Like a 'boot camp': Collegian adjusts to N.Y. disaster relief

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. (BP) -- College junior Lilly Bolar chose to forgo her regular spring break job -- posing children for Easter pictures in a mall photography studio -- to help clean Staten Island homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy, increasing her appreciation for hard work.

"People look up to people who work really hard. That's changed my mindset," Bolar said. "I felt like I was at boot camp, but it was a lot of fun."

"Seeing the homeowners is really sad because they can't even live in their own homes," said Bolar, who came to New York with seven other students from her Bible study group at Life Point Baptist Church in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. "I was just so grateful that we could come in and do what they felt like they couldn't -- do the hard labor and be there for them."

One homeowner's appreciation sticks with Bolar: "She kept saying to us, 'Thank you so much. God bless you.'"

The 21-year-old worked long days with hundreds of students from across the country in the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief collegiate recovery response. The effort, coordinated by the North American Mission Board and the Baptist Convention of New York, will continue through mid-April. NAMB plans a two-year presence in the area as the need continues for recovery and rebuild team leaders.

Students, volunteers and staff live in temporary tent-city housing set up by NAMB on the grounds of Zion Lutheran Church on Staten Island. Ten heated tents house about 16 students each and two bunkhouse trailers house staff. The church's parking lot is filled with NAMB work trailers and supply trucks and a NAMB command trailer where staff coordinate jobs and volunteers.

Though days were long and full, Bolar said she came to serve and wanted to push herself. She roughed it, using port-o-potties, washing her face in cold water in outdoor sinks and sometimes settling for a cold shower in the evening. She worked on as many as three job sites a day, sometimes in the freezing cold. At one home, the team worked for hours gutting it, removing the bathroom's tile floor, power-washing the outside and spraying for mold.

Coming from a small town in Ohio, Bolar said she had never seen hurricane damage, so the DR ministry was eye-opening.

"Mt. Vernon is a really small town and we're kind of in a bubble. We have a Walmart, but we're getting bigger with a Buffalo Wild Wings and a Chipotle, which is unheard of in Mt. Vernon." she said.

Seeing such destruction in her own country was difficult for Bolar, who said she expected harsh conditions on previous mission trips to Mexico and Costa Rica.

"But in America," Bolar said, "you think everyone is fine and comfortable, that bad things don't happen to us."

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.

Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers including chaplains, and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

To donate to SBDR efforts, contact the Baptist convention in your state or visit namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Donate by phone at 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks designated for "Disaster Relief" to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543.


Laura Sikes writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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