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Youth take on tough post-disaster work — but still find time to laugh

August 4, 2016

Bastrop, TX — The dozen young adults at the camp dinner table are laughing a lot. They joke about who has made the clumsiest exits from the top bunk, who has eaten the most snickerdoodle cookies, and who tells the tallest tales about the biggest fish they’ve caught.

They still have enough energy to laugh, even though their work for the day has involved hours of sawing up burned trees, then dragging the heavy trunks and limbs away in 100-degree south-central Texas heat. In early July they cleared the yard for a homeowner in the small town of Bastrop, where wildfires and flooding in the past several years have devastated the community.

After dinner, Ike Epp, director for the summer youth project, asks the young people, ages 17-21, a serious question: “Why drive two days to work for five days?”

The young people have come from an Amish community in Shipshewana, Indiana, and a driver has transported them in a van for 22 hours, with one night spent in Arkansas on the way. They worked for five days, helping people affected by fires and floods repair their homes, clear out their yards and try to find hope while bearing the brunt of repeat disasters.

They were part of the MDS Summer Youth Project (SYP) in Bastrop, where several youth groups game to work from the end of June through the end of July.  The SYP a unique opportunity for youth to serve during the summer months. Another SYP took place at Camp Likely in British Columbia.  To learn more click here.

John, a young man who laughingly told a tall tale earlier, is one of the first to answer: “This is the way I wanted to spend my vacation,” he said. “It’s so much better than sitting around and doing nothing. Once I went to Florida, and we sat around and looked at the sun. I thought I’d go crazy.”

His peers nod their heads in agreement. His peer Hannah reflects that she values “the fellowship and excitement of doing something.”

Between the 22-hour van ride, working all day together, sleeping in bunk beds in RV trailers at the Wilderness Ridge Camp, and eating every meal together, the young people have gotten to know each other quite well — “too well,” they say together, and laugh again.

Waneta said she was glad she’d come by the time the van ride was over, even before the work week started. “One of my friends had come to a summer youth project and I thought it sounded like fun, so I thought I’d try it.”

Given the chance, she’d do it again. “I do miss my family but we’re busy enough here that I don’t have so much time to think about it. The time goes fast.”

Post-disaster work is hard — and with the searing heat, the hazard of snakes, and the condition of the homes, this work is on the most difficult end of the spectrum. The young people are sunburned, scratched and tired.

Each day, they swap stories about the challenges of working in Texas. “We cleaned out an entire ant colony from behind this lady’s wall,” said John. “There were thousands of ants. And eggs. You couldn’t even see behind them.”

Devon working on Dennis’ property (who lives in an MDS built home) clearing out burnt trees.

The group has gotten so much done so quickly that Epp has to find additional homeowners who need help. There are many of them, but Epp offers the group a half day off on Friday.

Nobody takes him up on his offer. “We said we were gong to work five full days,” says Hannah. “We might as well work the whole day.”

John quickly agrees: “We’ll work the full day. Really, I wish we had two weeks.”

By Susan Kim for MDS

Photo by Andrew Huth for MDS

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