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World Renew Celebrates 50 Years of Disaster Response Services

July 20, 2022

World Renew staff and volunteers have been offering hope and restoration to disaster survivors for 50 years through World Renew Disaster Response Services(DRS). They’re celebrating this milestone with a seven-city tour.

In five U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, tour organizers are bringing together supporters, volunteers, and staff in open-house style gatherings at churches and schools to celebrate work that’s been ongoing since 1972.

In that year World Renew – then the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee – appointed Neil Molenaar as its first domestic program director. His job included training deacons in planning and carrying out community outreach service projects, and in developing approaches to help communities affected by disasters.

When a major flood caused destruction and loss of life in a South Dakota city in the summer of 1972, Molenaar went to provide what assistance he could. He spoke with survivors, heard their stories, and quickly realized he would need help to reach more people, assess needs, and connect people with resources. Gratefully, eight people from Grand Rapids, Mich., volunteered to join him, and they became the first team to serve in what would become Disaster Response Services.

Since then, tens of thousands of volunteers have worked with DRS to carry out needs assessments, clean up debris and flood damage, rebuild homes, and bring hope to people going through difficult circumstances in the weeks and years following a disaster.

Volunteers have served as individuals, couples, families, and church groups in the aftermath of more than 300 disasters, partnering with local long-term recovery organizations to best serve the needs of each community. Together they have rebuilt or repaired over 7,000 homes.

In 1980, volunteers began wearing the green shirts that continue to identify team members today as they serve in clean-up and restoration. Many past volunteers have kept their green shirts, often signed by teammates, as a reminder of their time serving together.

Char Glass attended one of the tour stops earlier this year and responded, “Thank you so much for the wonderful reunion! How we relived the ‘best’ years as we again saw the people who meant so much as we worked together! God bless World Renew!”

Another participant, Mary Dracht, exclaimed, “Thank you for the wonderful party! It was so much fun to reconnect with so many people and to see so many people hugging each other and laughing! A refrain I heard over and over was, ‘They were the best years of my/our life!’ May the Lord continue to bless the efforts of World Renew!”

So far, DRS tour gatherings have taken place in Ripon, Calif.; Byron Center, Mich.; and Lynden, Wash. Upcoming dates are set for Edmonton, Alta.; Hamilton, Ont.; Pella, Iowa; and Castle Rock, Colo.

“50 years is a significant milestone, and we are touring North America to celebrate all the homes and the lives rebuilt after disasters,” shared Bob Laarman, director of Disaster Response Services. “It's been wonderful to see volunteers reconnect with one another and recollect on their volunteer trips together after many years. Not only are we celebrating 50 years of DRS; we are looking forward to a hopeful future. We encourage you to join us to learn about our ministry and team up with us on the field!”