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Indiana team helps Immokalee Irma survivors

Indiana team helps Immokalee Irma survivors

Disaster Recovery
The Jubilee College & Young Adult Ministry mission team from First Methodist Church in Bloomington, Indiana, takes a break March 14 in Immokalee. The team includes, from left to right, Leah Wentzel, Leah Murray, Markus Dickinson, Becca Choate, Evan Brinnon, Steven Reinoehl and Chris Simmons.

While the media focused on Hurricane Irma recovery in Naples, some say Immokalee, where flooding and wind damage also occurred in Collier County, was neglected by news outlets.

Mission teams that opt to come to Immokalee likely will be helping some of the most disadvantaged survivors of Hurricane Irma.

The monster storm of last September throttled a city where many homes already were in poor condition. But one small construction project – such as four new steps up to a manufactured home – can make a big impact on a family of farm workers who earn $60–$70 a day, when there is work.

The new steps replaced unsafe, temporary concrete blocks. A new railing made the walk up to the home as welcome as being inside it. The missing railing was a danger for children and adults alike: Falls had occurred.

Leah Murray and Leah Wentzel paint an exterior wall.
Leah Murray and Leah Wentzel paint an exterior wall.

The steps were constructed by a team from Jubilee College and Young Adult Ministry at First Methodist Church in Bloomington, home of Indiana University. Jubilee was in Immokalee March 10-15.

Team members removed rotting wood (steps and deck), creating a tall pile of rubbish. Then they established a firm foundation, using 4-by-4s, making it safe for the first time in months. Neighbors stopped by, excited. Some took photographs of the new entrance.

 “It's a much different place,” team leader Markus Dickinson said. “It's nice to see a safe porch.”

Later they replaced a cover over a hot water heater, painted the exterior and installed some trellises.

The goal of these seven primarily college-age team members was to leave Immokalee better off than when they arrived. Mostly unskilled at construction, the team worked on a handful of homes. In addition to covering a roof and building steps, they painted, cleaned siding and installed shutters.

Glimpsing at a blue roof they installed on another family’s manufactured home, team members considered how blessed they are back home.

Temporary solutions such as tarps are nice, but they represent a hard life, Dickinson said.

It's encouraging to see the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and others doing relief work related to Hurricane Irma in places like Immokalee, the Collier County town of 24,000 where many poor migrant workers live, Dickinson said. But it also shows that part of the world is very marginalized.

“Wrestling with that is one thing we are all taking away,” Dickinson said. “I believe that God has a special heart for the marginalized, people who have one disadvantage or another.”

It's a very positive experience, he said. The internal community building allows people to share about their faith and learn about practical matters, such as how hurricane relief happens.

“When we grow together, it's exciting,” Dickinson said.

FLUMC construction coordinator Paul Crotty stands on the porch, near the new steps, while Evan Brinnon paints trim at left.
FLUMC construction coordinator Paul Crotty stands on the porch, near the new steps, while Evan Brinnon paints trim at left.

The team worked hard during the day, and at night they lodged at First United Methodist Church in Immokalee, sleeping on cots left by another mission team and bathing in a shower trailer on loan from the Alabama-West Florida Conference. It had hot water at the start of the week. By about the fourth day, the hot water heater had worn out.

IU freshman Leah Wentzel says the trip “almost felt like a calling. You have the perfect opportunity to go out and help people and make a difference in their lives.”

Wentzel could have gone home during spring break to be with her family, but she studies public health and this trip meshed well with her career goals.

Evan Brinnon, a sophomore and the Jubilee intern who organized the trip, enjoyed working and interacting with UMCOR.

“It's been really interesting, to say the least,” Brinnon said. “Coming down and seeing how a team of volunteers with little to no experience can really help out has been a great learning experience, but also really empowering.”

Team members met the homeowners, using their scant Spanish language skills to encourage them to be careful descending the steps during construction.

Sophomore Leah Murray went on a few mission trips in high school. She says this one was “definitely different; a lot less structured. We didn't know exactly what we were getting into. We just knew we wanted to be available to help where it was most needed.”

“I'll definitely come back (home) with the intention to do this next year,” Murray said. “This is a great way to spend your spring break.”

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