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Not Crazy, Retired Ontario Couple Says About Volunteering with MDS

November 13, 2019

“A great way to spend retirement years”

ELMIRA, Ont. — “It’s a real blessing to help someone and see hope come back into their eyes.”

That’s one of the main reasons Karen Martin of Elmira, Ont. does service with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS).

For Karen, 72 and retired from a career as an insurance claims adjuster, volunteering with MDS is about more than helping people get back into their houses.

“It’s about rebuilding lives,” she says of their time spent with the organization, which rebuilds and repairs houses damaged or destroyed by natural disasters across North America.

Karen and her husband, Willard, 74, have done service with MDS since 2000, when they first went to Mississippi.

Since then they’ve travelled to communities across the U.S. and Canada, including five weeks in Grand Forks, B.C. this summer helping people in that community recover from terrible floods in 2018.

While there, Karen was the office administrator and Willard led a work crew.

In addition to helping people who lost their homes, the Martins enjoy meeting new people through MDS.

“We’ve made friends from all across North America,” says Willard, who worked in agriculture sales and drove a tour bus—in addition to operating a hardware store—with Karen before retirement.

In fact, making new friends is one of the more enjoyable aspects of volunteering with MDS, they say, along with seeing North America.

Willard also enjoys it because he gets to be creative.

“I like to figure out problems and find inventive solutions,” he says, adding “if MDS doesn’t have what we need to do a job, I can usually make it.”

The couple, who are members of the Waterloo North Mennonite Church, also like getting to know people from the different parts of the wider Mennonite family.

“We get to see the wide diversity of the Mennonite church through the people we meet and work with,” says Karen.

As a result of their time with MDS, she says they have good friends from different Mennonite churches across the U.S. and Canada, including the Old Order and Amish communities.

While they enjoy spending their retirement years doing service with MDS, Karen acknowledges this isn’t the way many people envision being retired.

“Some people think we’re crazy,” she laughs, noting she sometimes gets asked why anyone would want to go back to work after retirement—and not even get paid for it.

“We do get paid,” Karen says she tells them. “Our payment is seeing what our service means for others who have lost everything, and now have hope.”

As for those who say they couldn’t possibly volunteer with MDS because they don’t have construction skills, she notes she can’t build a house—but she can still serve.

“Anyone can do it,” she says, noting MDS welcomes people of all skill levels, including no skills in construction or repair at all.

And if they really can’t do service, they can always donate to MDS so others can do this important service, she says.

Willard echoes Karen’s comments.

“It’s a great way to spend the retirement years,” he says. “We’ve met so many great people and made so many good memories. Everyone should consider doing it.”

MDS has openings for weekly volunteers in Texas, California, Florida and North Carolina. If you are interested in volunteering, call 1-800-241-8111 or visit https://mds.mennonite.net/

John Longhurst

Communications Coordinator

Mennonite Disaster Service Canada