Rebuilding lives: Teens & Twenties writer travels with area group to help tornado victims


Commentary by Sam Diezel
Times-News correspondent 

If you came home one day and your house was gone, what would you do?

For those affected by the devastating tornadoes that tore through southern states April 25-28, it was a very real problem.

Last month, the Burlington First Church of the Nazarene went on a mission trip to Alabama to help people who were affected. The work team fixed roofs, walls and more importantly, began to mend lives.

Sam Diezel is shown in a photo from Alabama, where he helped with tornado relief. / Photo submitted

While many houses were blown away, one family’s house in Fultondale, Ala., was still standing. However, the house’s roof was damaged by the tornado, beams needed to be replaced, and the shingles were worn and beaten. The parents only had a mattress on the floor to sleep on and the heating system was disabled. This was a considerable problem for them as fall had arrived and it was getting colder both indoors and outdoors with each passing day.

Trent Burkett and his wife, Ashley, live in this home with their two young children. Trent is a landscaper who works 12 hour shifts, while his wife Ashley is a stay-at-home mom who takes care of Autumn, 5, and Caleb, 3. The couple is expecting their third child in February.

Leading the work crew was Frank Walter of Southside Builders, along with his wife Joyce. Joan Johnson, retired master chief petty officer, was also on the work crew along with the Barr family: Bob and his wife Brenda, with their kids Ben, 13, and Beth, 10. I was the final team member. All members of the trip paid their own way and arranged with their employers and schools to go on the trip. Ben, Beth and I are home-schooled, so we were able to adjust our schedules to be able to go on the trip. Private donations and money from the Burlington First Church of the Nazarene were used for purchasing work supplies.

Pastor John Parrish and his wife, Heather, Frank’s daughter, arranged for the team to stay in Sunday School rooms in the Gardendale Church of the Nazarene (Gardendale’s local emergency center) throughout the week as they were not being used. The Parrish family provided for the team’s sleeping and meal arrangements during the trip and John also connected us with the Burkett family. Breakfast and lunch were often provided at the church while the team would go to the homes of church members in the evening for dinner.

The men on the trip mainly worked on the roof and did jobs such as removing shingles and adding new sheets of tar paper and shingles to the roof, replacing a vent, putting insulation in the walls and ceiling of the house, and fixing interior items such as shelves and cabinets. They also put tarps over holes on the roof of a deserted house. Meanwhile, the women volunteered at the local Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) center, set up in an abandoned school, doing tasks such as sorting donated clothes for tornado victims, and at the Burkett’s house they picked up the fallen shingles and nails. They planted new flowers in the Burkett’s front yard and purchased clothes, a bed, and space heaters. By the end of the week, Burkett shed tears of happiness from the progress the team made in repairing their home, and the family said they felt very blessed when the team got the opportunity to sit down and eat dinner with them.

“Back in April, there were people everywhere helping out victims. After that, the press stopped covering it and many people forgot about them,” Walter said, “but the need is still there. Many victims feel forgotten.”

While the Burkett family’s house suffered damage from the tornadoes, other homes were completely obliterated. I saw one home that only had cement blocks left standing, and others where driveways only led to a foundation or a patch of grass. There is hope for victims. Of all the things I learned from this trip, aside from the tool and work skills, is that the best way to help someone in need is to give freely of yourself and your time without expecting anything in return (as well as the fact that roofing will not be among my future career choices).

Sam Diezel is a home-schooled junior and a Teens & Twenties writer.


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