It was the last day of their week in Princeton, B.C with Mennonite Disaster Service. RJC students Kayley Mierau, Nora Linsley and Sarah Wood, along with Kayley’s mom Kerry Mierau (grad 1993), had been working all week on flood damaged homes, tearing out layer after layer of wallpaper and drywall. All week one of the neighbours across the street had said hello and offered his home up for bathroom or other breaks. So on that last day they decided to take him up on the offer.
He invited them in, played some music and then told them about his experience of the flood last fall. While their week in Princeton was full of lots of good moments, sitting and listening to Daniel had a deep impact. “He used to work for the Coast Guard and he was a volunteer firefighter so he spent the night helping people and doing lots of trips from the town to the evacuation centre,” Nora says. “To hear what it was like for him just gives you a better visual of what it was actually like.”
The three students, along with Kerry, travelled to Princeton at the beginning of February, right after exam week, to help MDS with the rebuilding effort. The idea for the trip started with just Kayley and Kerry. Kerry’s parents had worked with MDS in lots of places over the years, and had responded to flooding close to home in High River. And so she had the idea that she and Kayley could go out to help in Princeton. Then they thought why not invite some others from RJC too?
Their work was primarily on cleaning out damaged materials from homes. Taking out drywall, panelling, insulation and wallpaper. They gained new skills and experience, including with tools they’d never used before. But the most valuable part was connecting with the people in the community. “One of the things they tell you when you go to work with MDS is that although we go and help and do all this hard labour, really we are there to connect with the people and be there for them,” says Kerry. “So anytime owners or anyone wants to come talk to us, you drop your tools.”
For both Nora and Kayley, they were surprised to see how people who had been through the stress of the floods were still able to be positive and were so grateful for the help. “[People would] come up to us and they talked to us with the biggest smiles on their face and they were so thankful,” says Nora. “They just had such a big, unimaginable thing happen to them… and here they are, with the biggest smiles ever.”
Knowing their work would make a real difference for people was also a good feeling. Kayley says, “Getting to spend time in the house and knowing that what you’re working on someone will be able to live in again and be safe. That was just nice, knowing that we’re actually helping someone.”
For Kerry, serving through MDS is a natural extension of the ideas of service that students learn at RJC. “I just know RJC is about serving the community and serving others, that’s a big part of their program. And so it just seems like a good fit,” she says.
For Nora and Kayley there were also connections between what they’ve heard in the classroom and the chance to serve with MDS. For Nora, it reminded her of what teacher David Epp would say about the importance of learning both in and outside the classroom. “He would always tell us, ‘you can learn a lot in a classroom, you can learn math, you learn science but the lessons and stuff you remember and you’ll look back at when you’re older, are the ones you learn outside of the classroom.’”
For Kayley, her time with MDS reflects the lessons they learned at RJC about serving the community and how you can make life brighter for others around you. In Grade 10 they would help practice that model of service by singing songs for seniors, or making cards for others. “Helping people smile and giving them love really connects and makes a better community,” she says.