JR: Residents Appreciative of Students' Helpby Frank Phillips, Journal Review • June 18, 2008
MARTINSVILLE — Wabash College students brought flood relief to a mobile home park Monday,and they brought something else.
Thirty Wabash College students and their sponsors spent the day cleaning yards and helping residents carry heavy, water-soaked objects out of homes that had been flooded. Thirteen of the young men were part of the eight-week Present Indiana summer internship program. The rest just volunteered.
Twyla Taylor watched as the students carried a sofa and a bed out of her mobile home, which was destroyed by three feet of water. She had no place to live and yet she was brought to tears by the students’ act of kindness.
"It’s a miracle for me," she said, crying. "I thought I’d have to do it myself. What a blessing."
Taylor’s family is staying with a relative until they can find a new home. Many others were facing similar situations.
Trip sponsor Howard Hewitt warned students what they would find. "People have suffered loss you can’t imagine," he said. "And virtually none of them have flood insurance."
It was shocking to some of the students. Others had seen similar situations.
Bedford’s John McGaughey spent his spring break in another flood-ravaged town — New Orleans. He wanted to help in Martinsville because he was touched by the suffering in New Orleans. "We were just there this spring and it looked like the hurricane had hit three days earlier," he told fellow students in the van that transported them to Martinsville.
Another Wabash student, Kunga Choden, hails from Tibet. He grew up in India after his family was forced to flee from Tibet due to political pressure. As a boy, he came to love the caves in India and he learned that man’s presence can destroy a cave’s ecosystem. On Tuesday, he had a lesson in what Mother Nature can do. "People need help," Choden said about the trip to Martinsville.
Another international student, Lijie "Jackson" Ding, is a freshman at Wabash. He came to the United States in January. When asked about the earthquakes that rocked his native China, Ding said, "I am feeling sorry I can’t go back home to help, but people need help here in the United States, too. It’s kind of global. It doesn’t matter where I help."
Certainly, residents of Martinsville needed help. "It is terrible to see some houses," said Neil Burk. "I’m glad to help. Everyone needs help some time."
Burk said Tuesday’s effort was a moving experience. "It’s going to be tough to sleep, knowing some people here don’t have a bed," he said. "It puts things into perspective and tells me not to take anything for granted."
Residents shared their stories freely with the students. Patty Blanford was cleaning up flood damage while her family vacations in the Bahamas.
"I could have gone, but I stayed here," she said. Her sister, Susie Blanford, is a store manager in Crawfordsville. Susie had paid forthe tickets before the rains came and would have lost thousands of dollars if the tickets weren’t used.
"Our mom really needed this vacation," Blanford said.
The Wabash students carried a cabinet filled with old vinyl records out of Blanford’s trailer. Her aunt and uncle, Donna and Jerry Cloud, spent more than 45 years picking out the records. Jerry died Dec. 27 and Donna gave the records to Blanford for safe keeping. They were all ruined by flood waters.
All the items set out on the curb will be picked up, free of charge, courtesy of Morgan County Emergency Management and the City of Martinsville.
About 100 volunteers had come to Martinsville to help the flood victims prior to Monday. The Wabash students added to that number.
Another story came from Bill and Patsy McFarland. They heard their recycle bins rattling around in their shed when the rain started. In less than eight minutes, water had risen a foot in their yard.
"I asked Bill if we should leave and he said ‘Yes,’ " Patsy said. The impact really didn’t hit them until they arrived at their daughter’s home in Greenwood. "Our son, Mark, called and said his friend saw our home on TV and water was up to the windows," Patsy said. "That’s when I cried."
Water didn’t enter their home, but it damaged everything under the floor — air ducts, insulation and heating tape. Repairs to their home will cost $7,000 and, like everyone in the area, they have no flood insurance.
A Federal Emergency Management Agency representative looked things over and promised to get back to them within a week. If FEMA doesn’t pay for the damage, the McFarlands will have to get a loan and pay for it themselves.
Everyone expressed appreciation to the Wabash students. What did the students’ help mean? "It’s wonderful," Patsy McFarland said. "It makes you believe there are still good people in the world. Sometimes you wonder."
Blanford caught up with the students eating lunch that was provided by the college. In the fternoon, she made good on a promise to buy cookies for them.
While some students put rakes and other tools away at the end of the day, Sharon Frentz walked to the group and insisted on hugging every one, sponsors included.
"You all deserve a hug for coming to help us," she said.
The guys were repaid in one more way. The Salvation Army insisted on fixing supper for them when they turned in their volunteer badges at the Morgan County fairgrounds.
Before the guys departed Monday morning, Wabash President Pat White knew what the guys would find. "It’s not too great a word to say, ‘disaster,’ " White told them. "Go, work hard, but care hard, as I know you will. Thank you for doing this."
All of the students would find their experience sobering by the time they returned to the Wabash Chapel.