Volunteers sought for KS response

BY LARA BRICKER | HAYSVILLE, KS | July 26, 2001


When a devastating tornado tore through Kansas in 1999, Haysville

resident Debbie Chisolm, whose own home was leveled by the twister,

was one of the first to join the Haysville Tornado Recovery Office.

"She had a great deal of sympathy for them, certainly because she had

lost her own home," said Cherri Baer, a Church World Service Disaster

Consultant for Kansas, who met and worked with Chrisolm as a fellow

volunteer after the 1999 tornado. Baer also works as the Kansas

coordinator for United Methodist Committee On Relief.

But unlike the countless people she helped find new housing, Chisolm

has not been able to rebound from the havoc the tornado had on her

life. She went through a difficult divorce soon after the tornado and

with nowhere to turn and no home to return to, moved in with her

mother in the nearby town of Rock. "She told me, 'I feel like the

tornado has happened all over again because here I am homeless,

again,'" Baer said.

However, the situation in the tiny two-bedroom home has gone from bad

to worse, Baer said. Learning that there are now five people crammed

into the home, some volunteers from churches and community groups

have come forward to help build another bedroom and a family room at

the home, although more help is still desperately needed.

The project has become more difficult, as along the way, workers

found serious deficiencies with the existing bathroom. The floor

joists had rotted through and the entire bathroom will now need to be

redone. Because of the bathroom problems, the family has been without

a bathroom for two months, Baer said.

They had been using an outhouse behind the house, but several weeks

ago one of the family members came upon a rattlesnake en route to the

outhouse. "There is tall grass in that area for protection for those

critters," Baer explained.

The project gained valuable assistance when resident Mark Eastman,

who owns a construction company called SMR Builders, heard about

Chisolm's situation from another parishioner at his United Methodist

Church. Eastman has worked with Baer on other construction projects,

including the local Habitat for Humanity, and donated much of the

material needed for the Chisolm project.

"I just feel like God has given me this ability and I needed to use

it for something besides my business," Eastman said. "I felt more

compelled (to help) after I got to know (Chisolm) better."

Baer and Eastman are working together to get the addition finished as

soon as possible. But as the summer growing and harvesting season is

in full swing in Kansas, finding volunteer labor has been tough. The

two are seeking help from volunteer groups from across the country

and said they will help find lodging for anyone who would like to

travel to Kansas to work. "We would be glad for one or two or even

three people to come for a day or two," Baer said. "The church can

put them up."

The work that remains to be done includes roofing and completing the

bathroom. Eastman estimated that there is at least another month's

worth of work to be done at the home. "The project's not moving as

fast as I hoped it would, we need volunteers," he said.

A group from the Peace United Church of Christ in the tiny town of

Hartsburg, Mo., just volunteered their services for the week of

September 2 through 7. The trip has a special meaning for the

volunteers from Hartsburg, explained their Team Leader Dale Lenger.

In 1993 and 1994, the town of Hartsburg was flooded on multiple

occasions and even the church was under 18 inches of water. During

the floods, volunteers from at least 17 other states arrived to help

residents get back on their feet.

Every year since 1995, a group from the Peace United Church of Christ

has traveled across the country volunteering in towns hit by natural

disasters. "It's kind of hard to pay back people in 17 different

states, all you can do is try," Lenger said, adding the experience

has been one of the most rewarding of his life. "Words can't describe

it. When you get doneFriday evening and you pick up your tools and

you start to leave, the people, especially the women folk come up and

try to say thanks. The tears in their eyes is enough. You just have

to experience it."


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