A group of teens from Rochester, N.Y., spent Thursday in Faulkner County doing tornado relief work.
Rev. Dr. Peter Burch of The Charles Finney School in Penfield, N.Y., brought a group of six teens through the area on a disaster relief mission trip. Burch designed Project Compassion to get his students outside the classroom and into the mission field helping people in need.
Since November 2012, the group has traveled around the country on eight disaster relief trips, with this 10-day trip making their ninth, Burch said.
"The main focus is tornado relief," he said. The group visited Mayflower and Vilonia to do tornado cleanup as well as sorting supplies at the Nucor building on Sturgis Road, which serves as a staging area for relief supplies.
After leaving Conway, Burch said, "We’re going to New Orleans to help people still struggling from Katrina. We’ll be serving in the Ninth Ward of Orleans Parish, which is right next to the levee that broke. When we leave (New Orleans) we’re going to Mississippi to do some more tornado relief near Tupelo, Miss."
Devonte Burch, 16, said, "What I see out of this whole thing is helping and serving people and giving to people in different states and seeing how God is working through us to help people in need."
Burch said sometimes the group has a project organized in advance, and other times they just show up at a disaster area and go where they see work to do.
"When we were in Illinois, we drove over 700 miles to get there. We didn’t have a single project. We just got up and drove out to the disaster area, found a trailer, knocked on the door and asked to help. And they let us help.
He said the growth opportunity for the boys is significant.
"Jesus did not come to be served but to serve," he said. "These boys are having a tremendous opportunity to devote themselves to serving others. These kids have sat in homes where there are no exterior walls, listening to people tell the story of when they lost their home. You have the service, but you also have the sense of compassion rising up within them. One of the boys said to me, ‘If I won the lottery, I would buy an RV and go around the country helping people.’"
Matt Bovee, 16, said this was his fifth trip with Project Compassion. He said the group did yard work and debris cleanup at two homes on Thursday. He said he has enjoyed meeting different people and getting to know them on missions trips.
"We helped with Hurricane Sandy," he said. "We helped repair houses. It’s a really good time, because we get to bond with people and help them out.
Hurricane Sandy was Project Compassion’s first mission trip. According to the school’s website, 11 volunteers went to "ground zero," to a town called Highlands that was "nearly obliterated" by the storm.
Burch said, "It’s pretty amazing for a school that is not in a disaster area — we live in Rochester, N.Y. — we really don’t have natural disasters; for these students to have this experience of going on so many disaster relief trips. They bring back into the school this spirit of serving others and sacrificing personal desires they might have. People learn about it, and they want to get involved. They see how grateful people are when people come, especially from a long distance away, to help them. It creates a growing sense of gratitude within (the students) for the blessings within their own lives."
(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)