On Saturday, April 28, 2018, a team of 14 people—ranging in age from 26 to 82—from Garden Spot Village and Mount Gretna United Methodist Church, traveled with purpose to Tarboro, North Carolina to provide hope and help.
During Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 the Tar River, which runs between Tarboro and Princeville, overflowed its banks, flooding the town and leaving hundreds of people homeless. Over the 24 months since then, volunteers from United Methodist Volunteers in Mission have worked tirelessly to restore houses and help people return home.
When Hurricane Harvey ravaged southeastern Texas in August 2017 Linda Dodge, director of development at Garden Spot Village and a member of Mount Gretna United Methodist Church, explored the possibility of organizing a group trip to help with relief and rebuilding. She connected with Chaplain Chet Yoder, who affirmed her vision.
Her search led her to United Methodist Volunteers in Mission and eventually to Tarboro. Tarboro's proximity to New Holland-- within-a-day's drive—coupled with its established and comfortable dormitories for men and women, adequate showers, dining facilities and common gathering spaces felt like a good match for Garden Spot Village. In faith Linda reserved 20 beds before inviting others from Garden Spot to join her.
Jason DuVall, regional director for the Heritage District, of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, coordinates volunteers who serve in Tarboro. He says, "In Matthew 20:28, Jesus says he did not come to be served, but to serve others. Volunteers are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in the town of Tarboro. Volunteers show our community that people around the world care, that they are compassionate and loving and that they put God first."
Serving in Tarboro
The volunteer group from Garden Spot Village included residents, staff, and family members as well as Pastor Mike Remel from Mount Gretna United Methodist Church. They shed their normal roles in the community and served side by side. They worked long hours, finishing and sanding drywall, painting, cleaning up properties and installing flooring.
Most important, though, is that they created relationships with one another and with the homeowners and they offered hope in a situation that felt hopeless to so many. Jason says, "The group that came from Garden Spot brought a loving spirit. They loved on me, the other volunteers and the homeowners. That's part of what we are trying to do here—to love people. They are an asset to Garden Spot Village and the Kingdom of God."
Garden Spot resident Lloyd Ziegler says, "On a sightseeing trip you go in different directions because you are concerned about your own interests. When you travel with purpose you go to help others. You have a common goal in mind. You are not looking out for your own agenda."
Myrna, a resident of Princeville, across the Tar River from Tarboro, was extremely blessed by the team who worked to improve her home. She visited each day to see their progress. Just before the Volunteers in Mission arrived to help her, Myrna had been ready to give up, sell her home and move on. But the team's presence reassured her that Princeville was home and God was going to take care of her.
EJ Rittersbach, a resident of Garden Spot Village, says, "We helped people who, in some ways, have been forgotten since the hurricane. Our presence let them know that people still care about them and they matter."
Finding community in Tarboro
On the Sunday morning after the Garden Spot team arrived in Tarboro, they visited St. Luke Church of Christ in Princeville. Members of this African American congregation welcomed the group and expressed their appreciation for the team's work to rebuild the community.
In the evenings the group enjoyed time to play games, relax and learn to know each other better. Eun Hee and Jee Hyun, International Visitor Exchange Program participants, taught the group about life in South Korea. Memories made and shared across generations and cultures created a sense of community and left a lasting impression.
Linda says the group was extremely blessed by the gifts of food that were sent with them. "We felt so much love and support from the broader Garden Spot Village community. Even though others couldn't join us in person, they really were there because of the casseroles, cookies, bagels and other food they provided."
Chaplain Chet Yoder shared that the Community Church at Garden Spot Village donated funds to make the trip affordable for everyone who participated. Their donation helped to pay for lodging, transportation and meals. Chet says, "Every year the Community Church designates a line item in its budget for housing. In 2018 they wanted this budget line to support a housing project for which Garden Spot Village would also provide hands-on support. The trip to Tarboro fulfilled this expectation perfectly."
Returning to Tarboro
A Garden Spot Village Travel with Purpose team will return to Tarboro from October 27 through November 3, 2018 to continue cleanup and rebuilding efforts. Linda shares that a number of people who participated in the original team hope to return and there is room for more to join the trip. She says, "Once you experience a trip like this you feel a calling to return and continue the work to get people back in their homes."