‘Lift where you stand’: What volunteers experienced responding to the eastern Kentucky floods

When thousands of Latter-day Saints from 30 stakes went to eastern Kentucky, they provided physical help but also emotional and social support to the flooding victims

When Yuri Gavarret arrived in Hazard, Kentucky, with his teenage sons Adam and Thomas on Aug. 19, they saw a great level of destruction from July’s immense flooding.

“Many people had great material losses. All the sites we went to, people were very grateful, and our presence and help was able to offer some relief,” Yuri Gavarret said.

The Gavarrets live in the Cincinnati Ohio Stake — one of 30 stakes that sent thousands of volunteers over two weekends to help with the cleanup. They brought their own tools and supplies, camped in tents and were given assignments from one of two command centers in Martin and Hazard, Kentucky.  

The sites where the Gavarrets were assigned to work belongs to older residents, who had minimal help from relatives. 

“People on the sites not only need help with the cleanup, but also need someone to listen to their grief, stories and what they went through,” Yuri Gavarret said. “As I was able to listen to their side of the story and what they went through, I felt that the people we served were heard, and sometimes that is a big help already.” 

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Many other volunteers reported back that while they physically labored at flooded homes, they also ended up ministering, too.

Paul Brooks from the Crestwood Kentucky Stake met a woman whose birthday was July 29 — the day flooding tore through her home and the homes of family members. The year before on her birthday, she buried her only child.

“Yet while I was sitting there talking, you could tell regardless of the trials or floods her faith in God could not float away,” Brooks said. He felt prompted to ask if his team of volunteers could pray with her to begin. At the end of their service, the team gathered again to sing happy birthday to her. 

“I know I won’t forget the feeling of singing happy birthday on the banks of Lost Creek,” he said.

Lift where you stand

Members of the Louisville Kentucky Stake move a wooden deck that washed away from a home during the July floods in eastern Kentucky, on Aug. 26, 2022. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

More than 1,000 Church members volunteered each weekend, Aug. 19-21 and Aug. 26-28, performing tens of thousands of hours of work. 

A group of volunteers from the Louisville Kentucky Stake arrived at a home where floodwaters had separated a wooden deck from the home and carried it several yards away. The homeowners hoped to be able to restore the deck, but had no way to lift or move the heavy structure.

In a talk from October 2008 general conference, “Lift Where You Stand,” then-President Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke about a group of brethren asked to move a grand piano from the chapel to the adjoining cultural hall. None was a professional mover, and the task seemed nearly impossible. They tried repositioning by strength, height and age but nothing worked.

“As they stood around the piano, uncertain of what to do next, a good friend of mine, Brother Hanno Luschin, spoke up. He said, ‘Brethren, stand close together and lift where you stand.’

“It seemed too simple. Nevertheless, each lifted where he stood, and the piano rose from the ground and moved into the cultural hall as if on its own power.

“That was the answer to the challenge. They merely needed to stand close together and lift where they stood,” said Elder Uchtdorf, now a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

In Kentucky, the volunteers did the same thing. They stood close together around the wooden deck, and each lifted where he stood. They were able to move the heavy item together that one or two people could not do by themselves. 

Uplifted by a purpose

Adam Gavarret, 16, and Thomas Gavarret, 14, at first felt sad when they saw how people had lost everything — and overwhelmed when they saw the destroyed homes and piles of debris.

But as the brothers began to work, cleaning up, mucking out, moving items, restoring homes and listening to the stories, they felt uplifted by their purpose.

Adam said: “After I realized I could take some of their pain away by helping them, I felt relieved. I felt very grateful for the opportunity of me being there to support them.”

Thomas added: “I’m very grateful I could help the people in need. They were so kind and so grateful for everything we did for them, and I’m just happy I was there to help.”

Yuri Gavarret said his sons were able to have a greater perspective on the blessings that they enjoy, and they were grateful to be able to share their time and resources with the people in Kentucky.

Yuri, Thomas and Adam Gavarret, from Cincinnati, Ohio, drove to eastern Kentucky to respond to Helping Hands assignments at homes affected by 2022’s flash floods. | Yuri Gavarret

“Overall, people were smiling on both sides, for the help received on one side, and on the other for the opportunity to help. I saw relief on the affected people’s faces as they saw dozens of people working on their properties, and helping them out,” said Yuri Gavarret.

After Jennifer Mortenson from the Crestwood Kentucky Stake spent hours volunteering, she wrote on the stake Facebook page, “We are grateful to those who stepped up to this call and followed our Savior’s command in John 13:34 to ‘love one another; as I have loved you.’

“We invite you to pray for those who continue to suffer through this tragedy, that they may be blessed with their temporal needs, find peace and feel our Savior’s love.”

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