Disaster gives teens new view of service

BY P.J. HELLER | SYLVAN SPRINGS, AL | May 14, 1998


It wasn't long after teen-agers at the Sylvan Springs United Methodist Church in Alabama

discussed how they would have coped with the Titanic disaster had they been aboard that ill-fated ship that they had to face a real disaster in

their own community.

Only hours after talking about the Titanic -- a lesson aimed at trying to get the teens to take things a little more seriously -- the youths found

themselves having to cope with the devastation caused by a series of tornadoes which ripped through Sylvan Springs and surrounding

communities in western Jefferson County.

The homes of some of the teens were damaged or destroyed by the April 8 storms. The twisters destroyed more than 400 homes, damaged

hundreds of others and left 34 people dead.

"Some of the teens lost everything. Their homes were destroyed," reported Ron Collett, a youth minister at the church. "Yet they were out in

another part of town helping others."

Collett, who helped coordinate emergency relief efforts in the town, said more than 1,000 young people of all denominations - from

Seventh-day Adventists and Baptists to Mennonites and Methodists - came from throughout the region to assist in cleanup and recovery

efforts.

"It was just incredible to see how people worked together," he said. "It was just everybody pulling together."

The efforts of the young people included removing debris from houses and yards, helping people who came to the church, and feeding families.

Among those who helped was Collett's 6-year-old son Jacob, who insisted on personally handing out boxes of food. "It was a blessing for me

to get to see him, so young, doing that," Collett said. His 10-year-old daughter Karol and his wife Myra also assisted families affected by the

storm.

"The one thing that I saw, from the oldest to the youngest volunteer, was the caring," said Collett, who took a week and a half off from his job

as a laboratory technician at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Birmingham to help in the relief efforts.

Collett said he was impressed by the efforts of the teens, both from his church and from neighboring congregations. Not only did they reach

out to members of the community affected by the storm, but to each other, he said.

"Before we would send out a youth group, we'd let them know what was going on, what the people were going through," Collett said. "That

way, they could have a chance not only to help physically, but also spiritually."

About a month after the storms, a group of teens from his congregation visited a neighboring church to tell of their experiences, both physically

and spiritually.

"When we look around today, we see all the evil in the world. Yet we know that there's so much more good going on," Collett said. "I guess it

takes a tragedy before you really notice it."

"Everybody wants to look at the tragedy caused by the storm," he added. "But I can say that despite the tragedy, there have been many many

more miracles. Even though some 30 people were killed, the number of miracles was thousands and thousands and thousands multiplied by

that. It's just been incredible."


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