Hundreds of Volunteers Still Helping Vermont Rebuild After Irene

July 31, 2012

Nearly a year after flooding from Tropical Storm Irene devastated villages up and down Vermont’s rivers, hundreds of volunteers are continuing to work with residents trying to rebuild.

In Moretown last week, members of a Williston-based church group applied polyurethane to window casings in a home that was severely damaged in the storm. John DiCarlo’s 19th century cape-style home appeared to be shedding a flood-ravaged skin and re-emerging to look brand-new, complete with special windows and a door in the basement designed to let future floodwaters from the nearby Mad River flow through.

DiCarlo, 63, had lived in the house since 1975, but had recently remarried and he and his new wife, Pam Becker, put the place on the market last summer, looking to make a fresh start elsewhere.

They were set to accept a full-price offer on Monday, Aug. 29. 2011. Irene hit on Sunday, Aug. 28. Now they’ve decided to stay.

“We are so touched by this community,” DiCarlo said of the dozens of volunteers _ both local and from elsewhere _ who have come to work on repairs to his house in the 11 months since Irene. “The effort and energy come from the heart. We really want to make another commitment to this community.”

DiCarlo pointed to a line on a post more than 6 feet above the deck of his front porch that shows the high water mark. All through the village, homes and public buildings were severely damaged in the flood. The back deck on DiCarlo’s house was ripped off. Contents of the home were caked with mud.

Williston lawyer Tony Lamb and Ted Marcy, a retired physician who still teaches at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, were applying the polyurethane to the frames and sashes around the windows that face the main street through the village.

Lamb, 68, said a group of Methodist Volunteers in Mission organized out of the Williston Federated Church had been coming to Moretown one day a week since Irene to do whatever was needed. As he worked, Lamb told of the Vermont District of the United Methodist Church sending $50,000 and 80 volunteers to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. When Irene hit, Mississippi Methodists reciprocated. “What goes around comes around,” Lamb said.

“It’s a blast. We have tons of fun,” he said, adding that the work is a great way for volunteers to learn carpentry and other skills. He spoke of working with a group of women from his church. “On Monday they had no skills. On Tuesday, they were using power tools. On Wednesday, they had opinions,” he said, laughing. “It’s a mixed blessing.”

The volunteerism appeared to be rubbing off on at least one beneficiary. DiCarlo said his own volunteer work had been limited because he’s been busy operating the natural foods store in Waterbury Center that he owns with his wife. “I do some, but I feel like I’m going to do way more,” in the future, he said.

The crew in Moretown seemed to have some Yankee reticence about the religious aspects of their work. They talk mostly among themselves at day’s end, with questions like, “Where have you seen God today?” Lamb said.

Religion is more front-and-center in Bennington, in Vermont’s southwest corner, where last week about 260 volunteers called World Changers were in town in an effort organized by the Southern Baptist Convention.

“We’re building not just a work relationship,” said Colton Carter, 18. The Cary, N.C., resident attends the Ephesus Baptist Church in neighboring Raleigh. “We also evangelize throughout the neighborhood. We talk to all the neighbors,” making clear that, “We’re just labor. We’re the hands of God working for him.”

A Gallup poll in May found Vermont tied with New Hampshire as having the smallest percentage of residents — 23 percent — who called themselves very religious. Vermont led in those calling themselves nonreligious, at 58 percent, versus 52 percent for New Hampshire.

“It’s definitely kind of a shock to come from the Bible Belt up to here where only 2 percent know the Lord,” Carter said.

Whatever motivates the help, Asah Rowles said she is glad to have it. The 33-year-old mother of two and board chairwoman of Mad River Flood recovery is credited by her neighbors with working tirelessly to make sure the right kinds of help are getting to the right places.

Rowles has lived in five towns in the Mad River Valley. During a stop last week, she checked on recovery work being done on a village center building in Waitsfield, a few miles south of Moretown.

Before the flood, the Bridge Street building housed a restaurant, clothing consignment shop and several other small businesses and was “a cornerstone for Waitsfield,” Rowles said. Several volunteers were helping fix it up.

“You could see everybody wanted it back,” Rowles said.

She was glad to play a leading organizational role, Rowles said. “I grew up here. This is my community. So it’s kind of personal for me.”

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