Initially, World Renew’s Disaster Response Services (DRS) conducted an unmet needs assessment to determine the needs that were still present in the community. They then opened a High River reconstruction site in January 2014, sending new volunteer reconstruction teams every few weeks to help community members rebuild and move back into their homes.
Between donations from churches and individuals and grants from the Canadian Red Cross and the Town of High River, World Renew received nearly $1 million in funding towards recovery efforts. The money was used for purchasing construction materials for home repair and hiring case managers who helped advocate for flood survivors applying for insurance settlements and financial assistance from the Canadian government.
“High River is a very friendly town, a very thankful town,” said Angie Ploegstra, who worked alongside her husband Joel as a construction supervisor on the project. “You could go places and you’d have your green shirt on [a hallmark of World Renew DRS volunteers], and people would stop and thank you for the work that you’re doing and say how much that means to the town.”
Most volunteers in High River were retirees who came for three week stretches, and much of their time was spent doing demanding physical labor like installing drywall, replacing windows and doors, and gutting basements. Churches also sent teams of workers, typically for a week at a time, to help with reconstruction. Between the opening of the site in January 2014 and its closing in September 2015, around 430 World Renew DRS volunteers repaired basements and hung drywall in 41 houses and helped with mold cleanup or roofing in over 300 more.
However, the impact of the work done by these volunteers went beyond simply fixing up a place of residence and checking a name off a list.
“When the people we’re helping see their house being put back together, and see it being done correctly, they’re just so thankful and you’ve given them hope again that their lives will be brought back to normal,” said Ploegstra.
“People always say to us, ‘It’s so wonderful that you help these people and what a blessing that must be,’ but we are the ones who receive such a blessing by helping other people,” she added. “Both the volunteer and the person helped get the blessing. It’s just a wonderful experience.”
The Ploegstras spent several four-week periods of time in High River, and they were present for the closing of the reconstruction site in September 2015. Even up until the last few weeks, World Renew volunteers were doing important work in the community, they said.
“One of my favorite stories is one of the last three houses we finished,” said Ploegstra. An elderly couple lived in the house, and because the woman was suffering from dementia, a lot of her husband’s time was spent staying home and taking care of her.
“The teams were really a blessing to [the husband]. He would invite them to come to the kitchen for coffee and he had someone he could talk to and relate to.” Though they weren’t going to church, at the end of the three weeks he sat down with the team of volunteers.
“He said, ‘My wife and I have been talking, we haven’t been in church for probably 30 years but we’re thinking that we really should go back to church,’” said Ploegstra. “When we left, we prayed with him. Those are always the wonderful stories.”
Nearly two and a half years after the flood, the Town of High River is still finding its footing. But thanks to the efforts of World Renew and many other organizations, the community has been gaining ground towards complete recovery, one house at a time.