Area Volunteers Help With Rebuilding Efforts in Okanogan County

Six members of Skagit area United Methodist churches have recently returned from Okanogan County where they participated in a Volunteer In Mission Team effort to help rebuild homes and other structures destroyed in the wild fires of 2014 and 2015.

Volunteers in Mission Group

Members of the Volunteer In Mission Team preparing to leave for Okanogan County. L-R: Dan Symonds, Vivian Winters, Jan Kallshian, Dan Gerhard, Marcella Baker and Carol Hegg.

In July 2014, Washington’s worst fire in history – the Carlton Complex – devastated 312 homes in Okanogan County. Then in 2015, the Okanogan Complex fire burned additional hundreds of acres and destroyed more homes. The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church has been an active partner with the Okanogan County Long Term Recovery Group, other denominations and non-profit groups in rebuilding homes for persons who can’t afford to rebuild on their own so that they can put their lives back together.

In May 2016, Central UMC in Sedro-Woolley sent a Volunteer in Missions Team to Okanogan County to assist with the rebuilding of these homes. Additional Team members came from Mt. Vernon First UMC and Lynden UMC. Team members helped to rebuild two different homes, one in partnership with a team from a Presbyterian church in the Mill Creek area.

In September 2017 another Team was sent from Central UMC, Mt. Vernon First UMC, and La Conner UMC. Working to rebuild three different homes, they were privileged to get acquainted with some wonderful people who hadn’t let the wildfires dampen their spirits and their hope for the future.

VIM-2The Volunteer In Mission Team worked on this home in 2017.  It is now nearing completion and will be dedicated in late June 2018

This year the Volunteer in Missions Team was assisted by a group of AmeriCorps volunteers. Together they built a large storage shed for a family in the Pateros area who had lost their home to the fires of 2014. In the process of teaching construction skills to these AmeriCorps volunteers, the Volunteer In Missions Team also built bonds of friendship these young adults.

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AmeriCorps volunteers working with the Volunteer In Missions Team to build a storage building for a family in Pateros, WA

A third Team, with members from Central UMC, Bay View UMC, and La Conner UMC, spent the week of May 28 to June 2 continuing this ministry in Okanogan County.

Among the Volunteer In Missions Team were Pastor Marcella Baker and layperson Vivian Winters of the La Conner United Methodist Church. For the second year they were responsible for preparing meals for the other members of the Team. Their wonderful meals and lively conversations rejuvenated the other Team members after a hard day’s work at the construction site.

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Pastor Marcella Baker and Vivian Winters “cater” lunch to the Volunteer In Mission Team and the AmeriCorps volunteers.

Other members of this year’s Team included Dan Gerhard (Team coordinator), Jan Kallshian (construction leader), and Dan Symonds from Central United Methodist Church, and Carol Hegg from Bay View United Methodist Church.

Gerhard comments, “The Team expends a great amount of energy on these projects but seem to receive so much back in the satisfaction of the work and the expressions of appreciation from the folks in Okanogan County with whom and for whom we work.  It has become a wonderful way to express our Christian faith in tangible ways that make a real difference in peoples’ lives.”

 The Okanogan County Long Term Recovery Group, which was created following the fires of 2014 and has been coordinating the rebuilding efforts, is anticipating that the last of the homes to be rebuilt will be completed by this fall. The members of the Volunteer In Missions Team will soon begin exploring other places where they will be able to serve and share their skills next year.

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