Harvey Visits the Creek
By Lisa Olson
On Wednesday and Thursday last week our staff were focused on preparing the Hurricane Harvey. By then it was expected to make landfall as a Category 3 storm. We put our boats and canoes in storage, took blobs and inflatable water toys out of waterfront areas, brought in the porch furniture, shade awnings and lifejackets, and added weather stripping to doors with tenuous seals. Crews dug trenches around some of our lowest buildings like the cabins at The W!ld, just in case the rains came too quickly to be absorbed, bringing mud and water.
Our guests who were here for mid-week retreats and camps headed home a little early in anticipation of the storm. Those expected to arrive on Friday and Saturday had cancelled. We let our fire department and county emergency agencies know we were available to help if needed, and waited.
When Hurricane Harvey made landfall at 10:00 pm Friday, August 25 we watched with the nation, heartbroken for our many friends, families and constituents in the path of the storm.
At Carolina Creek we experienced the strong winds that littered our campus with tree limbs and branches. For us, like for many, though, the water is the bigger story. We are right inside what became the northernmost edge of the storm. We got 24 inches of rainfall over the four days that Harvey visited camp. This sent water roaring like trains over the dams that create our fishing pond, recreation lake at Creekside and cable park, but gratefully they all held! We have over two-miles of frontage on the Trinity River and its tributaries. The river came to record height, peaking just below where it might have impacted our buildings. Again, gratitude abounds.
Thank you for your prayers, calls and expressions of concern. Our biggest loss will be revenue from the many groups who have already cancelled and will have to cancel due to the losses they have experienced in their own church or school community in southeast Texas.
In the midst of the storm, on Monday, we got a call from our local community association president asking if we could take some evacuees from our neighborhood. Of course! Hospitality is what we do best. But that’s another story…
By Lisa Olson
Carolina Creek Christian Camps sit just off of FM-3454, also known as Thomas Lake Road, a winding two-lane road that dead-ends across a bridge that leads to Sterling Island. There are several little subdivisions off of either side of Thomas Lake Road, most leading down narrow roads to waterfront properties on the Trinity River and its tributaries. Some are year-round homes occupied by families or retirees enjoying life on the river. Others are weekend get-aways or fishing cabins, enjoyed in shorter bursts by families that have loved them for generations.
The gathering spot on Thomas Lake is the community center which serves as home to the Thomas Lake Road Volunteer Fire Department. This VFD is the heart-beat of the community. Their ‘house’ hosts monthly community dinners, fund-raisers for residents in need, BBQs and fish fries to raise funds for needed equipment, and of course the business meetings and training for the small department.
Everyone knows everyone at the end of Thomas Lake Road, so when Rick, the fire chief, came by on Monday they all greeted him by name. Sterling Island and the adjacent low-lying subdivisions were under a mandatory evacuation, courtesy of Harvey, and Rick and the other volunteers would be by to pick them up in an hour. If they chose to stay, they were told, they should not expect an emergency high-water rescue in the dark of night. For the safety of all an orderly, daylight evacuation was preferred.
No one wanted to go all the way to Huntsville to the emergency shelter in the high school gymnasium. So when it was suggested that they go camping at Carolina Creek the majority of the residents decided to take us up on our invitation.
Twenty-five residents and nearly as many pets, all senior citizens, arrived that afternoon unsure of what to expect. We gathered at Lakeview, the highest of our three camps, and housed guests one family group per cabin, so they had plenty of room and private baths for their family. Lawrence and his crew served three hot, delicious meals each day, complete with our famous salad bar and Eugene’s to-die-for macaroni and cheese. We brought meals to residents who couldn’t get from their cabin to the dining hall easily. They were so grateful.
When it became apparent that the evacuation would be a few days, if not more, we decided to set up the lobby in Flagship as a living room, with soft furniture, couches and chairs, tables for puzzles and games, and a video projector to show movies on the wall. This made the evacuation seem like a retreat or family reunion, as our guests spent most of their time there getting to know one another and sharing their stories. Time together was a great distraction from the storm and rising waters, a relief from worrying about what was happening with their homes.
On Tuesday night our interns put together an entertaining bingo party with prizes and a ‘70s rock play list as background music. Some of the residents who were able to return home that day came back just to enjoy the party! It was a blast. One of the residents said, “If I’d known being evacuated was like going on a vacation I would have done it for the last hurricane!”
By Thursday the last of our evacuees was able to return to their home. While we hope they don’t have the stress of evacuating again soon, we would look forward to having them as our guests again. Harvey helped introduce us to some lovely neighbors we would not otherwise have the privilege of knowing or serving. Even hurricane clouds have silver linings.
In the Nick of Time
By Lisa Olson
Exactly one year ago, during my first meeting with my year-round staff, I shared my desire to participate in our community by supporting staff who would serve with the local volunteer fire department. Like most camps Carolina Creek depends upon the efforts of the local fire department not only to protect our property and facilities, but also to respond to emergencies that involve injuries or critical illness of campers. We can have more than 1,000 people on grounds during the summer season, many with asthma or life-threatening allergies, all of them participating in activities that involve some degree of risk. We rely on the fast and capable attention of our first responders.
In encouraging staff to consider the VFD I mentioned that if anyone would like to become an EMT I would help to find and pay for a course. It made great sense to me to have the first responders for Carolina Creek right on site when needs arise. Plus it would support our community. Only the fire chief was currently responding to medical calls in our area. If he was unavailable then our closest responders were several miles away.
Four of our staff accepted the challenge to take a five-month EMT course offered by the Montgomery County fire department. They spent six hours, two nights a week just traveling to and from and participating in classes, plus untold hours of study. The course involved rotations in local emergency rooms and on ambulances. By the time they passed the course, completed their rotations and prepared for and passed the national certifying exam, they estimate each spent well over 200 hours. This in addition to fulfilling their job responsibilities at camp.
The class started with 20 students. By the end only 8 finished with passing grades, and only 6 had completed their rotations and requirements to take the national test immediately after. I am so proud that 4 of the 6, 100% of the Carolina Creek participants passed with flying colors. They became credentialed EMTs during the first weeks of the summer season and were available to be our first responders to any emergent situation that arose at camp.
They have been making calls in the community throughout the summer, responding to medical calls, traffic incidents and even a grass fire at Carolina Creek that was sparked by the transformer on an electrical pole. No one could have foreseen that Hurricane Harvey would give them an opportunity for even greater service so soon.
In August all four EMTs came to the community dinner to be introduced to our neighbors, so that if they ever responded to a call at their home they wouldn’t be strangers, but recognized as EMTs from Carolina Creek. Each shared a little about themselves and enjoyed the pot-luck dinner and conversation.
So when they got the call, this week, to come do emergency high-water evacuations, and then precautionary evacuations of entire neighborhoods, they were ready.
I am so proud that these four staff (and their families) were willing to go above and beyond to prepare themselves to serve not only our campers but our community. Logan Moyer, Samantha Williams, Mike Erickson and Russell Taylor each deserve our congratulations and our thanks. Camp is safer because of their faithfulness, and the Thomas Lake Road VFD is stronger, better able to serve our community with their help.
Other members of our staff have been training as fire fighters, too. And we all participate in the fund raisers, having a blast cooking, serving and doing what we do best – showing the hospitality of Christ. I am privileged to serve on the Emergency Services District 1 board for Walker County, ensuring that public funds provided for emergency response are spent responsibly by the fire departments in our part of the county.
Our mission, to invite people to experience and know the love of Jesus Christ, is accomplished first in our neighborhood before even one camper comes through the gates. It was a blessing to have staff prepared to serve at this high level just in the nick of time. You have to love it when God does that.