Youth forfeit fun for service to disaster victims

They planned to spend five days canoeing and hiking in Arkansas. Then, as tornadoes struck four counties in their state, 16 teenagers forgot about their high adventure trip.

The priests in the Allen 3rd Ward, McKinney Texas Stake, decided instead to assist with the disaster's clean up.An estimated 38 people, living from Waco to Austin, were killed in the May 27 tornadoes. Hundreds of head of livestock, homes and businesses were also destroyed. In Jarrell, a town of 1,000 about 40 miles north of Austin, 32 people died, dozens more were injured and 50 homes were leveled.

After watching the disaster on their television sets, the teens took a vote. They unanimously decided to forfeit their previous plans and spend June 9-11 helping others.

Mike Crews coordinated the priests quorum's efforts as part of his Eagle Scout project. He had to make sure everyone involved in the cleanup had a current tetanus shot, and organize equipment, transportation and food.

During the trip the group worked on a farm in Jarrell. They had expected to find the farmhouse torn apart. "But there was nothing," Mike said. "Everything was gone." They cleared garbage and debris from acres of farmland. They also collected $220, which they donated to the city's general fund, and hundreds of photographs, which they turned over to area relief organizations. Then they moved boxes, sorted clothing, delivered tons of food, and cleared more farmland.

Mike said he and his friends found the work fulfilling but were frustrated that they couldn't assist people more. "There was still a lot of work to do," he explained.

When one family is ready to rebuild their barn, the teens plan to be there to help them.

"I think it made a real difference in [the teens'] lives," said Mark Sampson, Ward Young Men president and priests quorum adviser. "A lot of them haven't had any hard times in their lives, and they sure saw hard times there. Canoeing trips are canoeing trips and you remember them for a few years, but they will always remember this experience."

The teens were rewarded for their efforts by attending a water park after three straight days of work. However, "everyone was so tired we didn't feel like standing in line for the major rides." Instead the 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds opted for the slower slides. "I didn't have the energy to do anything else," Mike said.

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