College students spend winter break helping tornado victims rebuild

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Jan. 7 issue of the Conway-based Log Cabin Democrat.

By Brandon Riddle
Log Cabin Democrat Staff Writer

Scarred trees and remnants of last year’s tornado still fill the landscape for many Faulkner County residents, though the Ozark Mission Project (OMP) and Wesley Foundation college groups are providing a beacon of hope for those struggling to recover.

For student volunteers rebuilding homes and lives board by board this week, winter break was meant to be about something more than just having time off from class.

Beginning work at about 9 a.m. each morning, the group of about 60 volunteers travels from their housing at Hendrix College to their designated home in either Vilonia or Mayflower to help with projects that ease the burdens of rebuilding what was lost. The crews end their work at about 3:30 p.m. each day.

Ten projects will be completed by the end of this week, with three of those in Mayflower. Projects include building decks, providing wheelchair ramps to homes, painting, installing drywall and demolishing a house for new construction.

Eight colleges were represented with the help of student volunteers—seven from Arkansas and one from Texas.

The impact of the EF-4 tornado that struck in a path from Mayflower to Vilonia on April 27, 2014, is still being felt.

Neighbors Minnie White and Beatrice Stubbs are each being gifted with decks on the back of their new homes on White City Road in Mayflower after their previous homes were destroyed in the tornado.

Stubbs said she appreciates that the volunteers have taken time to do for others.

“We lost everything—house, cars, everything,” she said, adding that people have come from everywhere to help. “They came out during their Christmas vacation to help me so that’s really amazing for young people to do that.”

Of the support, Stubbs said she has never seen so much love from neighbors.

“It’s a big help,” she said. “We needed it. It gives us hope, help and it’s really been uplifting for us that people who don’t even know us come from miles away to help us.”

The Wesley Foundation in Arkansas participates in a winter mission trip annually and organizers of this project including Bailey Faulkner, executive director of the OMP, knew early on in planning what the focus would be this year.

“We did this last year in Oklahoma for the victims of the Moore and we decided to stay here to see what we could do,” she said.

Since its founding in 1986, the OMP has grown from a summer camp ministry to a year-round ministry across the nation.

“This year it was just an obvious decision from our committee [to pick Faulkner County],” Faulkner said. “The reason why we chose to stay here is because we wanted to help our neighbors. A lot of people know people who were directly impacted by the tornado and lost things.”

As executive director, Faulkner said it is reassuring to see college students work in the cold during a break from classes to be leaders in their community.

To pay for the expenses of the volunteer work, college students registered with a $150 fee and the United Methodist Committee on Relief provided additional funding.

“This isn’t just a project for us,” Faulkner said. “We also want to connect with the people we’re working for.”

Michael McMurray, a junior at Hendrix and project leader, said his involvement in the service project resulted from his heart for missions, which began with his involvement in the OMP in the eighth grade.

“A lot of times you think that the work will be done soon after a tornado but there is so much to be done,” he said. “Right now, I’m off from school. I could be at home playing video games, but I’m honestly really happy to be out here.”

McMurray will soon spend the spring as an intern for the OMP.

“It was so much unlike anything I’ve ever done before,” he said. “It was so fulfilling for me.”

The Rev. Sam Meadors, Wesley Foundation director for Arkansas State University, said the greatest result from the project is helping people restore their lives to a sense of normalcy.

Meadors and her team were involved in Tuesday’s deck-building efforts on White City Road.

“There’s still so much that needs to happen and as we do approach the one year mark, and I know this from our work in Oklahoma City, a lot of the funding ends up drying up after a year,” she said. “We’re really wanting to get as much done as we can for these families and for this community while there’s still funding to be had.”

Sidney Dennis, a sophomore at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, said she is from Little Rock and has previously worked with the OMP on youth camp projects.

“These people don’t have anybody who can do the work for them and we’re providing it for free,” she said. “I feel it’s my calling as a Christian to be here for them.”

Dennis added that she was surprised upon arrival with the amount of destruction that remains in Faulkner County as a result of the tornado.

“[Clean-up efforts] should have been done by now,” she said.

Dominique Walker, a freshman at Henderson State University, heard about the event through the Wesley Foundation and jumped on the opportunity.

“We don’t know it but we’re helping those people more than what we think,” she said. “They’re actually helping us too because it makes us feel good inside to know that we’re doing something for them.

Other Arkansas colleges participating include Southern Arkansas University, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Ouachita Baptist University and Arkansas Tech University.

The students are staying in the Wellness and Athletics Center at Hendrix. First United Methodist Church Conway is providing food for the students during their week-long stay in Faulkner County.

Reproduced with permission from the Log Cabin Democrat (www.thecabin.net). Direct link: http://goo.gl/1BsRxD.