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Shabbona students travel to Washington to help with tornado cleanup

MORRIS – Shabbona Middle School Honor Society students are required to give back to the community, whether locally or globally.

That’s what led 37 honor society students and 12 parents to load a bus May 15 and take the nearly 90-mile trek to Washington, Illinois, which was devastated by a tornado last November, to help the community with cleanup efforts.

“The kids are always looking for extra service projects,” teacher Denise Bach said. “The Diamond cleanup was so fast it wasn’t in the cards for them to help.”

Bach said she found out through her sister that help was still needed in Washington, and the help was being coordinated through Bethany Community Church in Washington.

The students and parents were split into groups and sent to two homes in Washington – one that was leveled to the ground, and another which was extremely damaged and being gutted inside and out.

“We helped pick up shingles and small objects on the ground in their yard,” said Elizabeth Vejr, who was at the home being gutted. “They said they were very happy they were getting help, and they were surprised how many of us were there.”

Like many people, Vejr had never seen firsthand the after effects of a tornado other than on television.

“It’s shocking,” she said. “It’s very devastating to see.”

Bach said homeowners give information to the church on what they need and how many people they need to help with their individual cleanup, and the church tries to find a group of volunteers who can help them.

“It was awesome,” Bach said. “The kids did great and they got a lot out of it.”

Ryan Beasley said it’s only right to help others in their time of need.

“I wanted to do it because if it happened in our town people from miles around would help, we wouldn’t be on our own,” Beasley said.

He helped at the home that was leveled by cleaning up pieces of the house that were still on the property.

“The wife was home where I was helping,” he said. “When she saw everyone there she broke down in tears. It makes me feel good inside to help.”

Associate Principal Tom McLaughlin said it was a great learning experience for the students who went.

“Not all learning takes place in the classroom,” he said. “Something like that has more impact. They get to see how they can help the community.”

Bach said the students had a giving spirit while they worked to help clean the properties.

“They were so intent on finding belongings for them in the debris,” Bach said.

One homeowner collected fishing lures, and when a student would find one, she said they were so excited to return it to him for his collection.

Washington still has a lot of cleanup to be done.

“The aerial view we saw, the tornado took out half of the town,” Beasley said. “Months later, there are still things to do.”

Bach said with so much to be done, she’s heard from a couple of the students they plan to go back with their families to help again.

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