As 13-year-old Amanda Strack ended a Friday spent piling tree limbs and collecting garbage in an Apison area hard-hit by April’s tornados, she didn’t think she’d accomplished much.
What looked like a disaster zone at the beginning of the day didn’t look that much different at the end to the Little Rock, Ark., native.
But for the Apison citizens who look out every day at the massive amount of cleanup work still needed to restore their devastated homes, the progress Strack and her church group made was a blessing.
“We were like, ‘We’re done here. We’re sorry, it doesn’t look like we did much,’” Strack explained. “They said, ‘Trust me, you don’t know how much better it looks and you don’t know what it means for you all to come out and help us.’”
Strack and her church group were in town for the annual Chattanooga-area Alive in You camp. For the past four years, hundreds of high school-age teens from across the country have spent a summer week doing service work across the county.
Though only about 200 students came to Chattanooga this year, the Scenic City usually draws twice as many volunteers, making it the most popular of the four camps run each year.
“I love this city. Any excuse to come back is good for me,” said Sarah Canatsey, who organizes the camp’s work projects. “Everybody’s really happy to have the students, and several organizations are really excited about the work that got done.”
The students have gotten plenty done. Aside from cleaning up tornado debris, groups have, among other projects, done yard work for the elderly, built a home wheelchair ramp, knocked out a local church’s entire summer to-do list and helped Ivy Academy move from its temporary location to its permanent campus.
The academy outgrew its original location and has about twice as many students in the fall class as last year.
Of course, new space comes with the often-expensive hassle of a move. But thanks to Alive in You volunteers, the move went smoothly.
“They did everything and more. They were a wonderful group to work with,” school office manager Tiffany Patterson said. “They’re an amazing group. I don’t know if we’ll have anything for them next year, but we’ll find something.”
Camp founder Jim Weir said as campers return home, he hopes they’ll find something they can do to help people in their own communities.
“Tonight we’ll start a conference that goes until Sunday that really tries to get them focusing on their transition back home and the service work they can do,” he said Friday. “There’s need everywhere.”