The sun blazes and is nearly unbearable. Afternoon thunderstorms thicken the air, leaving it stuffy and anything but cool.

But that has not stopped the hundreds of youth from churches this summer who have poured into Lee County to lift hammers, extend hugs and pray prayers of comfort and restoration on those impacted by the March tornadoes.

Teams from Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida have arrived every Sunday since early June and worked till the following Friday. Staying at Alabama Rural Ministry's mission site at the historic Tuskegee Methodist Church, five college students along with ARM’s ministry team have hosted these groups.

College interns have worked tirelessly for several weeks to pack tools, purchase materials and host groups through meals, daily devotions and evening worship and reflection. If you were to ask, “what does it mean to serve selflessly,” I would point to these folks.

A roof in July is 10 to 20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature. The missioners leave sun burned and exhausted, but also humbled and touched by the families and individuals affected by the March tornadoes with whom they have served.

Where are these five college interns from?

Three are students at the University of West Alabama where ARM originally started. One is a student in construction management at Alabama A&M and another attends West Florida College in Pensacola and is also in construction management. Four other young adults are in Florida hosting similar teams helping rebuilding efforts for Hurricane Michael response.

Allison Porter, a recent graduate of Auburn University is the team leader and will serve as a case manager for the Lee County tornadoes beginning in August.

Regan Eiland is a current student at Auburn in architecture. Donald Brown, a native of Smiths Station, is a student at Alabama A&M. Our other intern attends the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

We have been proud of the Auburn connection serving so faithfully this summer.

So far, we have hosted 403 individual volunteers representing 17 churches or groups. Together, hey have racked up 5,618 volunteer hours in our community.

Did you know that FEMA will reimburse Lee County for these volunteer hours that are tracked? The value of a volunteer hour is approximately $22  per hour — meaning our county can be reimbursed $123,596 at this point. That is huge! (We are not clear if that is the amount FEMA will give back but represents a value that could be reimbursed).

We are grateful to continue hosting these groups as part of the MEND Long Term Recovery Group and providing repairs for families. So far, we have been able to begin repairing homes for nine families in Lee County in addition to the clearing and debris removal in the early stages.

There is more work to do and we are committed for the long haul! There are also several churches in our community who have adopted families as homes are being rebuilt. ARM is just a slice of what is happening overall in our community to rebuild, restore and renew! And for us, its about making sweet homes for Alabama!

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

To volunteer with ARM, contact Andrew Baird at Andrew@arm-al.org.

Lisa Pierce is the executive director of Alabama Rural Ministry and ordained as a deacon in the United Methodist Church. She is an Auburn University alum who loves working with people in rural communities and learning of their amazing stories.

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