Volunteering in Pa. changes many lives

BY SUSAN KIM | SALISBURY, PA | November 12, 1999

SALISBURY, PA (Nov. 12, 1999) -- Debbie Yutzy's assignment for a

community college speech class was typical: give a persuasive speech.

But her topic was a bit different: "If you can ever help someone in a

disaster, you should. It will change your life."

More than a year after three tornadoes swept through the tiny rural

town of Salisbury, killing three and wrecking 100-year-old homes and

farms, Yutzy offers a fresh perspective on what helping others can

mean during post-disaster times.

"It was a terrible thing that happened. But what you see happen

afterward -- the people who come to help -- it changes your life."

Yutzy was one of many who worked with Wind of Hope, an interfaith

committee that took on the job of overseeing the town's long-term


For Alisa Romesberg, mother of three, Wind of Hope lived up to its

name, bringing help and hope to her family after their home was

damaged. "They were a lifesaver," she said. "We got some financial

support, and they brought meals sometimes. But most of all was the

moral support. There were times when you just needed someone to talk

to, and someone would come by and just sit with the kids and talk to


Before disaster struck in the town of 800, Romesberg said she didn't

know interfaith committees helped people recover from disasters. "I

never even knew about things like this. But we've never had a

disaster like that here."

Interfaith committees similar to Wind of Hope operate throughout the

country --in flood-devastated North Carolina, in Oklahoma and Kansas

in the wake of tornadoes, in California helping scorched communities

rebuild. Their goal is to work themselves out of a job -- when

recovery is complete, they usually disband, though they remain in a

loosely organized state in case disaster strikes again.

Wind of Hope assisted 76 families with financial grants, volunteer

teams who rebuilt homes, and the "moral support" Romesberg remembers.

The committee was funded by Church World Service and a number of

other faith-based disaster response organizations as well as a grant

through Bedford-Somerset Mental Health/Mental Retardation and support

from the local Chamber of Commerce and Lion's Club.

Wind of Hope officially closed in May, shortly after tornadoes struck

Oklahoma and Kansas. Wind of Hope's remaining funds went back to

sponsoring organizations to help disaster survivors in those states.

Wind of Hope is an example of an effective interfaith committee in

action. Enos Tice, a volunteer who kept the committee's books, said

that being able to employ paid permanent staff was one key to

success. "Then you didn't just have people helping when they could.

They were there all the time," he said.

The committee may have dissolved -- but the community unity and

spirit it fostered didn't. In an ecumenical Day of Hope service

commemorating one year after the disaster, some 200 Salisbury

residents gave thanks for their recovery -- and expressed lingering

sadness and fear, too.

"(The service) made it real that not all emotional and personal

healing had taken place," said the Rev. Steve Heatwole, pastor at the

Springs Mennonite Church who helped organize both the service and the

Wind of Hope committee.

"There were people who were still hurting, and the service was

another point along the way, an opportunity for sharing," he said.

The Rev. Craig Lyman, pastor of four small United Methodist churches

in the area, said "the message was one of hope, and also one of

remembering those who died, either directly or indirectly, from the


That was the second Day of Hope service -- the first occurred shortly

after the disaster.

"In the first service, we dealt a lot with people's fear," remembered

the Rev. Raymond Brown, pastor at St. John's United Church of Christ.

"There is still some fear in children and adults."

But much anxiety has dissipated, he added. "At first, there was a lot

of concern that people wouldn't rebuild but would leave, and the town

would become diminished."

Brown said that Wind of Hope -- and the whole disaster recovery

process -- inspired pastors to work together in new ways. "I'm not

sure we were working this way before the disaster," he said.

Brown said he remembers conducting a "walk-the-streets" ministry in

which him and his pastor colleagues from the United Church of Christ

conference in western Maryland and Pennsylvania spent two afternoons

a week going door-to-door and checking on people.

Brown's own church sustained more than $550,000 in damages, but is

now fully restored with the exception of the 1907 Esty organ on which

restoration professionals are still working. "They assure us it can

be restored but will just take a little longer," he said.

Brown also has his own painful personal memories of the disaster. "As

a grandfather, one of the most difficult moments was to stand by

three of our member families and watch their homes get demolished,"

he said.

But for residents like Sam Garlitz, much of that pain has been

replaced with hope. "The tornado took my house completely," he

recalled. "I was hanging on the front door. Now I'm standing in the

new one talking to you."

But, Garlitz added, "I still get edgy when the wind blows."

Posted November 12, 1999

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