Robert Wilbourn watched a small army of mostly teenagers tear away rotted siding from his house one day last week and called it “amazing.”
Without assistance, he’s been unable to repair his South Alexandria, La.,chome left in bad shape by water damage and a tree that fell during a severe storm.
Wilbourn’s situation is not unique in a state that has had multiple widespread flooding events in the last year and half, costing the federal government millions.
A longtime city of Alexandria employee, Wilbourn, his disabled wife and daughter were stuck living with storm damage until this week.
A group of volunteers from Texas came to town to work on small construction projects for the elderly, disabled and others in need.
“It’s just amazing and a blessing,” he said. “I didn’t know what to think when they told me we’re going to fix your house for free.”
The group, called U.M. Army, is part of a ministry of United Methodist churches.
Over spring, summer and Christmas breaks, they travel where there are host churches to accommodate them. The churches help find clients in need of home maintenance or minor repair work they can’t afford to pay for or are unable to do themselves.
Beth Lee, an adult supervisor for the team at the Wilbourn’s house, said their first project in Alexandria included building a ramp for a woman who hadn’t been outside since she was confined to a wheelchair seven months ago.
She said it was heartbreaking and part of what motivates the U.M. Army, which brought more than 70 volunteers here. They stayed for a week and split into groups to work on similar projects and to help rebuild homes in flood-prone areas.
Lee said some of the teenagers and young adults who join the U.M. Army program come with experience working on such projects, and they help the rest learn. They pay to become members of the group, and that money along with fundraisers, helps buy building supplies.
Paige Miller started volunteering with the U.M. Army Group from First United Methodist Marshall four years ago. The 17-year-old said serving clients is a way to show them “someone cares.”
Seeing young people use their time in a positive way for others made an impression on Anita Donaldson and Vera Zeigler, who called it “awesome.” The sisters had their childhood home in Acadian Village repaired this week, many months after the neighborhood was hit with floodwaters.
“There are some good people in the world that still care about others,” Donaldson said. “They are God-sent.”
The United Way of Central Louisiana has identified dozens more families impacted by recent flooding who have exhausted all resources, but are still in serious need. Many are elderly or disabled.
A Long-term Recovery Committee organized by the agency is helping secure donations and recruit volunteers like the U.M. Army. For more information, contact the United Way at 318-443-7203 or visit the Central Louisiana Long-term Recovery Committee Facebook page.
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