At the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo Community building on Jan, 30 of this year during a community meeting to help hurricane victims, Billy Layton stood before the group and promised that the North Carolina Baptist Men would be in storm-ravaged area until August. At that time, he had agreed to build houses and to help with any rebuilding project as long as the materials were provided.
When islanders look back over the first year after Hurricane Irene blasted the Outer Banks on Aug. 27, 2011, they can see that Billy kept that promise. On Thursday, Aug. 23, the remaining four volunteers finished the mission with the delivery of a brand new picnic table. With all the work completed, it was time to clean up and move on.
Since Hurricane Irene demolished parts of Avon, Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo, the N.C. Baptist Men have deployed more than 600 volunteers to Hatteras Island. They broke down their mission into two segments — recovery and rebuild.
The recovery mission began around Sept. 1st and lasted until Oct. 8. The Baptist Men arrived with three portable laundry and shower units, which were placed in Rodanthe, Salvo, and Avon and were a blessing to so many residents who were without these basic essentials.
Following immediately was an army of volunteers from all over the state numbering 170 in this first phase — all members of the NC Baptist Men. During this time, they did 62 jobs that mostly involved gutting houses and clean up. Most flooded houses had to be gutted down to bare studs and treated with Clorox to combat mold. Tearing out wet insulation, drywall, flooring, underpinning, and ventilation systems is nasty and back-breaking work but necessary to saving houses. They spent most of their time in the tri-village area but did eight tear-out jobs in Avon.
The recovery phase began around Feb. 1 of this year when the Baptist Men returned to help the community rebuild, providing free labor to everyone who needed it. Over the last eight months, 513 volunteers filtered in and out, and gradually residents began moving back into their homes. The volunteer army did 30 rebuild jobs, 11 of them in Avon, and even built two houses from scratch.
Even in the last three weeks, there were 49 volunteers working diligently to finish up before they left the island.
These were ordinary men and women with an extraordinary calling to help those in need. No skill-set was required for this job but several were laborers, carpenters, electricians, and plumbers.
“Many were just your average handyman with a big heart,” Billy Layton said of his team. “They would ask what they can do and they were willing to try.”
Of the work force, 60 percent of them were retired and 10 percent were youth groups. The remaining volunteers were caring folks who gave up their vacation time and weekends to lend a helping hand.
The youth groups generally ranged in age from junior and senior high school to college. With parental supervision, there were some children as young as 6 who came to help.
“They were challenging but rewarding to work with,” Layton admitted. “You have to teach them to help others. Many left the area realizing that the people who live at the beach are not rich. They are not tourists.”
Billy and his wife, Ann, stayed in Salvo the entire time and left the island on only four occasions, including for a funeral, for disaster relief training, and for a mission conference in Charlotte.
The volunteers lived in a bunk-house arrangement at the Salvo Volunteer Fire Department. The women bunked upstairs over the Fire Department and the men in a cordoned off area in a large room that was the mess hall. Most volunteers brought their own air mattresses or cots, but there were 20 cots provided by the fire department if someone came unprepared. The Baptist Men also have a bunk trailer that was used extensively over the last several months. It could sleep 22 volunteers, but Billy tried to limit that to 16-18 per night in an effort to give some personal space to workers.
Food was served cafeteria-style in the room where the men slept. In a large kitchen, wonderful meals where prepared by Ann Layton and Linda Skinner.
“Generally, people lose weight when they go on mission, but not this trip,” said volunteer Alan Harris. “This was the best food I have ever eaten on a mission trip.”
They all nodded in agreement.
The community supplied the volunteers with delectable seafood on a regular basis. They enjoyed hard and soft-shell crabs, shrimp, and all kinds of fish, including tuna. Food was also brought to them from the local food pantry, and desserts were made regularly by local residents. The group has an account at Food Lion, paid by the Baptist Men, which they managed to use very little. With Ann being a thrifty shopper and the continuous flow of food from the community, they spent very little on feeding the workers.
Many areas of eastern North Carolina were heavily impacted by Hurricane Irene last August and the N.C. Baptist Men were there to assist victims. They also had missions operating in Bayboro, Greenville, New Bern, Manteo, Williamston, Belhaven, and Ahoskie. This is a large and organized group which has been around for 30 years providing active relief. Their first deployment was following Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Of the four remaining people on the last day of the project, all four have dedicated their lives to this mission. Alan Harris, 50, comes from Conway, N.C., and was a salesman retired on disability. Linda Skinner, 56, is retired from the CIA and currently lives in the mountains of North Carolina. Linda purchased land during her stay and plans to relocate here permanently.
Billy, 55, and wife Ann, 56, stopped working about a decade ago to do volunteer work full-time. They were self-employed and had done well in the modular home business. With their house paid off and children grown, they felt it was time to do something more meaningful. Today, they spend very little time at home, choosing to bunk where they are needed to do God’s work.
“ We are not really retired – not old enough,” Billy says. “We felt the calling and just quit working.”
I n the eyes of those they helped, these individuals are superhuman but in their own eyes, they are doing only what they feel like they should be doing.
“Everybody CAN do this,” Billy says. “It’s just a matter of whether they WANT to do it.”
The remaining four volunteers were overcome with emotion when talking about the people of Hatteras. They were well respected and recognized by the community, and their money wasn’t any good at local businesses. Whether it was an ice cream cone from Dairy Queen or getting a flat tire fixed at the gas station, shop owners wouldn’t accept payment from them.
It was a gradual warming from the people of the island, but they recognized that the volunteers were here serving the Lord. Now as their work winds down, residents want their message to remain.
“We broke down barriers. We were here, we stayed, and we were responsible to the end,” says Billy Layton.
They thank the island residents for welcoming them with open arms and hospitality, something they don’t always get.
“Today, we are part of their family,” said Billy. “We didn’t just work on their house, we worked on their life.”
In case of another weather disaster, they are leaving the island better prepared with MREs, cleaning supplies, bottled water, and tarps. This part of the island wasn’t ready for a hurricane of this kind, the group agreed.
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