SAU plays innkeeper, offers labor pool for storm victims, volunteers
Thanks to church groups, and to the sweat of skilled friends, Arthur Bates is rebuilding all that the tornadoes took of his home and property, when they roared through Apison April 27.
"I wouldn't have dreamt there would have been this many good people in the world as there are today," he says.
"It's awesome. I mean the love that people have for each other."
He lost everything but his life. For six weeks, home would be a dorm room at Thatcher Hall, on the campus of Southern Adventist University in Collegedale.
"They offered a place to stay free of charge," Bates says. "Hey, the Lord has blessed me!"
"From housing people, to sending crews out to remove trees, to providing temporary storage, this is probably the biggest disaster we've been part of," SAU Associate Vice President Marty Hamilton tells Eyewitness News.
"This was a big deal for the University."
SAU has played host to FEMA and TEMA. Bedded and boarded faculty and staff members who lost their homes.
Administrators discovered very quickly, that providing facilities was much easier than managing their guests' basic emotional needs.
"I was challenged with really holding back," says Outreach Coordinator Melissa Tortal, a graduate student seeking her Master's in social work.
Her assignment could well have been a field study under fire.
"I just wanted to be here all the time, and give all of my time here"
The volunteers and victims have moved out of Thatcher Hall. But SAU hasn't moved on yet.
Its Physical Education Center will host a benefit for Apison's storm victims July 13. It's expected to draw, and to raise, thousands.
"If anything, this really has reassured me that this is the field I want to get into," Tortal says.
The aftermath has renewed Arthur Bates' faith too. Three crosses stand in his front yard. They're reminders of the neighbors who lost all.
"There's people from Washington State, California, calling me that I haven't heard from four years," he says, choking back tears.