Students offer service during spring break

Record Assistant Editor

HENRYVILLE, Ind. — Pages from Genesis, Ezekiel, Job and Ezra were unearthed from tornado-ravaged ground last week by teenage volunteers from St. Paul, Incarnation and Epiphany churches.

The teens spent their entire spring break aiding people whose lives were turned upside down by the tornado that hit Henryville, Ind., March 2. And they camped at night at Mount St. Francis Retreat Center in near-freezing temperatures on a few nights.

The pages of a Bible littered the property of a family who apparently lost everything in the storm. A concrete pad remained where their house once stood near Henryville. Tree stumps and gnarled roots poked out of a dirt field, where it’s likely grass and underbrush once grew. What remains — apparently unaffected by the storm — is a clear rippling creek that curves along the property line.

“The creek is really pretty,” said Morgan Uberti, a member of the youth group at Epiphany Church, taking a momentary break from her work on April 12. “It’s (odd) how everything is destroyed but the creek is so pretty. It’s really sad.”

Morgan and her co-volunteers were asked by the family that owned the property to scour the ground for glass, siding and other items that could injure children who normally like to play barefoot in the yard. While the teens carefully worked their way across the property, picking up shards of glass, bits of siding and the occasional odd items, such as a dirty diaper, they found meaning in their work when they plucked up the Bible pages, a once-yellow one-piece baby outfit and a sheet of paper that appeared to hold someone’s math homework.

Katie Patterson, a teenager from Incarnation Church and a freshman at Mercy Academy, said the week-long experience has helped her to “feel closer to God.”

“I’m very glad I did it,” she said during a break in work April 12 — their fourth day of work. “I’m going to start appreciating the things I have.

“I usually take math for granted and I found a piece of math homework,” she said. “I thought that was really sad. That was somebody’s homework — something that was waiting around the house for them to do. The tornado picked it up and they never saw it again. It makes you think about it, because these are the things in your life. It could happen to you.”

The teens carefully collected the math homework and the Bible pages, but they also knew there was no reason to keep them.

Kacie Gaekle noted, as she picked up a page from Leviticus, “I hate throwing the Bible into the bucket to throw out.”

The group had the opportunity to see the effects of their work too, during the week. They spent a couple of days at another property with a field piled with 70 or more downed trees and other storm debris. The pile blocked a path that local children took from their own house to that of their grandfather, who lived across the field.

After two days, a lot of chain saw work by the adults in the group, and an assembly line type of effort to move debris to burn piles, the youth groups managed to clear a path for the children.

“We saw that little boy on the path to his grandfather’s and it was the best feeling,” said Kacie. “All of my friends are sleeping in and hanging out. We’re here doing something needed. It’s a great feeling.”

In addition to these outdoor jobs, the group also helped to gut a house that had water damaged dry-wall and black mold.

The youth groups received their work assignments both from the United Way and Catholic Charities of Indianapolis. Catholic Charities has set up a trailer at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church — which has served as a hub for volunteer activity. A sign outside the trailer tells survivors to come in for help.

Judy Crady, the agency’s coordinator for disaster preparedness and response, said groups such as those from the Louisville parishes are going to become more and more needed in the coming months.

She noted that immediately after the storms, “volunteers were chomping at the bit” and she had to turn them away. “Search and rescue weren’t even done.”

But now that most survivors have had a chance to talk to FEMA and file insurance claims, they can see what still needs to be done. And Catholic Charities can assist them with those things.

“Now we need skilled volunteers — people with carpentry skills, electric, plumbing, house repair skills,” Crady said. “They don’t have to be professionals. We ask for a ratio of one skilled person to four unskilled or semi-skilled people.”

Crady noted that FEMA doesn’t pay to clean-up debris and out in the country, where farming is prevalent, debris clean up is a big job. FEMA also doesn’t cover barns and other outbuildings or farming equipment.

A few hundred miles away, near Convington, Ky., 13 students from Trinity High School did their part to help a family recover from storms that hit that area in early March. They planned their spring break trip April 9-11 well in advance, intending to do service work in the inner city  of Cincinnati. But they shifted their focus after the storms.

“We wanted to provide assistance where people might not have gotten much attention,” said Mike Budniak in a phone interview after the group returned. The group worked on an 80-acre farm that was devastated by a tornado. “They had five separate barns, outbuildings and part of their home partially or completely destroyed.”

The students restrung a barbed-wire fence along a majority of the property line, hauled wood and set up “burn piles,” he said.

“Literally, I have not seen a group of guys work that hard over a period of time like that without complaint,” he added. “As long as we kept feeding them, they kept working. It was a glorious thing.”

Budniak said Trinity intends to keep sending groups to the area this summer and possibly during the school’s fall break.

In addition, young people from several other schools and parishes traveled to other parts of Kentucky — including Appalachia — and other states during spring break to do service. work.

– Additional photos may be found by clicking here.

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