Today was our first day of service. We started our day off by splitting into groups to head to the two different houses that were under construction. As we were on our drive to the house, we were given a firsthand look at the devastation that we had heard so much about. It’s one thing to see pictures and newscasts of the mangled buildings and trees, but to see it in person was unreal. To witness the aftermath of a disaster that hit so close to home left me speechless. Seeing all the destruction made us even more encouraged to make a difference, and we were excited to start the day.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a spirited young woman, Sophie, who expanded on the work an organization known as Hope Panhandle does and how she, as an Americorps member, has had her part in helping rebuild this community. A former Panama City school principal and a local student joined us on the site and we immediately got to work. Hearing from these people who are similarly driven to service, whether that be locally or not, was a great way to kick off the morning and get enthused about the numerous tasks at hand. Going into it, I was nervous about the rigor of the work and being miserable with the heat, but that was not the case. Kara, one of the girls from the Student Service Program who has become my best friend, was paired with me to prime and paint boards for the trim. Though our work was hard, the genuine conversations with our chaperone and fellow members made everything worthwhile. Several hours turned into minutes, and all of our tasks started to materialize.

It was satisfying to see how all of the small projects we had worked on throughout the day were able to be put together in order to come one step closer to giving Minh, the homeowner, his home back. Though one of my best friends in the program wasn’t in my particular group, I got the chance to bond with students I hadn’t spoken to in depth. At the end of the day, we were all in the house putting the final touches on our work areas, and we all celebrated our hard work by painting and dancing to High School Musical. It’s so interesting how something grueling and labor intensive could be so fun and teach me so much about our service group and the personal stories of people who we have encountered.

– Anna Warnke