Disaster relief officials say youth are among their best volunteers. (Jeff Brumley/ABPnews)
Disaster relief officials say youth are among their best volunteers. (Jeff Brumley/ABPnews)

Harnessing youth for disaster work

A new Texas Baptist program called Bounce seeks young adult volunteers for major disaster relief programs next summer, reminding disaster response officials in other organizations just how important youth are after natural and man-made catastrophes.

By Jeff Brumley

Pushed to their limits by a busy year of natural and man-made catastrophes, Texas Baptists are raising an army of youth to bolster disaster recovery campaigns across the state and region.

It’s called Bounce and is billed as a “pre-packaged missions experience” for high school and college-aged Christians interested in disaster response work, officials of the Baptist General Convention of Texas said.

The program’s title was picked to convey its mission and impact, said Chris Liebrum, disaster recovery director for the BGCT.

“We wanted one word that said something about movement and the whole idea is helping communities bounce back from disasters,” Liebrum said.

Officials in other Baptist organizations praised the idea, saying it mirrors their consistently positive experience witnessing young people tackle difficult tasks in challenging conditions.

While youth workers may require some extra supervision and must be kept from dangerous tasks, they are vital to most cleanup and rebuilding efforts, said Tommy Deal, national disaster response coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

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“They bring an energy level that adults don’t always have,” Deal said. “They can do a lot of work.”

Another bonus: students can, depending on the season, commit to longer stretches of volunteerism during the summer and can also be available around Christmas and spring breaks, he said.

“Adults need to take time off work — if they can afford to take time off work,” Deal said. “That’s not always the case for many willing adults out there.”

‘Not slinging paint’

Texas Baptists are counting on that vigor and availability to make the Bounce program a success.

Organizers are making plans for up to 1,000 young volunteers the first year. Each Bounce project will consist of 250 volunteers who will be divided into crews of 10-15, each overseen by volunteer adults and one professional construction coordinator, Liebrum said.

The initiative is led by David Scott, a former World Changer national missionary.

During summer 2014, Bounce volunteers will work extensively in West, Texas, to help rebuild some of the estimated 150 homes destroyed in the April fertilizer plant explosion. Other groups will work in the area in and around Moore, Okla., to help tornado victims.

Liebrum said tentative discussions are underway to send teams to Colorado to help towns impacted by recent flooding. He predicted the program will eventually expand to include spring break and fall and winter break projects.

“The need for (disaster) recovery is greater than we have volunteers to meet it,” Liebrum said. “These kids will be paying money to go on these trips. This will not be a bunch of kids slinging paint at each other.”

Dean Miller testified to the serious attitude youth bring to disaster relief. Plus, younger volunteers in general have stronger backs and are more willing to put up with deplorable conditions longer than the average volunteer, said Miller, disaster relief coordinator with the Virginia Baptist Missions Board.

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They also tend to be comfortable in the uncomfortable housing situations that usually accompany disaster recovery trips.

But Miller said he’s seen another benefit to youth participation in disaster relief: the morale boost it can provide to the victims of disasters. “In some ways it can provide an affected community with a hope in the future of young people,” Miller said.

Changing lives

Jill Hatcher, Oklahoma CBF disaster response coordinator, said she has seen that morale-boost factor, too — but also among other relief workers.

“Students bring an enthusiasm to the most mundane of assignments and an eagerness to serve other volunteers find inspiring,” Hatcher said.

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Youth and college students have been a vital part of the organization’s disaster response efforts in Oklahoma this year, Hatcher said. They have arrived as individuals and in groups of nearly 100 to remove debris, build chicken coops, work in warehouses and help build or rebuild homes.

“Students walk onto the mission field of disaster response with the attitude of ‘how can I change a life in Jesus’ name, and how can my life be changed?’”