Christian foundation organizes mission to help Bastrop community

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In the aftermath of the Texas wildfires, thousands of families found their homes destroyed and their belongings in ashes. Some UT students helped restore residents’ property — and their hope — over the holidays.

Students spent a week of their winter break in Bastrop and Cedar Creek, Texas, as part of a mission trip organized by the Texas Wesley Foundation, a Christian campus ministry and part of the United Methodist Church. The mission trip took place Dec. 14-20, and students teamed up with coordinators to reach the areas that needed the most assistance, said radio-television-film junior Julianne Robinson, a Texas Wesley
Foundation member.

Robinson said the first two days of the trip were spent organizing donated clothing, food, household items and school supplies at a distribution center in Bastrop. After donations were organized, students were assigned to work sites in Cedar Creek and teamed up with families coordinating relief efforts, Robinson said.

“Our main goal in doing this was not only to help with recovery, but also to show the people of Bastrop that we care about them.,” Robinson said. “We had really amazing opportunities to hear their stories and to pray with them. It was a huge bonding opportunity to be able to share that pain and also the hope of opportunity with the people of Bastrop.”

UT alumna Sara Sibley, who graduated in May 2011, organized the trip as part of her internship at the Wesley Foundation. Sibley’s hometown of Alpine, Texas was affected by the fires and she said she felt inspired to aid others whose communities had been destroyed.

“I think it’s the common human experience that brings us together to help each other,” Sibley said. “I think all of us feel compassion towards [the people who lost their homes] because we’ve all experienced some sort of loss in our lives.”

History junior Todd Jones said the trip gave him a whole new perspective on the physical devastation caused by the fires.

“I heard about the fires and sort of had an idea of what the damage was, but once we got out there, just seeing the extent of the damage was incredible,” he said. “You can’t fully understand what the fire did until you actually see it for yourself. It was heartbreaking to see the homes just gone.”

Jones said he got the opportunity to work with one of the homeowners who was impacted by the fire. He said the man had a positive outlook on the situation and helped shovel ashes and put debris into a wheelbarrow.

The collaborative efforts of the volunteers and the community were inspiring to see, Robinson said.

“There was one family with six children whose house was fortunately not touched by the fire, so they had been coordinating relief efforts and pairing volunteers up with families who needed help,” she said. “It was really amazing to see all of their kids, some younger than 10, helping the volunteers. They sent all of us lunch and invited us into their home, even though we were covered in ashes.”

Though the volunteers accomplished much in their week in Bastrop, Sibley said the recovery period is ongoing and volunteers will still be needed in upcoming months.

“They’re going to be needing volunteers for a really long time — there’s still a lot to be done there,” Sibley said. “Students this semester can definitely go out there and help.”