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NC finds door-to-door care

Ruth Meadows says her life changed when Tony Oberley and Carl Hudson showed up at her door.

BY SUSAN KIM | CLYDE, N.C. | August 4, 2005

"Its terrible to know nothing was done with her house until now."

—Sherye Sedlak

Ruth Meadows says her life changed when Tony Oberley and Carl Hudson showed up at her door.

"Now, understand," she said, with a set look on her face, "I never would have asked for help. But they came to my door, and they said they were here to help. And they'd already helped a friend of mine."

Oberley and Hudson are from the United Methodist Disaster Recovery Center in Clyde, a river town in the western North Carolina mountains. The recovery center has been helping people who were hit by back-to-back floods in September. Many homes in the area still need repairs.

Meadows said she didn't expect to have flood damage. She doesn't live right beside the river. So the floodwaters didn't rise up to invade her home. But they dropped down the hillside and streamed right into the back of her house.

Meadows said first she couldn't believe the flooding that hit twice in nine days. Now, she said, she can't believe the activity that is taking place in her house after that first knock on the front door.

Volunteers are swarming inside and outside the house, talking and joking as they work with all the joy and camaraderie of partygoers. As Oberley and Hudson promised, help has arrived.

Outside, volunteers are putting a fresh coat of paint on the house, and installing new drainage ditches so the next torrential rain won't flood the home again. They're wiring a new electrical system, since Meadows has been without electricity for months.

Inside, volunteers are fixing the ceiling. They've already replaced the floor, which buckled when floodwater ran underneath.

The volunteers are from the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Schaumburg, Ill. - a two-day drive. The United Methodist Disaster Recovery Center has been coordinating these kinds of teams for months now, and people as far away as California have arrived to help.

Sometimes the volunteers put down their paintbrushes and hammers, and gaze with Ruth Meadows up at the mountainside, which in the summer is lush and green, and dotted with goats and horses.

"It's beautiful," said one volunteer. "I mean, it looks like the Swiss Alps."

Inside, volunteers take a break and share popsicles, offering Ruth Meadows one, too. As she unwraps it, she agrees this is a beautiful place to live, and vows she will never move away, no matter how badly her house is damaged. I would never live anywhere else. Her eyes fill with tears, and she looks down at the crumpled popsicle wrapper still in her hands.

Then her husband chimes in: Did you know this was my daddy's homestead? Yep, I was born and raised in this house."

Both faced with health problems, they let the flood damage go for months, and continued to live there with no electricity, a buckled floor, and a damaged ceiling. "I had just bought a brand new sectional sofa," said Meadows, "and it was ruined."

But now the couple can dare to think about the future.

Meadows said she's already planning to say thank you to the United Methodist Disaster Recovery Center and to the volunteers. "I am going to write a letter to the newspaper, to say thank you, to tell people what has happened here," she said.

Volunteer Sherye Sedlak marveled about how much work had been done in just a few days. "But it's terrible to know that nothing had been done with her house until now," she said.

Sedlak added she has enjoyed getting to know Ruth Meadows and her husband. "We have a devotional inside the house each morning before we start working," Sedlak said. "This morning, Ruth asked if she could be in it, and she wanted to say the prayer. One of the neighbor girls also has been coming over to help, and she joined in the devotional, too. Even people driving by honk and wave."

Sixteen-year-old Jackie Gibbs - who is working on another house in the same town - agreed that interacting with the homeowner has been a good experience. "One of the most important things you learn on this kind of trip is how to listen,"she said. "Talking to the homeowner is just as much a part of this trip as doing the physical work."

Sarah Pritscher, a 22-year-old volunteer, said that, when volunteer team members work side-by-side, they draw closer together. "A trip like this, when you come, gives you a sense of community that you can't get from any other experience."

Volunteers also said they gained a new understanding of why people choose to live by a river - even though the flood danger can be high. There is always some risk of disaster, pointed out Wayne Gruett, who traveled to western North Carolina from the Lutheran Church of the Master in Carol Stream, Ill. "Isn't that true whether you live along a river or in tornado alley? People tend to live where they love it."

Resident Carl Hudson - who initially knocked on the door to tell Ruth Meadows help was available - said he hopes these local efforts send a message to the wider public. "The water is down and the media is gone," he said. "But people need to know this disaster isn't over."

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