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‘Large percentage’ of volunteers use vacation time from full-time jobscomment (0)

September 1, 2011

By Leigh Pritchett

Disaster relief often is a spur-of-the-moment ministry.

So it would be logical to think that those who are able to volunteer for disaster relief are either retired or not employed outside the home.

But the fact is “a large percentage of our folks are not retired,” said Mel Johnson, disaster relief strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.

Tennessee River Baptist Association’s disaster relief team is evidence of that. As of the last training session that was held in June, the association has 57 volunteers (in chain saw, chaplaincy, shower unit, water purification and cleanup and recovery), noted Bennie Lenz, the association’s disaster relief coordinator. Of that number, only three are retired.

“Prior to that (training session), we had only one person in the group who was retired,” added Lenz, who attends Center Point Baptist Church, Scottsboro.

“Our youngest (volunteer) is 29; our oldest is 82,” he said. The association also has a female chain saw team member — Lenz’s wife, Donna.

When storms hit Alabama in April, Lenz juggled his job as right-of-way specialist with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and his desire to volunteer in disaster relief.

When he sent out the call for volunteers, the Lord assembled the team for him, he said. The team worked in Jackson, Marshall and DeKalb counties, Lenz said.

He was able to work the day of the storms and the following day. But it was several weeks before Lenz could assist again because he was working 16 hours or more each day for TVA.

For weeks, Tennessee River Association’s team served, sometimes as a group and sometimes as individuals attached to other disaster relief teams.

“We had somebody out every day for the first three weeks,” Lenz said.

Many of those people were like Lenz in that they were taking vacation or personal days from their jobs in order to volunteer in disaster relief.

As of Aug. 19, there were 6,139 Alabama Baptist disaster relief volunteers. (This is the number of volunteers who have been trained, cleared by background checks and received the necessary credentials to qualify for state and national disaster relief deployment.) More than 63 percent of those volunteers — 3,916 to be exact — are age 56 or older, Johnson reported.

The rest of the volunteer force consists of 83 individuals who are 18 to 25, 292 who are 26 to 35, 619 who are 36 to 45 and 1,229 who are 46 to 55, he said.

When disaster relief volunteers are needed — especially if the response involves traveling to another place — the ones who are able to go quickly tend to be the retirees, Johnson said.

However, when given a few days to work out their schedules, those who are employed come along to “refresh” the original strike team, he explained.

“I usually don’t have a problem getting off,” said Johnny Dolberry, who attends Center Point Baptist and works for the Scottsboro Housing Authority.

But “sometimes I have to make arrangements” to be off, said Dolberry, who is trained in chain saw and cleanup and recovery with Tennessee River Association’s disaster relief team.

He said his wife, Patricia, works full time at NCI MFG in Scottsboro and is a volunteer in cleanup and recovery.

Todd McLaughlin, who attends Trinity Baptist Church, Scottsboro, devotes a certain amount of his vacation time just to disaster relief. “I save my vacation time for that. I set aside two weeks every year and don’t touch it for anything else.”

McLaughlin, who is trained in chain saw and operates a tractor with a grapple for the disaster relief team, said his work schedule at the Scottsboro Housing Authority has some flexibility. He can begin taking vacation time within hours of receiving a disaster relief call, even on a normal business day.

“Pretty much, anytime they call me to go, I go,” McLaughlin said. “I can be ready to go out in a couple of hours.”

He said his wife keeps bags packed for him so that he can respond quickly.

The fact that people still in the workforce are volunteering with disaster relief shows a commitment to serve, Lenz said.

“I think it shows they’re willing to go when God calls. They’re willing to sacrifice their vacation time and personal time when God calls,” he said.

Disaster relief volunteers do what they do to help hurting people at their point of need. But somehow involvement in the ministry has a lasting impact on the volunteers.

“You’re the one who gets blessed,” Dolberry said.

Lenz added, “It’s a blessing to me every time I go.”

For more information about volunteering for disaster relief, visit www.sbdr.org.

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