James Sampley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Ashville, Ala., got to know Gabe as a result of the cleanup and rebuilding efforts following major storms that tore through north Alabama in April 2011. The Wises' mobile home was damaged but not destroyed in the storms. As volunteers from First Baptist Ashville and Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover, Ala., helped repair the damage, they learned more about the needs of the family.
"Gabe is confined to a wheelchair and dependent on a ventilator to breathe," Sampley said. "His grandfather told me about the procedure they had to go through to get him out of the house and to someone's basement when a storm was coming and then to get him back home once the storm was over."
As a result of that conversation, Sampley began to look for funds to build a storm shelter near the Wise home. He contacted Candace McIntosh, executive director of Alabama WMU, and soon the WMU Foundation was involved as well.
The WMU Foundation provided a $2,000 grant for building supplies to the Ashville church, through the HEART Fund, a ministry of the foundation that seeks to aid in rebuilding efforts in the United States and around the world after natural disasters. The remaining $1,500 for supplies was provided by Alabama WMU.
"After some discussion, (WMU Foundation president) David George and I realized this would be a project that we could partner together on," McIntosh said. "It has been wonderful to see how First Baptist, Ashville, and the community have rallied around Gabe."
Though the Wise family attends Bethany Baptist Church in Ashville, First Baptist Ashville took the lead in organizing the project. Once the supplies were purchased, a contractor provided his labor to construct the concrete shelter in a hillside near the Wise home. Sampley also hopes to provide a dedicated generator for Gabe's ventilator in the storm shelter.
"Then all he would have to do is go," Sampley said.
Since the storm damaged the home, volunteers from several churches have replaced siding and insulation and built new decks and ramps to make entering and exiting the house a little easier for Gabe and his family. A central heating and cooling system for the home is also in the works, and Sampley hopes roofing can be installed over the new decks so that Gabe can get outside more.
Sampley said though Gabe is severely disabled, he shows his joy with an ever-present smile and a friendly wave.
"He cannot speak clearly with many words, but his spirit shouts with clarity," Sampley said.
George said the cooperative effort has been the best part of the project.
"The real story is how so many have done so much for this family," he said.
This article originally appeared in The Alabama Baptist (www.thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Carrie Brown McWhorter is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net