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Post Sandy, Seashore church and Richmond Academy Students Team Up

Story by Taashi Rowe
Published 6/11/13


Richmond Academy students spent four days helping out around the Atlantic City area.

Lois Matthews, 74, was living with her son in a second-floor apartment in Atlantic City, N.J., when Superstorm Sandy swept through. “When we looked out and saw the water, it had to be 10 feet high and it felt like it was just going to get higher and higher,” she said. “They were telling us to evacuate, but most of us stayed in our homes. Where else were we going to go? We figured only God could save us.”
 
Matthews and her neighbors were fortunate, they didn’t suffer any damage, but many others did when Sandy came sweeping up the East Coast in October. Months later, people are still recovering, and on a brilliant Sunday morning, Matthews, a member of Allegheny East Conference’s Boardwalk church, is doing her part to help. She seems right at home in the middle of a throng of students from Potomac Conference’s Richmond Academy (RA) in Richmond, Va., organizing boxes in a building next door to the Seashore church. (The building is in the middle of renovations and will be used as warehouse for future disaster recovery efforts.)
 
Some 40 RA students and staff traveled to New Jersey for four days of mission work. “We’ve been working behind the scenes for six months to get our students here,” shared Malcom “Mick” Hutchinson, RA principal. “We figured by spring everybody would forget about the needs. We are here to find out what the community needs. We just came to help and that’s what we are going to do.”
 


And that help is welcome. “When the hurricane first hit, nobody had gas nor electricity that week so we were feeding people,” says Robert Smith, pastor of the Seashore, Boardwalk and Newtonville churches. “Now there are people who need help getting back into their homes or into certain parts of their homes. People don’t realize that we still need help. The first week everybody with a camera came to see how we were doing, but now we don’t have anybody coming. We feel a bit forsaken and forgotten.”
 
RA students are the third wave of Adventist students to come to New Jersey to help with post-Sandy clean-up efforts. (Washington Adventist University and Takoma Academy students came from Takoma Park, Md., earlier in the year.) The students quickly separate into teams. Some organize boxes of textbooks and evangelistic literature to be distributed locally and in Richmond. Over four days, students work hand-in-hand with local church members to clean storm refuse from outside the church and travel to homes in the community to clean, make repairs and paint. The students even take over the Sabbath services at the Seashore church.
 
Smith explains that what is needed now is long-term recovery help—he wants to be ready to respond not if, but when the next storm hits. He is already on the way. In the parking lot of the church is a trailer filled with emergency food and supplies. The next step is to finish renovation on the new warehouse.
 
Around lunchtime, Aya Pagunasan, 12, a seventh-grader and veteran missionary, says, “It’s tiring but I love working with people. I hope I’ll get to go on another mission trip.”
 
Pagunasan’s response to working in New Jersey is one that Smith, who has been coordinating the conference’s cleanup and outreach in the Atlantic City area, has heard before. “Young people are looking for experience. They want to do volunteer work. Some of them have never been in the inner city before so it’s good for them to have this experience,” he says. “After all North America has one of the largest mission fields there is.”
 
And this hometown mission experience is one that Matthews feels compelled to participate in even in her golden years. “Even if I can’t do as much as the kids, I’ll do my best. I’m here and that means a lot. This is where I want to be. Where else would you be?”


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