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Hope Village volunteers help heal Minot's 'hopeless feeling'

An office in Hope Village shows where different units are stationed on the lot in Minot.

MINOT -- Maggie Hulberg said June 22, 2011, was just a beautiful day "with a very helpless and hopeless feeling."

With a rising Souris River a block away, her home was boxed in by levees, leaving her two-story home at the mercy of Mother Nature.

And the sirens went off.

"The siren said, 'Now you're done, leave your house and we'll see what happens,'" Hulberg said.

Hulberg said she will never forget the image of a National Guard soldier running from home to home telling families they had to evacuate.

Her daughter, Betsy, remembers the moments before the siren sounded, packing up some items, but moving most to the top floor of their home.

"Up until the sirens, you are running on adrenaline trying to put stuff in different places. Once the siren hit, the adrenaline shut off and you felt sick to your stomach," Betsy Hulberg said.

But just over a year after water ripped through their home, they found hope and a renewed faith.

The women were directed to Hope Village, a nonprofit partnership among mainly faith-based organizations that provides volunteers who offer assistance at flood-impacted homes throughout the city.

They soon had strangers from around the country walking in and out of their home, helping tear down the water-soaked walls and rebuilding it like new.

"They brought their hammers and hugs that said, 'You're not alone and we are here with you,'" Maggie said.

As time went on, the Hulbergs would meet new Hope Village volunteers and eventually establish friendships with them.

Maggie and Betsy vividly remember the day Finnley, Betsy's now 4-year-old daughter, turned on the water in the bathroom after volunteers finished installing the sink and cabinetry.

"It was wonderful seeing a group of men with big smiles on their face because they gave her water," Maggie said.

One group adopted Finnley as a congregation and sent two bags full of Christmas gifts.

"For them to only see a picture and hear a couple of stories and to see the impact that had on them to adopt her was really amazing," Maggie said.

Pastor Paul Krueger helped create Hope Village, the area outside Our Savior Lutheran Church consisting of trailers where up to 160 volunteers can shower, sleep, eat and plan their work.

He said many Minot residents have found friendships with Hope Village volunteers.

The nonprofit has closed 400 cases where volunteers have done everything the homeowner has asked for. They have 100 cases left to meet their goal of helping at 500 homes, plus an additional 20.

"Where volunteers have been there is a great admiration and appreciation," Krueger said. "The end result we enjoy is to be with a family as they walk in their home and say thank you. To step into the home with the family for a first time after you have done so much and look around is like a gift."

More than 3,600 volunteers from 28 states and three Canadian provinces have traveled to Minot to help with flood recovery through Hope Village.

Krueger said the volunteers "are nothing short of phenomenal."

"Because our hearts and dreams are to help people in need, they are coming to Minot," he said. "It's a place of meaningful work."

Bill and Cheryl Wessels of Arkansas were two of about 220 volunteers in Minot over the past two weeks. The couple were working on two projects, installing windows and siding at one of them.

The two are NOMADS, Nomads On a Mission Active in Divine Service. The organization is an arm of the United Methodist Church made up of otherwise retired people who travel around the country in a recreational vehicle "to allow Christ to do His work through NOMADS hands," according to one of the group's purpose statements.

Bill Wessels said they have traveled to help after hurricanes, fires and tornadoes -- Minot was their first flood.

"We feel like we have been extremely blessed, and this is our way to give back for all the blessings we have received," he said. "We've sat with people and listened to their stories about losing their life possessions in a blink of an eye, and that just strikes a soft spot in our heart and we want to help those people."

Krueger said Hope Village has developed into an organization that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has looked to as a model for a volunteer disaster recovery organization.

Hope Village has spent upwards of $9 million that has come from grants and contributions.

"We said at the beginning we were building an airplane while flying it," Krueger said. "Now, in our second year, we are a whole lot closer to operating as a well-organized machine."

As a result of Hope Village, the Hulbergs only have some trimwork, carpet and a few small odds and ends to complete.

Maggie said she's eternally grateful for the organization's work and now tries to help out with other flood victims when she can, something she wouldn't have done before.

For instance, as volunteers work on the home across the street, she leaves her garage door open so they can use her bathroom.

"We've learned a lot about generosity and spirit," she said.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.