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Flinthills USD 492

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Helping Hands for Wildfire Recovery

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“…..I pledge my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to large service for my club, my community, my county and my world…….I believe in the future of ag….I believe in leadership from ourselves….I believe that American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life and that I can exert an influence in my home and community, which will stand solid for my part in that inspiring task.”

The weekend of March 25th, the 4-H moto and FFA Creed were prevalent and integrated well as youth from Butler County 4-H, Bluestem FFA and Flinthills FFA teamed up and headed west to Ashland, KS. The damage and devastation from the Starbucks Fire was huge and recovery will be ongoing for years. When the fires settled, Charlene Miller, Butler County 4-H Youth Agent teamed up with Skyler Myrick Flinthills FFA Advisor, along with Kasie Kieffer and Barb McCaffree Bluestem FFA Advisors to gather donations and put together a work team to take to Clark County.

Our crews departed at 6:00 a.m. on March 25th. After stopping for breakfast in Pratt, we continued our journey on West. At Bucklin, we headed south towards Ashland. “As we started reaching the northern portion of the fire along Hwy 34, tears filled my eyes and a since over overwhelming swept over me. To read about it in the paper and see the posts on Social Media is one thing. But to see it firsthand takes it to a whole other level. Miles upon miles of fence destroyed, dead livestock still scattered about. If you weren’t grounded in your thoughts before about the fire, you certainly were as you began the journey into thousands of acres of blackened land. Seeing the magnitude of destruction truly puts it all into perspective when you can stand and look in a 360 degree direction and it’s black as far as the eye can see” said Mrs. Miller.

Upon arriving in Ashland, the teams went to the Ashland Christian Camp which served as our housing and base camp until we left. We were greeted by wonderfully kind volunteer coordinators who ran the check in and volunteers like a well-oiled machine. Tears were shed by some as we arrived with a semi loaded with equipment and fencing supplies, 4 other vehicles loaded with a tractor, bob cat, ATV’s, welding material and more fencing supplies. Our teams were quickly placed with multiple families and we were off to their property to begin work and do what we could in the short amount of time we were there. Upon returning to camp Saturday night, we were greeted with a wonderful pulled pork dinner by the volunteers at the Christian Camp. We were not the only volunteers staying at the Christian Camp. There were others from out of State who had come to help as well. After a cold night’s sleep (which we did not properly plan for), the biscuits and gravy served by the volunteers warmed us up before we were back in the pastures by 7:30 a.m. where we stayed until we returned to camp between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to begin our journey home.

While we were there, one of your youth helped unload square bales of hay at a local ranch while the remainder of our 40 plus member team helped with approximately 20 miles of fence. Those 20 miles included anything from building new fence to cleaning up the fire ravaged fence. The clean-up meant that our workers took clips off posts, pulled posts, rolled the burnt wire, along with gathering up and loading all those items onto trailers. Building new fence, meant drilling holes for and concreting in pipe corners and braces, stringing new wire, and setting new fence posts….all having to meet the Government specifications for those hoping to receive some support back for the huge financial losses they incurred. When you look at what we accomplished Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, we know it’s only a drop in the bucket compared to the big picture. But our youth learned and witnessed firsthand in disasters like this, every bit helps and begins to set the course for the next group of volunteers coming in.

One family gave a tour of their ranch to the crew that worked for them right before heading back to camp on Sunday afternoon. They had a building with the American Flag painted on both sides of it. Almost simultaneously, everyone pointed and said “Look at that”. That image was a great way to wrap up the trip. Our Country’s great flag, with our 4-H and FFA members that had been out working for ranchers, one of the foundations of this Country. Our hearts and hands reached out to help others, two of the very things that make our world we live in so great.  We shared laughter and tears, listened to their stories, built new friendships, and no doubt left a piece of our heart with them. We met amazing volunteer coordinators and families that opened their hands and hearts and welcomed us, complete strangers, into their lives to help them as much as we could.

One rancher said, “Come back out and help again. This isn’t a short term disaster that will be over in 3 or 6 months. This is a disaster that will be a long recovery, not only physically rebuilding, but the emotional roller coaster for those of us affected.” As he said that, one could tell by the look on his face and the sound in his voice, the “shock” of the disaster was wearing off and the emotional toll was beginning to set in. The financial, emotional and time required to rebuild toll is huge. Like our caps we had donated to us for the trip from Western Associates in Marion, KS said: “Together we can rebuild.” Recovery will go on for years, and volunteers will be a crucial part to help these families out as much as possible. If you have experience and you’re willing to donate time, we challenge you to make a trip out and help.

Our trip would not have been as successful as it was without the wonderful generosity of those who donated food, fencing supplies, equipment and necessities. Thank you to our amazing donors and sponsors:

Wal-Mart, Tractor Supply, Linda & Alan Peterson and Betty Carlson, Benton Busy Bees 4-H Club, Triple V 4-H Club in Onaga Kansas, Butler County Farm Bureau, El Dorado Animal Clinic, Dr. Davy & Mary Gail Harkins, Kathy Daily, Anonymous Donors, Western Associates in Marion Kansas, Oleta McKinney, Rod Wohlgemuth, Joel & Kim Ligon, Butler County Health Departments, David & Cherrie Kehler, Larry & Jane Doornbos, Barry Black, Cory Miller, Stephanie Girty, Bluestem Shock Foundation, Whitestar, Curtis Willhite, Curtis Gauthier, Carol Johnson, Butler County 4-H, Bluestem FFA, Flinthills FFA, ……………..

We pledged our hearts and hands, we believe in the future of ag, leadership and ourselves. We came together as 4-H & FFA to help the Clark County community. Individually we are great, together we are greater. It was a privilege and humbling experience to help and work with the wonderful families and volunteers in Clark County.