Sometimes just showing up can make a world of difference for someone.

As soon as I heard that A Year to Volunteer had lined up a project in Lake Charles, Louisiana, I knew that Sandy and I had to be a part of it.  The project was at Sam Houston Jones State Park, which had been completely annihilated by the two hurricanes that devastated the region in August and September of 2020.

Sandy and I had started our full-time RV journey in August of 2020.  When news that Hurricane Laura was on target to make a direct hit in the Sulphur/Lake Charles area, our hearts were heavy.  Our friends, Jennie Finch, Lori Pritchett, and their families live in Sulphur, so we were concerned for their safety.  We were in Asheville, NC taking a trek down the Blue Ridge Parkway when the storm hit.  Seeing the initial pictures and videos of the damage was heartbreaking to say the least.

My mother’s spirit took over and we felt called to help.  Following in my mother’s footsteps, this “Journey of my Mother’s Son” was about to take us on an eerily familiar path of her heading out to volunteer with the Salvation Army whenever a hurricane hit Florida.

So, we headed off to Sulphur to lend a hand, but made an expected detour into Beaumont, Texas first.  Yes, for those of you wondering, it is not normal to go through Beaumont, Texas to get to Sulphur, Louisiana when coming from the east.  But I guess my mom wanted to give us another little taste of her, “why.”  It was in Beaumont where we volunteered for a week at The Dream Center, which is a faith-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

After the Dream Center, we spent a week in Sulphur and Vinton volunteering with SC3.  We helped to organize a supply distribution center and some other things while we were there.  I wrote about how that experience was both heartbreaking and awe inspiring at the same time in my blog after we left the area.

We met even more wonderful people from the Southwest Louisiana community while we were there in 2020.  So, with an expanded circle of friends in the area, it was even more heartbreaking when Hurricane Delta hit a couple of weeks after we left.

With all those people in the area that we now knew, in mind, we recognized that we wanted to come back and help again with this project.

I posted the following on Facebook our first day here:

A Year to Volunteer has taken over Sam Houston Jones State Park for the next two weeks!  This group of ninja volunteers is ready to help with the continued restoration efforts from the devastation caused by Hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020.

This beautiful park needs a lot of TLC.

Sandy and I were here for a short time between the two storms and the one thing that stood out then was the resilience of this community.

This time around, it’s the gratitude of this community.

From the owner of The Laundromat in Sulphur who let us do Laundry for free when he heard that we were helping, to the A-Plus RV Park who let us dump and fill our tanks, to the Deputy Sheriff who is patrolling the park, to the members of the Henning United Methodist church that we attended with our dear friend, Lori Carter Pritchett who all thanked us for being here to lend a hand, it was nothing but gratitude that was expressed to us.

The material things in this community may have been crushed by those storms, but its spirit was not.

Many people outside the area have forgotten about it, but there is still so much more work to be done.

You may not be able to volunteer for two weeks, but there are other ways to help.

Research how to give and how to help.  I’ll try to get some of our friends in the area to put some links to ways to help in the comments.

Just because it’s not in the news everyday doesn’t mean that the job is complete.

Do what you can with what you have.


It really did sum up my feelings at the time.

When we were here in September of 2020, I was amazed at how people who had lost everything, were right there helping out others.  No one in the community was unaffected by those storms.

Since we first arrived, the gratitude has been even more overwhelming from this amazing community.

From our first meeting on Monday morning, when a few of the staff members of the state park were choked up about us being here to help to every interaction that we’ve had with anyone in this community since, it has been nothing but sincere gratitude.

The members of Crossroads Church, the members of The Friends of Sam Houston Jones State Park Group, and the members of the Moss Bluff Pentecostal Church who all provided meals for our group so far all had to hold back tears as they were thanking us for our service.

I’m sure that it will be more of the same later this week when the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board treats us to a Crawfish boil on Wednesday for lunch and Gillis Grocery provides our dinner meal.

Isn’t that what this whole volunteer gig should be about anyway?  The people.

That’s the way that I’ve always looked at it and I know that is the way that my mom looked at it too.

We’re not here to rebuild fences, tent platforms, or trails.  We’re here to change peoples lives for the better.

We’re not here to stain and paint things, or to remove debris and grind stumps.  We’re here to help people smile for years to come.

We’re not building things, we’re helping people.  We’re helping a community that was devastated by two storms over a year ago.  We’re changing lives, we’re pitching in, we’re doing what we can with what we have.

This isn’t just a state park.  It’s a staple of a community.  It’s a place where memories have been made with past generations and it’s a place where the memories of future generations are waiting to be made.

When we leave here in a week, there will still be work to be done.  Let me rephrase that, there will still be A LOT of work to be done.

After Phil and Shar did their initial site visit here back in December, they realized, this wasn’t going to be just another Y2V project, most of which consist of 16 rigs and about 32 volunteers.  This was going to need a little bit more muscle, so they sent out a call to action to their army of ninja volunteers and the team quickly expanded to become the largest project in sheer volunteer numbers ever taken on by Y2V.

When all is said and done, 24 rigs with 44 volunteers from 13 different states will have ascended on Sam Houston Jones State Park in Lake Charles, Louisiana to help get this community back to some sense of normal after the storms.

The outpouring of gratitude that we’ve experienced since we’ve been here has been overwhelming.

Each conversation starts with, “thank you” and eventually leads to “this is a lot more than what we expected” or “this is the hardest working group of volunteers we’ve ever had” or “I can’t believe how much you guys have done in such a short period of time.”

Those statements say a lot.

It says a lot about the leadership of Phil and Shar and it says a lot about the quality of people in this group.  People from all walks of life and backgrounds who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty, while asking for nothing in return.

Like minded people who understand the importance of giving back.

We have some parents here with their young kids.  The kids aren’t just along for the ride.  They’re here to help.  Those parents understand how significant it is to teach their children the importance of giving back at a young age.  I commend them for that.  These are lessons that a child will not soon forget.  These are the experiences that will help them to develop into caring, empathic members of our society when they reach adulthood.  Something that I can speak of from the personal experience of having my mom drag me along to literally every Meals on Wheels run, fundraiser, Little League concession stand volunteer shift, and anything else that she helped with while I was growing up.  It all stuck.  It made me want to help others and expect nothing in return.  I am grateful that she instilled that volunteer work ethic in me.  It has helped to make me into the man I am today.

Back to the people though, that is always what it has been about for me.  Being able to see the bigger picture and understanding the importance of what we’re doing for those communities and organizations that we help.

This is now the fourth Y2V project that we’ve helped with.  Albeit, one was just for a day, and another only a week, but understanding the impact that we made on the people involved is what makes us keep volunteering with this special group.

What we did for Marge and her staff at REGI in Antigo, Wisconsin wasn’t building sheds, painting signs, landscaping, or building a passerine enclosure, it was restoring hope.

What we did for Carolin and her staff at Picacho State Park in Arizona wasn’t painting ramadas, landscaping, or refinishing a deck, it was restoring hope.

What we did for the community of Vancleave and Jackson County, Mississippi wasn’t building pavilions, trails, painting signs, landscaping, or pouring concrete, it was restoring hope.

And restoring hope is a pretty special thing to be doing in the current state of our world.  There is no doubt we’re living in scary and uncertain times, but if you know where to look, you can see those out there restoring hope.

When you get scared of the things going on in the world, I advise you to go help someone else.  You may be surprised that the gratitude you receive by helping someone restore their hope, will also help restore your own.

If you’re not sure what to do, just show up, you’ll figure it out, and it will make a world of difference.