Violent storms swept through lower Indiana on March 3, 2012. In just an hour, the storms spawned a tornado, which tore through small towns in southern Indiana. The town that suffered the greatest destruction was Henryville. The tornado’s devastating speed, partnered with softball-sized hail, leveled a middle school, tore the wheels off a school bus, and threw a 16-wheel semitrailer into a small local business. The tornado left a path of destruction and debris. An estimated 13 deaths were recorded from the tornado. Those who survived were left to manage the emotional and physical damage left behind.
On March 10, a group of 18 people from Mt. Zion Wesleyan Church, ranging from ages 16-72, joined the disaster relief. Two of the 18 volunteers were part of the Anderson University community.
Sophomore Carly Poor said she developed her passion for volunteerism from her father, who previously worked at Samaritan’s Purse, a nonprofit organization that assists victims of natural disasters. “When my father heard about the Samaritan’s Purse getting involved in southern Indiana, he decided to get a group together from our church to help the victims,” said Poor.
[Photo: A week after violent storms devasted Henryville, Ind., volunteers from Mt. Zion Wesleyan Church joined the cleanup efforts. Photo credit: Kellie Riggs]
Samaritan’s Purse provides food, water, and temporary shelter for those in need. Most of the organization’s activities include helping victims of natural disaster, war, disease, and famine. They also provide medical assistance to those who need it. In return, the organization hopes that people will see God’s love through them. The 18 volunteers from Mount Zion joined with 300 volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse. Individuals were separated into specific work groups and went through orientation.
The orientation involved assigning groups small areas to clean, as well as reviewing safety precautions. “My group was assigned to pick up the tornado debris,” said Poor. “Thus, our orientation consisted of demonstrations of proper lifting movements in order to prevent back injury. Our assignment was to clean up five acres of land, the neighborhood to four families.”
Through her experience in Henryville, Poor saw firsthand the devastation that disasters can bring to homes and families. “During the tornado, one family’s swing set had been lifted off the ground and thrown into a local pond. It was our duty to get the debris out of the pond. However, I never thought pieces of houses, furniture, and vehicles would be considered debris.”
Michael Bailey, assistant professor of biology, also went on the trip, but he isn’t sure who was more affected by their efforts — the volunteers or the victims. “I think everyone who went on the trip left with a new perspective, both volunteers and victims,” said Bailey. “Things and people should be cherished. It’s important to appreciate what you have.”
Through the experiences, both Poor and Bailey learned how defenseless people are to natural disasters. Although storms are predicted, their paths are not, and there is no prevention of storms. “It was interesting to see the destruction path of the tornado as we drove. Just a few miles away, a town called Borden had scarce damage. It was hard to understand why some areas were completely demolished while others were left untouched,” said Poor.
Poor recalls an encounter she had with a person volunteering in Henryville. “One family that volunteered returned the mail that had blown to their house in Ohio from the storm,” said Poor.
The people of Henryville were forced to develop a new appreciation for the little things. Whether it was the untouched barn in the backyard or the return of mail, the tornado victims were grateful to be alive. They were indebted to the disaster relief volunteers, who spent hours, days, and weeks repairing the town and ultimately the life they had before the disaster.
“The people were incredibly grateful for our help,” said Poor. “Even the little cleanup we did meant that there was one less limb to move and one less physical task ahead for the residents of Henryville.”
Besides the interactions between the victims and volunteers, Poor appreciated the difference the volunteers made. “At the end of our work day, when we started loading up our equipment, we all stopped and looked at the difference in the five acres of land we had been working on,” said Poor. “If our small church group can make a big difference, anyone can.”
Bailey saw the deeper meaning in volunteerism. “The trip was not just helping the residents of Henryville. It was showing them God’s love in action: the most powerful form.”
— Kristen Schaap is a senior from Chicago, Ill., majoring in communication arts. Schaap is an associate with Fifth Street Communications™, writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of University Communications.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.