This year Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers, including Ronda and Randy Corn, will welcome nearly 200 students from more than six states over a two-week period to assist in the cleanup and rebuild work on the island.
When the Corns arrived in Staten Island in November 2012 -- just five days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall -- they didn't think they would still be there today.
"Randy and I have been here since the beginning," Ronda Corn said, "and we plan to stay until the end. There's still such a mess here. Homes are gutted and unlivable. People are displaced. Below the surface there is just so much hurt. Time has passed and media attention has faded, but the people here still need so much help."
Serving under local construction team leaders and fellow SBDR volunteers, students will hang sheet rock, tile floors, install doors, put up walls -- anything to help homes become livable once again.
"The students work with a construction team leader and learn a lot about skilled labor," Corn said. "It's hard work but really an awesome experience."
The experience is a stark contrast to the way many college students spend spring break. SBDR built a volunteer village on a three-acre field on Staten Island, complete with shower, kitchen and water units. Students will camp in tents built specifically for Sandy Rebuild workers. With New York closing out one of its roughest winters yet, volunteers face the difficult challenge of braving the elements.
"Weather conditions this season haven't made our work easy, and we've tried to prepare students for the potential wet and cold weather we've seen all season," Corn said. "They're all still excited to serve. For all of us, it's not about the project itself; it's about the people. That's been our motto from day one, and keeping the hearts of the people we're serving in mind has helped tremendously on the difficult days."
It's not just the hearts of the people they're serving but the hearts of the college students as well that the Corns and their team hope to see changed.
"Our main goal is that the Gospel goes out to the people, both the ones we're serving in Staten Island and the college students here doing the work," Corn said. "There are opportunities for the body of Christ to minister both inside and outside our camp."
Last year the Corns met a student named Belle. Though she didn't know Christ, she signed up to serve with her fellow students. She returned to her campus after the week with a new curiosity about Christ and, after talking with her group leader, placed her faith in Christ. This year, Belle is returning to serve and share what Christ did in her life through service to Staten Island last year.
"It's an incredible story," Corn said. "This girl came to know Christ, and since then, has been walking with her roommate as she begins to seek Christ in her own life. She's even kept in touch with the homeowners she served last year, helping point them to Christ as well. Just one story like this -- one soul coming to know the Lord through serving here -- that makes all the difference."
Students have virtually year-round service opportunities now with Sandy Rebuild. To explore more about assisting in New York, visit www.namb.net/sandy.
From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., the North American Mission Board coordinates Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through a partnership between NAMB and the SBC's 42 state conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.
Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to disaster relief operations can contact their state conventions or contribute to NAMB's disaster relief fund via www.namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Other ways to donate are to call 866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for "Disaster Relief."
Sara Shelton 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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