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Northwest native helps youth help hurricane victims in the South

(Jennifer Priest Mitchell is a writer who lives in Beaverton. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

When we watch the news or read about current events, we often see people in trouble or communities that have been hit hard by natural disasters or other tragedies. Many of us reach into our pockets and help various agencies and schools in such areas. Elisa McClurkan is one of those special people who reaches into her heart and goes above beyond what many people do.

Working as the High School Ministry Support Director for Rolling Hills Community Church in Tualatin, she has the unique opportunity to bring together youth from this area with those in need in Mississippi.

'We are taking our high school youth on a trip that replaces our summer camps, and we are working on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. This is a sort of service camp for the youth and it ends up being a great opportunity for them, as well as a really great thing for all the people down in the area that was hit by the hurricane. There is still so much to do and we can really help and make a difference,' she explained.

'We will refurbish schools and put on a sports camp. It will be great for the kids, and for all of us who have the chance to go.'

Last year this church took 30 youth to this same area to do similar work. Their destination cities are Pascagoula and Moss Point, close to the Alabama border. Last year's group stayed in a church and was fed by neighboring families.

McClurkan reflected fondly on the 2006 trip, 'The hospitality of these people is incredible. They were so happy to see us, and to feed us, and to help us with our work. It was truly a joy to be there and we are all looking forward to going back.'

This year the group will be able to stay in hotels, which will offer the hard-working crews a chance to shower and get a good night's sleep in beds. They will need that rest at the end of the day, too, as they will be doing outdoor labor in the hot sun each morning, and then running camps and activities for children indoors during the afternoons. This year more than 100 students will make the trip and more than 30 adult leaders will accompany them.

'We will do things like painting, yard work and roof work this year. Last summer we did some roofs and worked with sheet rock, yard work and some carpet installation. We will go from July 10 to 18, and it will be very hot while we are there.'

While the summer trips include youth, McClurkan explained that Rolling Hills Community Church has sent a team of volunteers to the area every month for about 18 months. While she is taking high school students in July, there are also junior high aged students who will go to volunteer in June.

She laughed and explained what it was like to go for the first time: 'There are definitely some differences between the Northwest and the South. For one thing, the humidity. It is hot and sticky there. And, of course the mosquitoes. You go there armed with plenty of bug repellent. There are wonderful thunderstorms there, though. The storms are really neat. It is kind of cleansing and inspiring to watch one. The rain there is different than it is here.

'One of the greatest things about these trips, though, is the time we spend with the people we are helping. The people who live there are so hospitable and so welcoming. All of these women just step right up and cook all of our meals and that is great. And the food- the food is so good!' she exclaimed.

Among her favorite memories of the deep south and their work there is what she calls the 'amazing graciousness of the people,' as well as the yummy barbecues. She also laughed when she talked about the breakfasts they ate while volunteering, 'Well, we ate these grits and they fixed them for us each day if we wanted them and they were delicious. You either had them sweet or hot and everybody loved them one way or another. Lots of the kids ate them with brown sugar, but I had them with Tabasco!'

She went on to say that when the group goes on the trip, they are really making friendships and building relationships and the entire trip is about so much more than just doing the work.

This year the youth McClurkan will be taking on the trip range from incoming 9th graders to outgoing high school seniors. The trip costs about $1,000 per person, so the church asked students to save their own money and even to ask their own families to consider making donations to their service trip in lieu of birthday or other gifts.

'The church is also doing a lot of fund-raising for this project, though,' she said, 'and we've had several events, including a spaghetti dinner. We are having an auction on April 27th that is open to the public, and we should raise funds that night for the trip, too.'

Born in Washington, McClurkan is a unique native Northwesterner. She confesses, 'Well, I am a native in the sense that I was born in the area, but my dad was in the Navy and most of my childhood was spent in places like Spain and Guam.'

She said she originally came to Oregon to attend Lewis and Clark College and fell in love with the place.

'I've traveled and even lived all over the place, and I'd have to say Oregon is one of the most beautiful places on earth. There is so much here to do, too. We have many nice parks and great restaurants.' When she is not working at Rolling Hills, McClurkan enjoys the Oregon beauty with her dog Amos.

For more information about Rolling Hills and the upcoming trips being taken, visit the Web site www.rollinghills.org, or call 503-638-5900.