Students Bring Smiles to Those Struggling in Ft. Myers

October 2017

Saturday morning two minivans pulled into the driveway of a Fort Myers, Florida, home, and out piled a team of laughing, smiling young people. They grabbed their work gloves and hurried over to greet some folks who recently had found little to smile about.


The elderly couple came out to meet the crew: two volunteers from the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), and 10 from Palm Beach Atlantic University. The PBA group had teamed with MDS to spend fall break cleaning up lingering mess from Hurricane Irma.

“The storm really slammed the west coast,” said Josiah Panza, the student leader for this three-day relief project through Workship, PBA’s community service program. Big piles of stacked tree limbs lined the streets of the neighborhood, but these particular homeowners and many others lacked the means to deal with fallen trees.

“They were almost going to be forced to pay thousands of dollars to get this tree removed from their yard,” said Panza. So together the visitors attacked the oak, with PBA student Luke Blomberg manning a chainsaw and others pulling the cut limbs and logs to the curb.

In less than an hour they’d cleared out that tree and some of the students had visited with the couple to offer another blessing: simply hearing the story of how these elderly people had weathered the frightening storm and the overwhelming aftermath.

“There was a lot of crying and a lot of gratefulness, and you could just see that pouring out of them at the end of the project,” said Panza. As he climbed back into the van to ride toward the next project he looked back at the smiling, waving couple and thought, That was more than worth it. More than worth giving up a fall break they could have spent sleeping late or hanging out at the beach.

Nine PBA students and Workship Director Kate Magro made the trip, spending the nights on cots at the Fort Myers church Iglesia Arca de Salvacion. In addition to removing fallen trees, students also cleaned out an animal shelter that had been flooded by the storm. Studio art major Tensia Clark described how a diverse group of students donned gloves and masks and cleared the barn stalls of muck and sodden pet bedding. Then they pressure-washed stalls, cages and kennels, quite a new experience for these students who study business, art, history, nursing or biblical studies.

“The team is awesome,” said Clark. “A good mix of hard workers.”

“Teamwork was one of the best parts of the trip,” agreed Panza. He reflected upon the faithfulness of the team, the graciousness of their host church and the faithfulness of their God. “I couldn’t have asked for a better fall break!”


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