After the storm...

A number of area youth are currently working in Joplin, MO, helping the area recover from a devastating tornado. Pictured here are: front -- Jeff Hurlbutt, Jacob O'Keefe; standing -- Nicole Kuhn, Carolyn Denes, and project organizer Sarah Denes. Missing from photo are Mitch Denes and Melanie Haas.

When school starts up in September and friends trade stories about how they spent their summer, most will talk about vacations, jobs, relaxing.

Some, though, will have a different story to tell. Their story will be about traveling nearly 900 miles to do volunteer work under the scorching Missouri sun, helping the people of Joplin put together lives shattered as a result of the May 22 tornado that killed 116 people.

Working on details of the trip in a social room of New Life Community Church on North Fremont in Bellevue, Jim McGurgan, youth director, said that one of the group's members, Sarah Denes, "…had a 'vision' to help people in Joplin. She put some announcements on at her school -- Northgate -- for kids to bring in donations of dry goods, canned goods, toiletries. And now, here we are!"

Sarah explained the origin of that vision. "I was watching TV the day after the tornado and seeing all of the brokenness was so hard for me. And then I was listening to a Christian radio station, KLUV, and I heard about people going down to help. So I talked to my mom and my sister about it, and things just started to work."

Jim said that Sarah has been with the organization "…since she was a tyke. I told her I'd help any way I could."

While New Life youth formed the relief project, Sarah and Jim said it reflects the efforts of all of the North Boroughs students involved, five from Northgate, plus one each from Avonworth and North Hills. Churches and individuals from throughout the community also have pitched in to help.

"My chemistry teacher at Northgate, Christine Boring, helped out so much. She also is the cheerleading sponsor," Sarah, a member of the squad, said. "All of the cheerleaders helped me with the collections."

Most of the canned goods were collected at Northgate before school ended in June, but volunteers also stood in front of many area churches and solicited items as well as funding for gasoline.

Jim credits Sarah with much of the organizational work. "She went on-line and found churches where volunteers can eat, sleep and shower after they have put in a work day." The group of seven teens and five adults will have two travel days and five work days, living in a church that will serve as their host.

The New Life van will be used for transportation, and Jim rented a truck to haul all of the donated items which, as well as the donations already mentioned, also include bedding and pet items.

While New Life ministry donated money, Jim said, "a lot of people are helping us to cover fuel and truck rental expenses."

This is not the first time that Sarah has volunteered. "She went to Tennessee and helped a group rebuilding a wheelchair ramp for an elderly couple. She was just 14!" Jim said.

Volunteer Jeff Hurlbutt, 15, the son of Tami and Jeff Hurlbutt of Ross Township, said, "I hope to be able to help a group of people and show them that there are people who are willing to travel so far to help others."

Sarah's sister, Carolyn, 18, said that she hopes to help change the lives of Joplin tornado victims "…by helping to clean and doing whatever work needs to be done. I know that this experience will not only change their lives, but mine as well."

Sarah speaks for all of the volunteers, stating simply, "We hope to make a difference in somebody's life by helping them."

Sarah and Carolyn are the daughters of Nancy and Francis Denes of Bellevue.

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