Amish and Mennonite Volunteers Bring Skill, Compassion to Flood Recovery Work
Sumter County resident Cindy Rodenberg and her husband had severe damage to their home in the October floods. They didn’t know what they were going to do until they contacted Mennonite Disaster Service and Storm Aid. Cindy says she loves her home even more now, not only because it looks fresh and new but because of the people who helped her.
At a flood-damaged home in Sumter County, a group of young people are at work insulating a floor. 16-year-old Carolyn Esh sits on the ground cutting insulation. She wears a long pink dress, her hair pulled back. Carolyn and her group are from an Amish community in Pennsylvania. They are volunteers with Storm Aid, a branch of Mennonite Disaster Service, which also has work sites in Andrews and Conway. South Carolina Public Radio’s Laura Hunsberger has more on the story.
Earl Bouder says time spent with flood survivors is also special to the volunteers. It helps them remember that they are here not only to work on houses but to help people.
Storm Aid teams come for one to two weeks and stay at a home lent by Sumter County and a local Veterans’ group. The group keeps a schedule during the day and enjoys time off in the evening for board games, reading, walks to the park, and volleyball matches, a favorite sport among the Amish and Mennonite young people. Storm Aid has volunteer cooks, Catherine and Alta Shirk, who have been working in Sumter since the winter. They help volunteers with laundry and basic cleaning and prepare homemade meals each day. Thursday nights, the team invites the people they serve to join them for dinner. This gives the volunteers and homeowners a chance to get to know each other. Cindy Rodenberg says several young ladies have kept in touch through letters. Earl Bouder says time spent with flood survivors is also special to the volunteers. It helps them remember that they are here not only to work on houses but to help people.
More on Mennonite Disaster Service and Storm Aid
Mennonite Disaster Service is a volunteer network of Anabaptist Churches – composed of Mennonite, Amish, and Brethren in Christ denominations. The group was formed in Hesston, Kansas in the 1950s as an organized outreach to neighbors and community members who needed help. It grew to become a disaster response organization, doing recovery work in communities across the US and Canada. MDS currently has teams at work in Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, West Virginia, Florida, and South Carolina. When news broke of South Carolina’s flood in October, MDS decided they needed to be there. They got in touch with FEMA and sent people ahead to scout out the situation and see how their organization could help. At first, volunteer groups were mainly doing clean-up work, such as mucking out houses, but they began more intensive home rebuilding work in January and February. In South Carolina, MDS now has projects set up in Andrews, Conway, and Sumter.
The volunteers with MDS are usually older adults or retired members of Mennonite communities. Anyone can volunteer with MDS and they do have some volunteers from other churches (and some not from a church at all), but Jerry Grosh, Director of Field Operations for MDS, estimates that about 85% of volunteers come from Anabaptist church communities. MDS has a significant population of volunteers who are involved in construction trades or farming, which makes most well-equipped for rebuilding and repair work. MDS places skilled project leaders and supervisors over unskilled volunteers to make sure they do the work up to code.
Storm Aid is a branch of MDS formed by an Amish community after Hurricane Katrina. The group sent volunteers to work on recovery in Past Christian, Mississippi and went on to join MDS in order to better organize their efforts and serve more areas in need of help. In South Carolina, Storm Aid is at work in Sumter, bringing in groups of teens and young adults from Amish communities across the country to do recovery work.
Earl Bouder, Project Director for MDS Storm Aid in Sumter, says these young people are in a phase of life called “Rumspringa,” when Amish youth have freedom to experience more of the “English” (non-Amish) world. With their formal education ending at around the eighth grade, most of the young men have been at work in construction or farm trades professionally for a number of years and have been helping their parents with farm or trade work since childhood. Since January, the Storm Aid groups have taken on 14 jobs in Sumter so far, including several complete interior restorations. They also did a few jobs in Conway to help out a smaller MDS group.
For more information about Mennonite Disaster Service, visit mds.mennonite.net. To get in touch with Storm Aid in Sumter, SC specifically, contact partner organizations Sumter United Ministries for more information: sumterunitedministries.org