-5.7 C
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Connecting Our Communities

When disaster strikes, they answer the call

Even in retirement, Elmira's Karen and Willard Martin are eager to volunteer their time to Mennonite Disaster Service

An Elmira couple has dedicated their retirement time to helping people across North America rebuild their lives after a natural disaster strikes.

Karen and Willard Martin travel to various communities across Canada and the United States as part of their volunteer work for Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS). There, they aid those whose homes have been impacted by flooding, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes and the like.

“When you see the need … when you see what needs to be done, it’s pretty easy to give,” said Willard, 74. “It is very rewarding to see the results. This past year, we served about nine weeks. During that time, we build houses, finished houses, fixed up houses, did about anything you can think of.”

“We do get paid,” added Karen, 72. “Our payment is seeing what our service means for others who have lost everything, and now have hope.”

The pair first started with MDS back in 2000, when they travelled to Mississippi for relief work. Karen first served on the MDS bi-national board for eight years, before she got into the volunteering side. Willard tagged along and eventually became as devoted to the work.

Since then, they have volunteered in dozens of communities, including five weeks helping out those impacted by catastrophic flooding that hit Grand Forks, B.C. back in May 2018. While out west, Karen was the office administrator, and Willard led the work crew. Between 10-20 volunteers is the usual range for each recovery project.

“I’m very handy, I go in as a crew leader or foreman on job sites because of my ability for building,” said Willard. “Karen is either a chef or an office manager. The office manager has a hefty workload on these job sites.”

Another memorable moment for Willard was spending ample time in Louisiana to help out victims of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005.

Willard said that every volunteer gives their all to finishing projects.

“One of the things that is very obvious about MDS is that we are known and have a very good reputation for going in and doing what we tell them we’re going to do,” said Willard.

“So many organizations and contractors come in and say ‘oh yeah, we’ll do this, this, and this, if you put $10,000 on the line, we’ll buy material with that.’ And then they leave. It’s more of a rip-off.”

Before retirement, Karen worked as an insurance claims adjuster, and Willard was involved with, agriculture sales, drove a tour bus and operated a hardware store. In addition to travelling opportunities, it gives volunteers an opportunity to meet other volunteers and make friends all across North America.

But even more than that, it’s a charitable cause that helps out families during an urgent time of need. John Longhurst of MDS Canada said that in particular, the organization focuses on people who need their services the most, including disabled, elderly, and those who don’t have insurance.

“There are a lot of practical decisions that have to be made by local and state and provincial governments when it comes to how to rebuild,” said Longhurst. “The place where MDS specializes is that we try to fill the gaps. Our focus is on people who are vulnerable and marginal.”

There are different types of volunteers, said Longhurst. One level is skilled leadership, those who are employed in construction or home renovation industries and know-how to build or repair a house – Willard, for example. They would work as crew leaders, long-term, and typically give a month of time or longer to a project. These volunteers would be responsible for ensuring that the work got done correctly.

On the other hand, there are weekly volunteers for anyone of any skill level. For instance, there are currently openings for construction work for the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and they will happily accept anyone willing to come and help out. Volunteers come from all over North America, with even a few hailing from Europe.

“A lot of people might combine a beach vacation with a week of volunteering – that’s very common,” noted Longhurst.

“Fortunately here in Canada, there aren’t as many disasters as they have in the United States. That’s a good thing. With the number of earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires out in the U.S., we have a preponderance of projects down there. That’s just the way it turns out.”

Anyone interested in learning more or volunteering can visit The Mennonite Disaster Services website or call 1-800-241-8111.

“It’s a great way to spend the retirement years,” said Willard. “We’ve met so many great people and made so many good memories. Everyone should consider doing it.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to The Observer's online community. Pseudonyms are not permitted. By submitting a comment, you accept that The Observer has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner The Observer chooses. Please note that The Observer does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our submission guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.


Having some fun with a traditional Mulligatawny Soup

Mulligatawny Soup is one of those traditional dishes that allows for a great deal of flexibility on route to making a delicious bowl of goodness that lifts your spirit and warms you through...

In Print. Online. In Pictures. In Depth.

Looking to do some research about the communities we serve? Browse through the years in our online archives.

A super event

Elmira’s Lions Hall played host to Capes and Crowns this past weekend. Children got the chance to meet...

Young competitors use robotics to help shape the city of the future

The local young tinkerers are back at it again this year, with two local FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology)...

When disaster strikes, they answer the call

An Elmira couple has dedicated their retirement time to helping people across North America rebuild their lives after a natural disaster strikes.

Show Sounds and feels like Christmas

If an event that encompasses the songs of the yuletide season and the spirit of giving sounds just the thing for Christmas,...

New watering system is powered by the sun

Many hands may make light work, but automating the process really lessens the load. That’s especially helpful when the work involves relying on...

An immersive experience helps kids acquire language skills

Two months into their stay in the country, a group of students from France got to experience another cultural moment of sorts...

A very visual – and visible – way to remember

Many of the hydro poles in Wellesley have been transformed into a tribute for those who fought and died in the service...

An exchange of cultures proves an illuminating experience

The new exchange student in Woolwich Township has been enjoying the small-town life so far. Since mid-August, Maud...
- Advertisement -