Helping where needed
by Jennifer Cohron
Mar 21, 2013 | 2775 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
College students volunteering in Walker County through Mennonite Disaster Service tarp a roof in Twin Lakes Mobile Home Park on Wednesday. – Photo by: Jennifer Cohron.
College students volunteering in Walker County through Mennonite Disaster Service tarp a roof in Twin Lakes Mobile Home Park on Wednesday. – Photo by: Jennifer Cohron.
slideshow
Dan Berndt expected to be spending spring break helping survivors of the April 27, 2011 tornado through Mennonite Disaster Service.

Instead, he witnessed nature’s wrath for himself.

Berndt was part of a group of volunteers, mostly college students, who were temporarily reassigned by MDS to assist residents affected by Monday’s storms.

“This was a unique change of plans, but we’re more than happy to contribute in any way we can,” said Berndt, a senior at Millersville University in Pennsylvania.

Berndt was working on a rebuilding project in Cordova on Monday. As a meteorology major, he was also closely monitoring radars for the severe weather that had been predicted.

When MDS volunteers returned to their campsite in Jefferson County that evening, they were informed about the destruction in Jasper.

A group of approximately 20 people spent Tuesday participating in clean-up efforts.

Although most volunteers were back on their long-term recovery job sites by Wednesday, Berndt and three others remained at Twin Lakes Mobile Home Park in Jasper installing tarps for storm survivors.

Berndt said the experience underscored the importance of his chosen profession.

Being in the midst of a disaster’s aftermath for the first time also led him to consider pursuing a master’s degree in emergency management rather than just a minor as he had planned.

“To actually be here helping clean up as a direct result of the things we forecasted and analyzed is eye-opening,” he said.

The church Berndt attends, University Christian Fellowship, has partnered with MDS for several years on spring break trips focusing on service.

MDS has been involved in rebuilding efforts in Walker County since soon after the tornado outbreak in 2011.

MDS currently has 12 volunteers serving locally for a month or more and 16 who are here on a short-term basis, according to project director Bill McCoy.

“We’re blessed to be here and glad that we were in the area to be of assistance at this time. It’s in our DNA to come and help,” McCoy said.

In the past two years, MDS has dispatched 1,429 volunteers to Birmingham, many of whom served in Walker County.