During the February Reading Week, nineteen Grebel students embarked on a service trip to Marianna, Florida, to volunteer with Mennonite Disaster Services (MDS) in working to repair homes damaged during Hurricane Michael in 2018. In keeping with a longstanding tradition of service trips organized through Grebel, this experience provided us with the opportunity to connect with fellow students, learn skills, and build new relationships.
While there were many highlights of our time spent both travelling to and volunteering in Marianna, something that really stood out was the support and hospitality demonstrated by the long-term volunteers. As many of us undertook the learning curves associated with our various tasks, whether mudding drywall or positioning floorboards, the long-term volunteers never wavered in their patience. Their enthusiasm emphasized the values of service and intentionality that are at the heart of the work being done by MDS in this community and beyond.
Another memorable part of our time spent in Marianna was the chance to connect with homeowners and community members. Hearing the stories of homeowners was a meaningful experience since it both emphasized the impact of volunteer work and the importance of the efforts being made through MDS. One of my fondest memories of the trip was when the children from the home we were working on told us, in joyful anticipation, how they planned to set up their bedrooms once the construction work was complete. For me, the value MDS places on engaging impacted individuals in the process of restoration shifted how I will go forward in thinking about communitybuilding.
As a Peace and Conflict Studies student, I have studied the impact that climate devastation can have on individuals and communities, as well as the complexities that accompany restoration. On a personal level, this trip provided a context for the application of my classroom learnings. I appreciate MDS not only for its peace-centered and community-based focus, but additionally for the opportunity that the organization gives to students to engage with this valuable experience.