NASHVILLE, Tenn. –– While the Nashville floods might have been largely off the radar of the national media, it did catch the eye of two people far from the epicenter of the disaster.
“I was seeing places I recognize under water and feeling horrible,” said Chris Rogers, former youth ministry coordinator for the Diocese of Nashville. “I decided I needed to get up and do something about it.”
So Rogers put the word out, through the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., where he is now director of youth ministry, and through Facebook. “I thought we might fill two minivans,” he said. Instead, 48 high school and college students and adults signed up for the flood relief mission trip. Rogers hired a bus and the group made its way to Nashville June 14-18.
At the same time, much further south, 13-year-old Nicholas Galle from Marrero, La., was formulating his own plan to help Nashville flood victims.
Galle’s family had spent a few days in Jackson, Tenn., when they had to evacuate in advance of Hurricane Katrina.
“One day I just saw the news, and they were announcing the floods in Nashville and the long periods of rain,” Nicholas told the Tennessee Register, Nashville’s diocesan newspaper. “It just clicked off in my head: Isn’t that where we went for Hurricane Katrina? So I thought this would be a good time to give back, and be generous to them.”
Nicholas provided the Nashville service project concept – coined “Grand Ole Stewardship” – to his Boy Scout troop in May, and the flood relief initiative quickly became a team effort. “After I told my troop about the project, everybody just started pitching in ideas,” said Nicholas.
He also presented the idea to district Scouting leaders, the Men’s Club at his parish, Visitation of Our Lady Church, and Immaculate Conception summer camp, where he is a counselor. The response was huge, and food and clothing donations poured in.
Undertaking a major volunteer effort years before his Eagle Scout project was due fits in with Scouting’s 100th anniversary push to “Renew America Together” through community service and with the Galle family style.
“He is very generous, and the three of us as a family are always very service-oriented, and very spiritual,” said his mother, Brenda. “It didn’t surprise me that he’d say, ‘Hey, let’s do something for the folks of Tennessee.’ I am surprised by the magnitude of the project, and that it just keeps growing.”
Galle and members of his Boy Scout Troop 395 arrived in Nashville June 25, with their donations loaded in a 26-foot truck. Numerous sponsors came on board to cover the truck, fuel and the cost of a Scout-cooked jambalaya lunch for Nashville-area flood survivors the next day.
The Scouts set up shop at Catholic Charities Family Resource Center in Bellevue.
“We saw the opportunity to take advantage of the generosity of Nicholas, and the hard work that he had done down in the New Orleans area,” said Mark Barry, the center’s operations manager. “Nicholas and his family had benefited from the open doors and friendship of the people in Tennessee after Katrina, and he was hoping to thank people in the way that he could, to help out people in the same dire straits.”
During the four days Rogers and his group were in Nashville, they split their time between cleaning out and gutting homes in Ashland City and volunteering at Catholic Charities’ resource center in Bellevue. They bunked at Holy Family Church and met nightly to discuss their experiences.
“I tried to drive home the spiritual aspect of this,” Rogers said. No matter how much or how little you have, he said, “it can all be taken away. I think it helps them see that we should not be relying so much on the material goods of the world.”
Helping people sort through their ruined furniture, heirlooms and photos was difficult for the volunteers. The families they helped “wanted to hang on to so much, but they had to let it go,” said volunteer Sarah Swoboda, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
As hard as it was for them to let go, it helped having someone else to sort through their things and just listen to them. “The families were so grateful,” said Swoboda.
They may have spent their long days in a damp, moldy house or in a warehouse with no air conditioning, but Rogers said he and his group would enthusiastically do it again.
“It made me realize we need to step up our game of getting out there in the world and helping,” he said.
The trip has planted the seed for Rogers to organize an annual mission trip he wants to call Mission America. “Every year, we’ll go somewhere in the country where the need is,” he said.