Volunteers continue to help
Like most churches, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a focus on service to relieve the sufferings of those affected by disasters, with its members volunteering both formally as a church and individually through local service organizations.
Over the past two years in Minot, the major focus of the church’s Mormon Helping Hands program has included assisting the Roosevelt Zoo rehabilitate its facilities through Eagle Scout and painting projects.
But in the past year, the local units of the LDS church have worked extensively to support rebuilding flooded homes through Hope Village.
Hope Village, the unified volunteer center for flood recovery, works with multiple faith-based partners to coordinate rebuilding efforts. The Mormon churches in the region have been a largely silent, but key, part of the recovery efforts.
“What we’re doing is carrying on all the way through,” said Mike Kelly, who facilitates the rebuild volunteers. “We’ll continue until Hope Village goes away.”
Service is nothing out of the ordinary to the Mormon Church members, and disaster response is common. It makes no difference if the community members belong to the church.
“All the stakes are prepared to respond in an emergency,” Kelly said.
The Latter-day Saints had helping hands in recovery from the Souris River flood before it even happened.
About a month or so prior to the flooding, women from the Relief Society at the church assembled hygiene kits for distribution in disasters. The kits were then shipped to Salt Lake City, from where they would be later distributed.
After the flood hit, the church shipped hygiene kits right back to Minot.
“We never realized we were going to have a need for them,” Kelly said.
For seven weeks following the flood, LDS church members descended upon Minot, working to muck out and clean hundreds of flooded homes.
“At one point, we had 300 people camping at the church on North Hill,” Kelly said. “People were everywhere.”
He estimated that 1,500 church members from all over the United States and Canada helped in Minot.
Over the past year the work has continued. In early August, The Church of Latter-day Saints donated the use of a dump trailer valued at $8,000 to Hope Village. It has been put to use hauling debris from construction sites.
“We wanted to take an active role in supporting Hope Village so that we could directly impact those people who were hurting,” Kelly said.
The Bismarck LDS stake president, Tim Cox, assigned Kelly, who is a high councilor within the stake, to facilitate the donation of the equipment and materials that had been left over from the work the Mormon church had done in 2011, including shop vacs, hand trucks, generators, first aid kits and tools.
But for the service-minded Cox, that wasn’t enough.
“He wanted more than that,” Kelly said. “He wanted bodies on the ground.”
Kelly was tapped to facilitate sending volunteers to Hope Village, and the congregations have responded. Of the 15 units in the area, 10 have sent volunteers to the Souris Valley.
“This was a good opportunity to get in and serve the Minot community,” Kelly said.
Since last August, the church has sent 73 volunteers over the past 10 months to volunteer through Hope Village. The teams come two to three weekends a month and, by Kelly’s estimate, have put in about 420 hours of labor toward the rebuild.
Hope Village’s jobs are matched to the skill set of each volunteer team. Kelly sends a list of volunteers for the week to Mary Carlson, the volunteer coordinator for Lutheran Disaster Response/Hope Village, on Wednesdays. She studies both the teams’ skills and the homeowners’ needs to prepare Saturday’s job.
Teams, ranging from two to 15 people, carried on through the winter. On average, seven people arrive at Hope Village on Saturday morning for the day’s assignments.
“We just want to help,” Kelly said. “That’s our role.”
Many of the volunteers come back to volunteer again.
“You learn a lot and build relationships with the people and community you are assisting,” Kelly said.
Kelly, a science educator and consultant, arrives at Hope Village to meet the teams and get them started, often acting as a gopher.
“I facilitate it and go out as time permits,” he said. “Sometimes I stay and work and sometimes I do other things, but I make sure they get in and get settled.”
Many of Kelly’s volunteers are skilled in rebuild and try to help homeowners do things they can’t do on their own.
For example, a father-son team with two other members from their church unit in Dickinson found themselves doing light construction alongside the homeowner. The elder volunteer, knowing he was capable of assisting more, suggested to the homeowner that he point the team to things he couldn’t do himself.
The volunteers wound up installing a staircase, for which the homeowner was grateful.
Staying to the end
Hope Village has worked on hundreds of homes and still has about 75 remaining.
As Minot’s flood recovery marches into its third summer, the Latter-day Saints will continue to help get families back into their homes.
“When you see people hurting you want to reach out to help relieve their suffering,” Kelly said.