In September, Lutheran Disaster Response – Eastern Pennsylvania held its first skills training workshop at the ELCA Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Synod office in Allentown. The goal – expand the number of volunteers equipped to help those affected by a disaster.

How it Began

For years Julia Menzo, Director of Community Outreach, envisioned offering a program to train individuals on basic skills to carry out disaster response work. With the help of several partners and a grant from the ELCA, Julia was finally able to make it a reality.

She recruited Heidi Shilanskas of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Bethlehem to coordinate the half day workshop. Heidi recalls, “When Julia and I discussed mission trips and how inadequate we felt doing the hands on work required, I think it’s safe to say we both felt a spark of lightening.”

“Our shared dream for a skills day would help people like us learn how to do things like use power tools or hang dry wall. Working with Julia and the team from Trinity Lutheran in Kutztown was a vision realized for me.”

The Training

The day started with Stephen Heckler providing an overview of basic safety including the importance of eye safety and protecting your hands.

Participants attending the workshop received interactive training on using a drill and a circular saw led by Dave Owen and Trinity Kutztown volunteers. Dave also explained how to use some common tools like power screwdrivers and hammers. Allen McSparron demonstrated how to secure drywall and the nuances of taping and spackling.

Set up in a stairway, Bill Hoyer taught volunteers tips for painting in order to give the job a professional look. He shared tricks for cutting in and rolling, as well as how to keep your roller and brush fresh while taking a break. In the end, stairway sported a fresh coat of paint and looked spectacular.

Stating that flooring is usually the last project on any job, Dan Raudanbush explained different types of flooring and how to make it even. No room is perfectly squared, so he shared tips on how and where to start, measuring and making the final cut for the end.

Heidi organized the flow of all of the activities and ran a special workshop for kids on building and decorating bird houses.

From Training to Worksite

One person attending the workshop, Weston Russell from Star of Bethlehem Church, was able to take his newly learned skills and test them in the field at a worksite in Downingtown.

“After our skills day, Weston reached out immediately asking when he could put these new skills to use,” Heidi shares. “Together he and I went to Downingtown to help with Hurricane Ida relief.”

“We felt much more comfortable with the tools and the work required for the day,” she continues. “Weston’s enthusiasm was infectious, and soon our whole crew was giggling and making jokes as we worked on restoring a flooded garage.”

“I am hopeful in the future that we can continue to offer these workshops in conjunction with local and national mission groups so that more people like me, who are less skilled, can develop their comfort level with tools and mission work.”

Julia adds, “We are so grateful to the NEPA Synod, the ELCA, our disaster partners and our donors who all made this workshop possible. They provide strength and inspiration to volunteers like Heidi and Weston who walk with others down the long road to recovery after a disaster strikes.”

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