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Service International's Rapid Response Leadership Team arrived in California on October 28 to find out what could be done to help in the wake of the recent wildfires that destroyed more than 1400 homes. On November 2, SI, along with FEMA and the Red Cross, set up an assistance center at the fire station near the community of Green Valley Lake. It was painful to see the hopelessness and heartbreak on the faces of the homeowners who had lost everything. The SI team prayed for these devastated people and sparked new hope by letting them know that help was on the way.

On November 7, SI's volunteer team left Chesterfield, Missouri, and headed west with three trucks, a Bobcat, and two fully-packed equipment trailers. After a 34-hour drive, they arrived at Camp Cedar Crest near Green Valley Lake, where they set up base and received briefings. More than 100 volunteers from Cottonwood Christian Center and Westlight Community Church in Southern California teamed up with SI.

On Saturday, November 10, volunteers began clearing debris and sifting through the ashes in search of valuables or keepsakes that could be salvaged for homeowners. SI volunteer and retired fire chief Ray Zepp said, "The fire was so intense, that we found very little that came through the flames and heat." Once everything had been thoroughly sifted, the volunteers removed the ashes and debris, clearing the foundations and readying them for rebuilding.

At the end of one street, the team came upon a man who was going through the charred rubble of his home--alone and overwhelmed. Two team members worked with him and reassured him that they would be there to help as long as he needed them.

During the next ten days, 17 properties were cleared by volunteers from Missouri, Illinois, and parts of California. (Many of these volunteers have also participated in SI's Katrina Relief missions.)

Read these kind words from a grateful homeowner: "My husband and I would like to thank your organization . . . for helping us clean up our burned-out house debris . . . We've been married for 30 years and lost everything in the fire. My husband was faced with the monumental task of cleaning the lots alone. When your organization came to help, my husband and I were overjoyed . . . Thank you for being our 'angels' at a very stressful, sad time in our life. It's nice to know there are still really caring, great individuals out there. God bless you all."

The winter snows will soon come to these mountains, making it difficult and dangerous to work on the steep hillsides. So, for now, SI's team has returned home, hoping to go back in the spring to help Californians rebuild.

To find out how you can be part of SI's relief efforts here in the US or around the world, call Service International at 636.532.9008.

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"In the midst of ruin there is a gleam of light, and this light is City Park in New Orleans."

These words were penned by a Circuit City employee at Service International's biggest volunteer work day ever. Nearly 800 fellow CC employees were with him in New Orleans, ready to go to work in historic City Park, which suffered $48 million dollars in damage from Hurricane Katrina. On an early October day, these men and women descended on the park with rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows, paintbrushes, ready hands, and a determination to make this central city gem a little brighter.

So how do you effectively focus and direct 800 volunteers, match them with productive projects, and equip them with the proper tools? According to Darlene Blaum, Corporate Event Planner for Circuit City, the key is "organization."

"It was a real challenge to make sure everybody had something to do and no one was standing around," she reports. "But Service International was organized and had already planned out the work assignments and obtained the materials. They ran the entire program. It was amazing what we accomplished because of SI's incredible organizational skills."

Workers of all ages and abilities labored in places like Storyland, Botanical Gardens, Equestrian Farms, and Pelican Greenhouse. They painted fences, benches and gazebos; re-striped parking lots by hand; pulled weeds, planted flowers, and laid down mulch and pine straw (100 bales!); and spruced up the carousel, which is now open for the first time since Katrina.

Because of this amazing day of partnership between Circuit City and Service International, City Park is shining a little bit brighter for the families of New Orleans.

         Photos by Gregg Boyer.

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