Liberty University students assist Georgians with tornado relief

Credit: Courtesy of Liberty University

Credit: Courtesy of Liberty University

Instead of typical spring break, they help those affected by storms in Griffin

While many college students flocked to the beach this spring break season, eight Liberty University students chose a different destination — Griffin, Georgia. The students arrived March 12 and spent the week helping residents affected by tornadoes that struck the area earlier this year.

During their trip, students repaired roofs, picked up debris, and used chain saws to clear fallen trees and branches. They also demolished a shed that had sustained tree damage and become dangerous for passersby.

The group came as part of a partnership between the university and Samaritan’s Purse, a disaster relief group. Abby Sanders, associate director of partnerships at Liberty University and a trip leader, said they came to Georgia because Samaritan’s Purse needed younger people to assist their volunteers, whose average age is around 80.

“Liberty students are a lot younger than the typical Samaritan’s Purse volunteer,” Sanders said. “When we bring in young, 20-year-olds, they really bring a lot of life and energy into the site.”

Credit: Courtesy of Liberty University

Credit: Courtesy of Liberty University

The tornadoes struck on Jan. 12, destroying homes and communities south of Atlanta and leaving thousands without power. Griffin sustained some of the worst damage.

However, the work wasn’t just physically demanding. Taylor Swartz, a first-year master’s student on the trip, said meeting with residents who lost everything was emotionally taxing.

“For some homeowners, their entire life is in their home and they’ve lived there for many years,” Swartz said in a phone interview Friday. “It’s hard to see physical memories be lost.”

Some students had never participated in a disaster relief trip, and some were only freshmen. Swartz, who has been on five other trips with Liberty University, said members of the group leaned on one another, and she offered advice and support to other students whenever she could.

Despite the challenges, the group was able to bring relief to residents, and return to school with connections and lessons as spring break souvenirs.

“It’s so important for the younger generation to learn from the older generation and vice versa ... talking to homeowners and the older volunteers,“ Sanders said. “It’s really special to see that bond form.”