One of the first groups of volunteers on the ground following the April 27 tornado was the Arkansas Dream Center, which has sent 2,000 workers into Mayflower and Vilonia to help with the cleanup efforts.
Arkansas Dream Center is a nonprofit organization that partners with New Life Church in Conway but is financially unaffiliated. In addition to mobilizing during disasters, the organization has a feeding program in Little Rock and Conway and serves meals regularly in local low income neighborhoods.
Dr. Quentin Washispack of Arkansas Dream Center said, "We just want to be out there helping people, serving people. We have the word ‘serve’ on the back of our shirts. It’s a reference to several verses in the Bible, such as Ephesians 6:7, which says, ‘Serve wholeheartedly, as if serving the Lord.’"
After the tornado hit, Washispack said, "I went out Sunday night to make assessments. We sent people out at 8 a.m. Monday morning. We’ve sent out close to 2,000. We sent out 200 a day last week and 50 a day this week and 400 on Saturday into both Mayflower and Vilonia. On Friday HP (sent) 150 in the morning and 150 in the afternoon."
The Arkansas Dream Center has traveled to disasters in other states, Washispack said, and he was glad to see people from out of state coming to Arkansas to help with the cleanup effort.
"It’s encouraging not only to see the way our people go out and help but also how people drive across country. We had two Canadians and a family from Delaware and some from Wisconsin this weekend, in addition to local people who are helping."
"I’ve also seen an outpouring of donations, supplies, companies out there cooking to help the volunteers, trucks that drive around giving food to the people working. It’s a lot of people coming together to help. Vilonia and Mayflower are flooded with supplies. A lot of companies all over the country have sent truckloads of supplies."
He continued, "I remember when the tornado hit (Vilonia) in 2011. It hit almost the same spot in Vilonia (this time). One couple said in 2011 it took them three or four months to clean up. We sent a crew this time and it took days.
"We’re helping families. People are in shock. The first couple of days we were trying to find personal belongings, maybe photos. Beyond that we’re trying to clean up and rebuild. We try to pray with people, offer them hope, help them clean up things and get their lives back in order.
He said the big task now is to get people into permanent housing. The Arkansas Dream Center will send out volunteers on Monday and will continue sending them out on weekends after that, he said.
"We’re going to help families that don’t have insurance. We placed one family in a trailer. We have helped some families with food, clothing and supplies. We want to get them long-term housing."