A group from the University of Central Arkansas banded together this month to help the residents of Pocahontas, Arkansas, who suffered loss after the recent flooding disaster.
Bear Boots on the Ground — created in 2014 to foster tornado cleanup in the area — participants and three students involved with the UCA Baptist Collegiate Ministry, worked on houses that suffered damage during the floods on May 18 and 25.
Dean of Students Gary Roberts said his coworker Charlotte Strickland received a call from Bit Stephens from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock who said they were taking a group to Pocahontas and wanted to know if UCA wanted to join. From there, Roberts put everything into action.
Roberts said he recalls UCA President Houston Davis calling attention to the town’s disaster issues during the commencement ceremonies at UCA. He said Davis expressed concern and said he had a desire to help out the area in any way possible.
Twenty UCA volunteers worked two full days and donated 235 hours of service working.
Roberts said they gathered at six different houses in the community and removed drywall, insulation, kitchen cabinets, plumbing, flooring and cleaned up other debris.
He said a large area of Pocahontas was flooded, much of it seen when driving into the town.
"You can just tell how much area, square miles, was impacted by the flood," Roberts said.
He said mold had already started to set into the walls and the floors of several residences.
"You could just tell a lot of flood damage in those houses," Roberts said.
Much of the group’s work, he said, was removing everything in preparation for the next step in restoring the homes.
While there, Roberts said he was able to meet with several of the families.
He said most were living a normal life, in a daily routine, when all of a sudden, this disaster occurs and up-ended everything.
"A disaster takes you out of your routine and you’re living in chaos," Roberts said.
He said for people who were affected, ripping up their home can be overwhelming and some loose hope.
After speaking with several of the residents, he said most seemed appreciative of having a group there instead of doing it all by themselves. Roberts said the number of volunteers seemed to help the owners get re-energized to finish the task.
"It just gave them hope and it lifted their spirits," he said.
Roberts said while they were there to help, the trip meant more.
"We were there to help pick up the pieces, but [also] to provide emotional support," he said.
Roberts said the teams did face a few challenges like dealing with the rotting smells and the stench left by flooding disaster, but also had to kick a snake out of its new home after the flood forced it to seek refuge in a house.
Other than that, he said the main issue was the work itself.
"[It was] long, hard, backbreaking work, but at the end of the day, you just felt really good about what you did," Roberts said.
He said everyone from the university’s president to the physical plant workers and the students who joined the trip, seemed to shed their titles, working together to accomplish tasks before them.
"When we were all in that van heading to Pocahontas, we were all the same," Roberts said.
That part of the trip was encouraging and he said he appreciated getting to know everyone, including other groups that traveled to the town to lend a hand, on that level.
As to why he went, Roberts said if the situation was reversed and he was living in chaos, he’d hope there would be someone out there willing to offer a helping hand.
"I would need and want support," he said.
Roberts said that is why these types of service programs are important … because of everyone working together and helping each other out, serving ones who need it.
Volunteers included UCA President Houston Davis, Richard Hammond, Riva Brown, William Baker, Tchetahan Natogoma Silue, Malika Sylla, Zoheb Yunus, Sandy Ahne, Jennifer Boudreaux, Misty Booth, Dylan Britto, Charlotte Strickland, Gary Roberts and three volunteers from the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at UCA.