While most high school kids were enjoying an opportunity to sleep in and rest during fall break, four Lincoln County High School students were up at dawn, working all day to assist folks in Wilmington, N.C., who had suffered damage from Hurricane Florence.
And, the four students say, they wouldn’t change a thing.
“It was worth it,” said Peyton Steelman, who traveled to Wilmington with fellow students Iziah Taylor, Ashton Lucius and Dalton Henderson, along with Darrell Haney, pastor of Grace Falls Church and a teacher at LCHS. “It felt better to go than just sit on my couch all week.”
“Instead of watching it on the news, you have the opportunity to step up and do something,” added Iziah.
The group, joined by two others, Josh McBride from Grace Falls and Marvin Gault from Stewarts Chapel, was sponsored by the William Carey Baptist Association and worked through Samaritan’s Purse.
According to Ashton, the teens, who slept on the floor of a church’s Sunday school room, started their day by dawn, doing whatever they could to help homeowners who were mostly affected by flood damage.
“We did multiple different types of chores, such as cleaning, tarping roofs, ripping up carpet,” Ashton said, noting that tree removal proved to be an especially tough job.
The teens all agree, however, that donning Tyvek suits and crawling under houses that had previously been under water might have been the most challenging of chores.
While the teens knew that Wilmington had received almost two feet of rainfall from Hurricane Florence, seeing the resulting damage in person left a lasting impact, said Dalton, noting the water lines left on walls inside the homes in which they worked – “It’s crazy seeing stuff like that, like where water was above the bathtub in one house.”
With cleanup in the area still underway when the teens arrived, the four say they were saddened to see, first-hand, just how much destruction the storm had caused as household items and pieces of the residents’ lives littered the sides of streets.
“When you see the piles of things by the road, all of their possessions they had all their lives and had collected all their lives, you think, man, they really worked hard for all this stuff, and it’s just gone in an instant,” Peyton said.
“You see all the devastation on TV, but when you’re actually standing there in the middle of somebody’s place that use to be something, it’s eye-opening and made it real,” Iziah said.
“You walk through the house, and it’s basically just carpet laid over floor joists,” Ashton recalled of one home where a 79-year-old man was still living alone.
While the teens worked to make conditions better for the 79-year-old, they say they were the ones who actually received the blessing, all touched by the appreciation and faith showed by the elderly man.
“He said that morning he had prayed for someone to come fix his house, and then we came that afternoon,” Dalton said, with Ashton noting that the elderly man sang a gospel hymn to the group, thanking them for their help.
The teens worked on eight different houses and were fortunate to be able to meet most of the homeowners.
“You have the opportunity to the listen to their stories and hear what happened,” Darrell said. “It’s really a neat time, a special time for everyone.”
Adding to that special time is the tradition of presenting each homeowner with a Bible signed by the volunteers who assisted.
While Iziah had helped with hurricane relief efforts previously in Texas, the North Carolina trip was a first for the other three teens, and they all say they have no hesitation at going somewhere again.
“Even if you don’t go work and do physical labor, even just sitting down and talking to somebody and listening to their story, that’s the best thing you can possibly do for them,” Iziah said.
“I wish people would take the time to do something like that,” he added. “It’s not for everybody, but it’s always good to try something new.”
As Thanksgiving break approaches, the four are hoping to join Haney for a trip to Florida, where Hurricane Michael struck as the group was making its way back home from North Carolina.
“If they’re working there that week and we can get in, we’re going to go,” Haney said, with the four teens saying they would have “no hesitation” in foregoing Thanksgiving break to help their neighbors to the south.
“I think they’re hooked,” Haney said.
If you would like to assist as an individual or group or would like to make a donation, visit the Samaritan’s Purse website at samaritanspurse.org.