May 25, 2017
As work ends, doors open in Hope Village
White Sulphur Springs, WV — More than 1,800 volunteers helped finish 28 homes in West Virginia’s Hope Village, and some of them joined homeowners, government officials, project directors and pastors to celebrate home dedications on May 22.
Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Storm Aid collaborated with the organization Homes for White Sulphur Springs, the Greater Greenbrier Valley Community Foundation, Main Street White Sulphur Springs, and other community partners.
As she looked out the window in her new 2-bedroom home, Michelle Vallandingham said recovering from the June 2016 flood — one of the deadliest in West Virginia’s history — has been an up-and-down process.
Michelle Vallandingham, of White Sulphur Springs, WV, stands on the steps of her new MDS built home in Hope Village.
“Everything I owned was destroyed,” she said. “But looking out the window here, I can still see my same mountain – the same mountain I could see from my old house.”
She said she looks forward to the peace and quiet in Hope Village, where the homes are situated on a gentle rise, surrounded by fields and rolling hills. “It’s got that home feeling already,” she said, “and I’m glad to be out of the flood plain.”
Residents in White Sulphur Springs believe flooding in their area has become more frequent and more severe. Shairleen Wykle, who now lives in a one-bedroom home in Hope Village with her Yorkshire Terrier, Skeeter, simply says, to people who ask her about her recovery: “I shouldn’t have been in a flood.”
Hope Village has been a unique response by MDS Storm Aid, both because of the strength of local and regional collaboration, and because Hope Village marks the first-time volunteers have built nearly an entire community from the ground up.
MDS Storm Aid represents the Lancaster County, Penna. Amish community. The volunteer crews have been building homes in Hope Village since September 2016.
Ronnie Scott, standing outside his new home, was thinking about lost loved ones as well as new friends. His wife and dog were killed in the flood, and he grieves even as he celebrates. “Today has been about my Mennonite buddies,” he said. “While they were working on the house I’d come up here every day for nine months and take a picture.”
Ronnie Scott, of White Sulphur Springs, WV, stands in front of his new MDS built home.
He is looking forward to having his two grown kids and grandchildren, ages ranging from two to 19 years old, visit him. “I want them all to come here and stay. I think my wife is up there smiling, and I’d say she loves the house.”
Scott said he doesn’t know how he’s going to thank everybody. “I didn’t know that many people in the world cared about other people,” he said.
MDS Executive Director Kevin King said, in the 14 years he has been working in disaster response, Hope Village stands out. “Thank you for the partnership,” he said to crowd attending the dedication. “We’ve been received well. Standing here, I pause for a couple of seconds and I notice the hammers are silent but our hearts are full of excitement and hope.”
Tom Crabtree, an architect from White Sulphur Springs who is one of the founders of Hope Village, often teared up as he thanked the many people who turned the dream into a reality. “These homes are so well-built,” he said. “The crews would leave at the end of one day, then return precisely where they left off. It was like a musical composition and there was not a note missed.”
White Sulphur Springs Mayor Lloyd Haynes commended the hearts of service among MDS and Storm Aid volunteers. “My goodness, it’s good to see a good plan come together, isn’t it? MDS volunteers left their homes to come help us.”
The “thank-yous” go on and on, said Manny Flaud, Jr., who oversees Storm Aid. “It’s everybody who’s here and thousands of others. We don’t like to think about disasters, and there are loved ones who are lost, but we have also made new friends, new brothers and sisters.”
While MDS Storm Aid volunteers ended their work in mid-May, other MDS volunteer crews continue repairing and rebuilding homes in Greenbrier and the surrounding counties as well as constructing bridges throughout West Virginia after flooding in 2015 and 2016.
Storm Aid volunteers will begin work in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in September repairing and rebuilding homes after tornados struck earlier this year.
By Susan Kim for MDS