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'Glad we can help'

Robin Howard and some fellow volunteers spent their Sunday afternoon raking up tornado debris in a stranger's yard.

BY HEATHER MOYER | NEWBURGH, Ind. | November 14, 2005

"This seemed like the right thing to do."

—Bridget Naas

Robin Howard and some fellow volunteers spent their Sunday afternoon raking up tornado debris in a stranger's yard.

For Howard, helping out is the right thing to do after the F3 tornado leveled many homes. "I wanted to help my neighbors - I know they'd help me do the same thing," she said.

Howard is a life-long resident of the Evansville and Newburgh area and said the devastation is terrible. "I spent last Sunday just crying, my heart broke for all these families."

So she took the weekend and showed at the fellowship hall of St. Luke Lutheran Church, as did hundreds of other volunteers. St. Luke is serving as one of the main sites where volunteers can show up to register and then be dispatched to homes in need of help. St. Luke's pastor, Tom Vanselow, knew his church was a good place to for the volunteer center because of a connection he made with a disaster recovery organization after Hurricane Katrina.

The Hope Crisis Response Network (HCRN) is an Indiana-based disaster recovery agency. After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, HCRN sent volunteers down to help residents recover.

"I had gone down to Louisiana with them a few week ago, so when this happened, they were one of the first ones to call," said Vanselow. And so the volunteer center was created and Vanselow said the flow of volunteers has been steady.

"It's great to see everyone help each other out."

Kevin Cox, CEO and founder of HCRN, agreed. Noting that it is important for the community to run its own recovery, Cox said the volunteer staff in in the center is all local. "It's been a very cooperatitve effort so far," he said.

Sunday afternoon, Bridget Naas was busily moving between computers and paperwork, signing in the many volunteers who stopped in to be assigned to a site for the afternoon. Naas, recently retired from the Army after serving terms in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said she had plenty of time until she went back to school.

"This seemed like the right thing to do," said Naas, who took on the role of volunteer coordinator. She is overwhelmed by the support she's seen from the public.

Naas isn't the only one. Out in the Stonegate neighborhood of Newburgh, more volunteers from the St. Luke and HCRN center are moving tree branches from the yard of Natalie Colvin's home. Her family lost several huge trees during last Sunday's tornado, but fortunately none severely damaged the home. Her neighbors were not as lucky.

"We heard the sirens that night - we knew it was coming," said Colvin, pausing next to a truckload of tree limbs. "It was over in a matter of seconds and we quickly went out to check on our neighbors."

Colvin and her neighbors are a tight-knit community who all quickly were out in the street trying to make sure everyone was okay. Her son, husband and a neighbor helped get one of their injured elderly neighbors out of her home and to the hospital. Several homes only a driveway or two away from Colvin's home will have to be torn down due to the severe damage. Roofs are torn off and top floors are gone for some of the homes. Colvin said she's amazed that no one died in her neighborhood.

There are other positives, too, she added. "The volunteers are awesome," said Colvin, who also pointed out one hand-made sign in a nearby yard that thanked the many volunteers. Other helpers have brought sandwiches and snacks to feed the residents in her neighborhood.

To HCRN's Cox, the community support in Evansville and Newburgh area has been amazing. He said the churches are all stepping up to do their part. Even local businesses are pitching in - one donated cell phones to the volunteer center and another gave a load of hard hats for volunteers. "The donations have been very useful," he said.

To help manage the donations, a team of Adventist Community Services (ACS) volunteers have taken up shop in a large storefront space donated to house the goods. Residents affected by the tornado can stop by the warehouse to pick up tarps, food, cleaning supplies and more.

"We've had a steady flow of people coming in each day," said Jose Vazquez, ACS director for Indiana. "We'll stay here as long as we have to."

Vazquez said the residents that come in sign in with a staff member and are then guided through the center to get what they need. The staff sometimes lend an important ear, as Vazquez said the residents frequently tell their story about the tornado as they pick up supplies. "They're very grateful - and we're just glad we can help."

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