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Outlook - December 2004

Union students trade vacation days for hurricane relief

Jadra Oliver, Nathan Krehbiel and Rilla Westermeyer do yardwork at a resident's home in Arcadia, Fla.

by Angela Schafer
        When a Union student has a dream for ministry, watch out—things are bound to get exciting. After talking to her parents about the devastation from hurricanes near their home in Avon Park, Fla., Vanessa Kahler, a junior education major, decided to go home during midterm break and help her parents clean up. She wondered if any other Union students wanted to help.
        “I saw the posters about the post-Project Impact [Union’s community service day] trip to Hallam, Neb., to help with the tornado damage clean up.” Kahler said. “I thought, why can’t we do that in Florida?”
        Kahler talked to Gina Jacob, a recent Union graduate who is a North American Division intern based in Union’s Campus Ministries office. Jacob guessed a few students might be willing to exchange their midterm break for 12-hour workdays in the Florida humidity. She was stunned three days later when 35 people had signed up for the service trip.
       Jacob, the staff sponsor for the trip, started reserving airline tickets and found students to help organize the details. Jifer Proctor located sponsors to help defer the costs of traveling to Florida. Marcia Ashcraft and Zeah McClellan, who are from Avon Park, found work sites and host families.
        On Oct. 13, two and a half weeks after the idea was hatched, one Union College sponsor, one sponsor from Shawnee Mission Medical Center and 35 Union students left for Avon Park, Fla., and the surrounding area to assist with the hurricane cleanup. Group leaders partnered with Walker Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church and local Baptist and Methodist churches to find those who were most in need.
        “On the first day, seeing the look on the hurricane victims’ faces and how grateful they were… I thought, yeah, I’ll give up sleep for this,” said Chris White, one of the students on the trip.
        During the four-day service trip to central Florida, Union students worked at more than 22 homes, three churches, a day care center and a nursing home. Volunteers cut down dead tree limbs, picked up debris and assisted the residents of Avon Park, Wauchula and Arcadia, Fla., who were hit by four major storms.
        “A local man who was helping with the cleanup told us he had never seen people our age work so hard,” White said. “Later we found out he was a former Army drill sergeant and police officer who is hard to impress.”
        After students finished at one house they went door to door in a nearby mobile home park asking residents if they needed help with anything. “The destroyed mobile home park seemed unlivable,” Kahler said. “It looked like a third-world country. The residents were so excited to receive help. When we told them where we went to school, they said, ‘Nebraska?’ They couldn’t believe we had come from so far away.”
        According to Jacob, the people the team helped had lost more than their homes and possessions. “They lost their hope,” she said. “The trip wasn’t just about cleaning their yards or fixing their houses, it was about restoring that hope.”
        The students’ spirit of service continued during Sabbath. Union students participated in the church services at Walker Memorial church in Avon Park, giving testimonies, performing special music and telling children’s stories. At a youth church service nearby Jacob preached, and students performed special music.
        A combination of support from Nebraska and Florida was needed to make the trip possible. Church members from the Walker Memorial congregation housed and fed the students. Participants paid $100 for traveling expenses and Florida church members, the Mid-America Union, College View Seventh-day Adventist Church and Union’s Associated Student Body donated the rest of the funding.
        “This trip shows how at Union, students’ dreams for mission opportunities can materialize,” Jacob said. “No idea is too ridiculous to make happen.”