ELIZABETH – Eight youth members of Community Access Unlimited (CAU) recently traveled to Oklahoma City to volunteer in the recovery from the tornado that caused wide devastation in the Moore, Oklahoma, area on May 20. The young women and two CAU staff members were able to make the goodwill trip courtesy of Southwest Airlines, which donated 10 roundtrip plane tickets.
“We wanted to do something geared toward the community and started talking about Oklahoma and the disaster they went through,” said Jasmine Houseman, a five-year member of CAU who went on the trip.
Working with Southwest, Serve More, a coalition of churches and community organization in Oklahoma, and International Harvest Church, a church located in Moore, CAU staff members arranged to send the eight youth and two adults for four days of volunteer work.
And work they did. On their first day on site the CAU group visited the home and antique shop of a family that huddled in their basement during the tornado.
“People were looting and stealing their property,” Houseman said. “We broke up branches so they could move their belongings to a safer place.”
Next came a trip to a trailer park, where they helped built houses, handed out water and installed washing machines.
“I saw pieces of trailer homes in trees,” Houseman said. “It made me grateful to live where I live. It was really mind-blowing what nature can do. And it made me very honored and humbled that they let us help.”
That type of learning experience is a key component of the lessons CAU teaches its youth members, according to Tanya Johnson, senior assistant executive director youth services. The agency provides support programs and services to people with disabilities and youth served under the Department of Children and Families to enable them to live independently in the community, in areas including housing, vocational and life-skills training, education, advocacy and recreation.
“Living within the community means being part of and investing in the community,” Johnson said. “One of the most powerful ways to become invested in the community is to volunteer. Therefore, our youth members are always looking for ways to volunteer and give back, even though in many cases they have little themselves. And for them to travel halfway across the country to help those who are even less fortunate than they are speaks volumes about who they are as people.”
Houseman, who lived in foster homes before coming to CAU and learning life skills, was very moved by the trip.
“I learned that everything will not always be the best but you should always be grateful for what you have,” she said. “I learned that from CAU.”
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