putting up drywall in the Smith (name changed) home. Hurricane Wilma had just been the latest in a string of hurricanes to pummel the Smith family mobile home over the past few years. The hurricanes in 2004 tore the roof off several times. Wilma did it again and caused more water damage to the interior.
As with any volunteer trip you plan, you might go in thinking you know what's going to happen for the most part. Certainly we also enter it with an open mind, thinking that we're ready for whatever happens, but one still usually has a plan in their head or some preconceived notions. Maybe you think you're only going to be putting on a new roof, or simply mudding drywall. Maybe you know that something about the process will touch your own life, but you're not sure what.
I think this trip had a profound effect on all of us. We learned early on that Mr. Smith was recently diagnosed with a vicious form of bone cancer and that he was just starting chemotherapy. We learned that Mrs. Smith had been trying to work two jobs to make ends meet while her husband was sick - and she was also caring as best she could for their children in the meantime.
Seeing Mr. Smith join us in our work the first two days was fantastic. I think it gave us a boost to see him up and around lending a hand, and I think it was helpful to him to be doing the same. He'd been a building contractor for much of his life, so this sort of work came natural to him. He took pleasure in showing us the correct way to mud and tape drywall. Over the few days we helped, we saw the Smith family come out of their shells just as much as we did. They shared their hurricane experiences with us, along with some laughter. Some of us talked to Mrs. Smith about her husband's cancer. And I think Mr. Smith also took some solace in having some new people with whom to discuss his fears about his illness.
We all got more out of it besides some new drywall skills. "I found the opportunity to work with the family to be very fulfilling and more clearly understand that this is about far more than drywall, plaster, and wood. It is about being the hands and feet of Christ to those in need," said my dad, Earl Moyer, of the trip.
I enjoyed bringing my family and friends down to do this work. I hear these types of stories very frequently through my job, and I'm always looking to tell more people about disaster recovery work and its many layers. Even though I frequently talk to them all about how long disaster recovery takes, some are still surprised at how much work remains from a hurricane that struck more than one year ago. "There are many people down here that still need help," said my brother, Eric Moyer. "I think people forget about that once the hurricane dies out and the news attention is elsewhere. It was a good reminder for us that there is still a lot of work to do." And sure, I may write about these sorts of stories all the time, but despite years of doing this - it still has an effect on me. There's something about looking into the eyes of the family you're working with, or hearing them openly discuss their fear about what's next. Or maybe seeing the black mold you clean out of their home, knowing they've been living with it for more than a year now. I wonder how people do it. I wonder if I'd have the same strength to get through it if I am ever in their situation.
Through it all, I can hear God talking to me. Maybe it's a whisper here or there during a quiet time, or a quick thought coming to mind when I was taping a drywall seam. I could hear it in the family's voices. I heard it in the laughter and conversation between my brother and the Smith's young son, who let my brother teach him some tricks on the kid's new video game.
What does God say on these trips? Lots of things, and it's different for each person I'm sure. I felt like part of a big family. Even though I lived far away from the Smiths and had never met them before, I still felt very connected to them. We are part of God's family. And when I got sad that I couldn't do more for the Smiths, I was comforted knowing that others were there to help as well.
When we left the Smith house last week, the work was still far from done. I know I speak for many participants of work trips when I say that I felt sad that we couldn't fix it all. But I know that just taking that first step in the family's recovery would be huge for them. That was already obvious, as Mr. Smith got up and helped along with us when he could. My dad and I had a good talk about how sometimes families just need a starting point when everything around them seems so overwhelming.
So maybe we didn't get as much done in the Smith household as they needed, but another group is coming to finish the work there. Plus, it just makes me think of one of my favorite God quotes - "Want to make God laugh" Tell him you have a plan." Sure we thought we'd finish off all the drywall work, but it didn't happen that way. And that's okay.
My partner Amy had a good quote about it, too: "Actually, I think this was a hard trip for me, because it was obvious that the family we were helping needed so much more than some new drywall. But on the other hand, it's a reminder that we're each one part of the body of Christ, not responsible for the whole thing."
So maybe there's one than one moral to this trip report. Hopefully it will inspire you to do a work trip. Perhaps you're another part of the body of Christ who will help finish the Smith house, or the houses of the many, many other Smith families out there recovering from disaster.
And then maybe - hopefully - you'll be inspired to pray for everyone involved in disaster recovery around the U.S. and the world. Families like the Smiths, organizations like CREW, and so many others - none of them should be forgotten.
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