Written by Gabriel Huff and Tiane Davis // Photo by Gabriel Huff
Harding students left for Little Rock and Wynne, Arkansas, yesterday to provide relief to families affected by the tornadoes that hit the state and surrounding states.
Assistant director of community connections Kyle Thompson said about 250 people from the Harding community signed up to help Thursday through the University’s VOMO app. Groups departed from the First Security Stadium parking lot around noon and 3 p.m. for either Pleasant Valley in Little Rock or Wynne. Harding has similar trips scheduled for Saturday, as well.
Threat of storms forced the University to reschedule the trip that was previously planned for April 5.
Director of the Mitchell Center for Leadership and Ministry Andrew Baker is helping lead the University’s relief efforts, coordinating with Pleasant Valley Church of Christ, city officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“The opportunity is just clean up,” Baker said. “I’ve always said one of the things college students are great at is being willing to do the tedious things that other people don’t want to do.”
Baker said the more people who come the better. Every hour volunteered gives the cities credit with FEMA, producing funds that can support infrastructure.
Students were encouraged to wear clothes sporting Harding logos to help people associate them with the Harding disaster relief group. Those wishing to take their own vehicles had to obtain a parking placard, available for pick up in the Office of Community Connection McInteer 168.
Additional Harding coordinated relief trips may become available, but those will become dependent on the city’s needs.
Thompson said there is power in students showing up to help, making a difference for those affected and even themselves.
“They go and witness, experience, serve, then they have to process it,” Thompson said. “What did they just experience? How did they make sense of this for their life? Because there will be times in the future that they’ll have opportunities to serve again, or they may be affected by a natural disaster.”
Freshman Emilyn Noel’s family resides in a neighborhood in Little Rock where a tornado struck. The twister was only 700 feet away from her house, where her parents and two younger sisters lived.
“My house was not impacted by it,” Noel said. “The most that happened was just no electricity, but a little further down the street quite a few houses were pretty severely damaged. They weren’t leveled or anything, but there was a bit of damage to those houses.”
She and senior Nick Emlaw arrived in Little Rock last Saturday to offer help with the damage. They saw plenty of people already offering their services in the neighborhood, so there was not too much work for them to do. They returned to campus the following day.
Harding alumnus Jimmy Cone, a shepherd at the Pleasant Valley church in North Little Rock, said his congregation has strong ties to Harding. He said he had multiple people at the University contact him, saying they were willing to help.
“There’s a strong Harding interaction with our church,” Cone said. “I can already tell, they’re saying, ‘How can we help?’ All around the community, we have various bodies of believers willing to help.”