While their peers were enjoying some downtime or visiting colleges, 16 Randolph-Macon Academy students, along with six adult chaperones, spent most of their spring break at the Washington United Methodist Church Disaster Recovery Center in eastern North Carolina.
The group received some on-the-job training the first day. The recovery center had been in operation since Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and was in need of a few repairs itself. The students stained decks and walled in a pavilion for supply storage; this conveniently gave them some training with the tools they would soon be using on someone’s home.
Belhaven, NC, where the students were assigned, was devastated by Hurricane Florence in September 2018, with most businesses and homes being impacted by the high flood waters. The R-MA group was the first one to work on the mobile home they went to. The woman who owned the trailer, Ms. Clark, and her fifth-grade daughter had been out of their home for nearly six months. Because Belhaven is so susceptible to flooding, she had used the FEMA funds she received to lift the trailer higher in hopes of preventing a similar disaster in the future.
“The flood waters were four feet high, so all the mobile homes in the area were severely damaged unless they were raised, which hers was not,” said R-MA Chaplain Joshua Orndorff, who organized and led the trip.
The group worked on skirting the outside of the mobile home and put in flood vents. They also built two 8×8 decks so the groups that would follow them later could get inside the trailer to work on flooring, insulation, and other repairs.
Unbeknownst to them, their hard work was being watched. On the last day they were there, the neighbors approached the group and asked for their help. The railing on their house stairs was damaged, resulting in a dangerous fall for an older gentleman. The R-MA group sent a crew over and repaired the railing on the stairs and around the porch.
“It was really neat for the students to realize that they were being watched,” commented Orndorff, “that how they acted and the work that was being done was being noticed in the community. So to be able to help another family while we were there was a blessing for the family, but also our students, to be able to serve, to help them out.”
“It kind of made it real that we were making a difference to someone,” explained Urenna Okoye ’20, who was one of the crew who went to work on the railings.
The week wasn’t all work for the students. They enjoyed s’mores around the fire, music, Kan-Jam, spike ball, and even a trip to the beach (which took place on a windy, rainy day, but the students enjoyed it anyway). On Tuesday evening, they met up with several R-MA alumni from the local area, who took them to a fishing club.
Those who attend mission trips to help others often find that they themselves are the ones who are blessed. This trip was no exception. On the last evening, the group gathered around the fire for the final time for a simple yet meaningful ceremony.
“The most memorable moment for me is when my peers and I sat around the fire and shared many stories and burdens that we had weighing on our shoulders,” said Emma Faust ‘19. “We exchanged vulnerability, trust, tears and understanding.”
Okoye also recounted that evening as being something she would always remember. “We wrote our burdens on paper, and we could speak them or not, then we put them in the fire and symbolically let go of them. Everyone was being so vulnerable. I’ll always remember that…that and the stars. You don’t see stars here like we saw there.”