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Trading BYU jerseys for Helping Hands vests: Former athletes tackle Hurricane Florence cleanup

Mitch and Madie Mathews know the ins-and-outs of good teamwork.

Both were celebrated athletes at Brigham Young University. Remember the Cougar’s last second, game-winning touchdown against Nebraska in 2015? That was Mitch on the receiving end of that unforgettable score.

Madie, meanwhile, was an all-conference striker on the BYU women’s soccer team and a sprinter on the track team.

Madie Lyons Mathews played soccer and ran track for Brigham Young University. The former athlete recently worked alongside her husband, Mitch, during a Helping Hands clean-up effort in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Madie Lyons Mathews played soccer and ran track for Brigham Young University. The former athlete recently worked alongside her husband, Mitch, during a Helping Hands clean-up effort in Wilmington, North Carolina. Photo: BYU photo

Both have spent most of their lives as key members of their respective sports squads. But “teamwork” has perhaps been redefined for the Mathews after recently joining thousands of other Latter-day Saints volunteering on Helping Hands work crews in hurricane-affected regions of the southeastern U.S.

“We were blessed not to have been affected by the hurricanes, so we wanted to help those who were,” said Madie, a Utah native who now calls Alpharetta, Georgia, home.

The Mathews are relatively new members of the Johns Creed Ward of the Roswell Georgia Stake. After Hurricane Florenceinundated much of eastern North Carolina, calls for Helping Hands volunteers went out to wards and branches across the South.

Both Mitch and Madie are Westerners. They didn’t grow up with hurricane terms such “category 5 winds” or “storm surges.” But after seeing Florence’s wrath on television, they were eager to pull on yellow Helping Hands vests and join the ongoing multi-state clean-up effort.

They knew the work would be hot, grimy and exhausting. “But we also knew we would be much more uncomfortable just sitting at home instead of getting out and helping,” said Mitch.

Mitch and Madie Mathews recently worked alongside fellow Helping Hands volunteers, removing waterlogged debris from a home in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Mitch and Madie Mathews recently worked alongside fellow Helping Hands volunteers, removing waterlogged debris from a home in Wilmington, North Carolina. Photo: Photo courtesy of Madie Mathews

On Oct. 12, the couple made the six-hour drive to their assigned work area in Wilmington, North Carolina. They camped in a tent outside the stake center and arose early Saturday morning to begin a weekend of Helping Hands service. They rested a few moments from their efforts on Sunday morning for a brief sacrament service at the Wilmington meetinghouse.

The Mathews worked with fellow volunteers — new “teammates” — cleaning out several heavily damaged homes. They pulled out drywall, removed waterlogged furniture and salvaged other valuables.

The floodwaters may have receded “but everything inside the homes was still wet — and there was a lot of mold, so we had to wear masks,” said Madie.

The Mathews don’t know if the houses they worked in belonged to fellow Latter-day Saints. It makes no difference. “It was good for us to get our hands dirty alongside others doing the same thing. It was humbling to put on a mask, pull on gloves and get dirty,” said Mitch.

Former BYU athletes Mitch and Madie Mathews donned masks and yellow Helping Hands vests during a recent cleanup project in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Former BYU athletes Mitch and Madie Mathews donned masks and yellow Helping Hands vests during a recent cleanup project in Wilmington, North Carolina. Photo: Photo courtesy of Madie Mathews.

They both offered kudos to the local Helping Hands organizers in Wilmington. Efficiency defined the project, allowing yellow-clad volunteers to spend their time focused entirely on service.

Mitch and Madie quickly discovered that the work moved smoothly when the Helping Hands volunteers came together as a team. Their first few work orders moved slowly, but soon their crew established a rhythm and leaders emerged. Once everyone learned their job, “we could accomplish a lot more and get things done,” said Mitch.

By the time the Mathews arrived home late Sunday, they had been reminded of charity’s paradox: the benefactors of service are often as richly blessed as those they serve.

Working on a Helping Hands project “really brought me down to earth,” said Madie. “It helped me recognize the small, everyday tender mercies in my own life.”

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