Volunteers from near and far lined up outside the Smiths Station Baptist Church student ministry building Wednesday, interested in utilizing their expertise and passion to serve survivors of Sunday's storm.
“My goal is to help anybody in need,” Bo Hamlett said. “I flew down from Pittsburgh. I’ve done this before, and when I saw the news, I didn’t hesitate. I can use my labor, my strength and willingness to help people.
"A lot of my friends back home say they are too busy, but once you see a disaster area, you quickly realize you have time to help others. There’s always work. Do the right thing.”
With the collaboration of the Lee County Emergency Management Agency and the United Way, Hamlett will join the extensive number of volunteers demonstrating an active desire to lend their skills and sacrifice their time for recovery efforts.
All volunteers must be 14 or older.
‘Something anyone can do’
“We just started this morning, and it has been a line out the door since we started,” United Way team member Chandler Williams said. “All of us that live here, and even the people in the surrounding areas like Georgia and [elsewhere in] Alabama, want to be helpful. It’s kind of overwhelming how much destruction we’ve had, but everyone wants to do their part. Volunteering is something anyone can do.”
Local volunteer Jason McAdam expressed a concern for younger survivors and brought a four-legged friend to soothe the anxieties of children traumatized by the storm.
“I’ve done tree cutting and some things like that, labor work, anything that’s needed,” McAdam said. “This is Tracker, my service dog. We're going to see if there are some kids out there that want to play with the dog, so that’s why we brought him. It will be good, little therapy for them.”
McAdam has interacted with volunteers willing to utilize their skills to repair power lines and operate heavy-construction equipment.
Johnny Langley, deputy director of the Lee County Emergency Management Agency, encouraged each volunteer, skilled or unskilled, to exercise safety as his or her first priority.
“We give them a safety briefing on what to do, what not to do and what you may see out in a disaster area,” Langley said. “We look at these volunteers when they first come in and make sure they have on some sort of shoes that are workable in the field. We make sure they have on the appropriate clothing for the temperature and other types of conditions out there.”
Langley emphasized awareness as paramount for volunteers to remain safe and avoid hazardous debris.
With experience serving in a disaster, volunteers like Beth McDonald will be equipped with work gloves, water and buckets to carry supplies.
‘A full heart’
“I was in charge, the lead and senior project manager for an interior and exterior project for SunTrust when a tornado hit in Atlanta, 10 years ago,” McDonald said. “I had a knee replacement, but I walked in a 26-story building to assess it. That building was occupied, and it hit on a Friday night. I’ve only been in Auburn for a couple of years, but I know how to pull a team together and work.”
Rodney Blevins and Bert Baker share McDonald’s motivation to assist by using their expertise of operating heavy equipment. The railroad operators traveled from Prattville, back hoe in tow, to serve the decimated community.
“We’re trying to find a place where we can utilize his skills and my spotter skills to help get some of the trees and debris out of these people's yards,” Blevins said. “Baker has come up here on his own expense and fuel to try to help people. I came here because of Jesus Christ. You will be rewarded for your good deeds, and you've got to help people that need help. That’s all there is to it.”
As volunteers scattered to serve and complete their assignments, Smiths Station Mayor Bubba Copeland expressed gratitude for the active participation to clean up his community.
“It gives me a full heart to see so many people willing to help,” Copeland said. “It’s truly a blessing to see people giving back. We saw this response 15 minutes after the storm happened. People just showed up and started helping. I think cleanup will be weeks and months, but everybody’s working together – the county, city and state – to get everything restored.”
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