Students in this spring’s Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) class at Eastern Mennonite School constructed 10 exterior and 18 interior walls that will be transported to Hurley, Virginia, for a new home in a community still recovering from an August 2021 flood.
The project is a culmination of a trimester’s work for 14 students, most of whom had no construction experience when they registered for the new elective last winter.
Before the students used nail guns and other power tools to construct the frames, they practiced measuring, sawing, hammering, and other skills on projects such as cutting boards, a birdhouse, a folding table, and building a shed on school grounds. The practice projects, except for the shed, were created using reclaimed pallets.
“I never would have thought I could do what I’m now confident doing,” said Fortuana Chipeta ’23. “I know I’ll use these skills for the rest of my life. I love knowing I’ve been part of creating a new home for people who suffered so much loss a few years ago.”
The new elective came together with input from Woody Driver, chair of the Shenandoah Valley MDS unit; Kevin King, executive director of MDS; Justin King, high school principal; and Paul Leaman, head of school.
Kevin King and Justin King — father and son — had brainstormed about the idea for several years as a possible way to develop a younger MDS constituency, and to pilot a program that might be of interest to other Mennonite secondary schools.
The practical hands-on class also revives activity in the school’s former shop and tech ed area, which has evolved into robotics class space in recent years and left some equipment lying dormant.
The class is a partnership between EMS and MDS, explains Justin King. MDS pays for the supplies and teacher; EMS provides the students, structure and space. “It’s a win-win-win [the school, MDS, and the MDS client] because our students come away with knowledge about MDS and practical skills,” says Justin King. “MDS comes away with a new generation of interested volunteers.”
Two long-term MDS volunteers with a heart for this new generation of MDS servants made the class possible, which met for two periods every afternoon. Fred Miller provided technical expertise, and Ed Rissler joined Paul Leaman to provide class planning and support. Woody Driver of Shenandoah Valley MDS requisitioned materials and all site-related communication. It was a true partnership between MDS, volunteers, and EMS students and staff.
The walls will be stored at EMS until the foundation in Hurley is prepared. Transportation to Hurley will likely take place in June or July.
In the meantime, Kevin King is already in discussion with other Mennonite secondary schools who hope to offer a similar class in the coming academic year.
E-term in Hurley
Every April, EMS students in grades 6-12 participate in a week of experiential learning on and off campus. This year, for the second time, an EMS group traveled to Hurley to help with MDS projects. Several of this year’s participants were also from the class.
“I wasn’t able to use the power tools in Hurley like I did in class due to safety rules, but it was still so fun to do other jobs and be part of the project. We made a real contribution,” said Lewis Yoder ‘25, a member of the MDS class and E-term.
The students worked hard and found a sense of accomplishment in building a porch and framing a house in the four work days they worked in Hurley.
“I had my doubts when I heard what MDS hoped we could accomplish,” admitted Marsha Thomas, admissions counselor and one of the chaperones. “But they did it and were so pleased with the outcome!”
Other chaperones included Benjamin Bixler, Bible teacher, and Jodi Hertzler, college and career counselor and English teacher. They worked under the direction of an MDS construction foreman.
MDS in Hurley
MDS has been working in Hurley since its assessment of the damage there immediately following the August 31, 2021, flash flood. The storm system dumped over six inches of rain and created mudslides and flooding that destroyed 60 houses and damaged 200 other houses in the region. Find out more about MDS and the Hurley site here.