Volunteering in the Copper Country

A few weeks ago, like many Yoopers, I awoke to the news of the flood destruction in the Copper Country. I wanted to find a way to help but didn’t know where help was needed. I shared a few social media posts from the Portage Health Foundation and the Keweenaw Community Foundation with information on how to give, and I made a gift myself. I talked friends through their idea of selling a product to raise funds. I felt like I was doing enough, until I heard a first-hand account of the destruction from someone I serve with on a board. His house is located in Houghton near Agate Street, the street that is featured in the iconic photo of pavement rolled up like scrolls from the water damage.  As he choked back tears, he talked about how insurance won’t help many of the people that are suffering because flooding isn’t covered. At that moment, the quote from a shirt that hangs in my bedroom closet crossed my mind: Your time and your talent are your greatest treasures.  As he finished telling his story, I asked “If a few 20-somethings wanted to come up to Houghton, are there people that would need our help? Who do we contact?” He told me about the volunteer reception center that had been set up to assist with getting volunteers to where they are needed.

I called to see if I could sign up for a specific day and time. “Just come up,” they said. “We will have a job for you.” I traveled with friends on Saturday to the center that was set up at the Evangel Baptist Church. Upon arrival, we filled out a form with our skills. We were then sent to a volunteer orientation safety training. After learning about keeping ourselves safe and all the personal protection equipment we would be using, we were split up into groups.

My group consisted of 13 individuals from all over the state and even further. One woman was from a southern state and was in the UP on vacation. We were dispatched to a house in an outlaying community whose yard ran parallel to a creek. At first, it didn’t look like there was too much work to be done. When the homeowner came outside to tell us what was needed, it quickly became apparent that wasn’t the case. What we thought was a patch for a garden used to have landscaped bushes. The front yard had been grass, but now was an inch of thick, dried red clay. The driveway, which used to be level with the road, was inches below where it needed to be.

As we sprang into action, it was amazing to see strangers working together to help someone they didn’t know. Our team was comprised of teens up to seniors. Everyone found a job they were comfortable doing, and if it became too much we were quick to help each other. After about three hours of shoveling, raking and moving dirt, the yard was back to level. The home owner was so thankful, mentioning that she was overwhelmed with how much needed to be done that she hadn’t known where to start.

Similar to when I volunteered at the Duck Lake Fire in Luce County a few years ago, this experience brought both a sense of hope and pride for our region. Seeing people from all walks of life give of their time and their talent to help someone in need is so powerful. If you are interested, there is still need for volunteers. I know I will be making another trip up later this summer. Check out http://coppercountrystrong.com/volunteerto find out where volunteers are needed.

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