College students from Ohio are giving up their spring break to help wildfire victims start over.
A group of 11 international students from Miami University in Middletown, Ohio, drove more than 300 miles to Gatlinburg to spend the week rebuilding a home. When they first heard of the wildfires, they knew they wanted to help.
"We felt it was necessary to come and help because the devastation of the fires from November were just so tremendous," Crystal Ford, coordinator of the trip, said.
The students contacted Live-It Ministries, a local non-profit that started serving low-income families in Sevier County seven years ago.
Live-It Ministries obtained a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home on Mannis Hollow Drive in Gatlinburg three years ago. Built in the 1960’s, the home was abandoned after a small fire. Now the ministry is salvaging the house, turning it into a reduced-rate rental property for a family that lost their home in the wildfires. Live-It Ministry will take care of upkeep and the insurance and taxes on the property.
“There’s not a lot of rental properties right now, so this home will really go to serve a need,” Paul Danis, founder and president of Live-It Ministries, said.
"It's nice to see that instead of going to the beach, they come to the mountains where there is so much need and are willing to serve in this capacity," Danis added.
For most of the students on the trip, building a house is a new experience.
"This is a great experience for me because I never did this while I was in China or Taiwan," Amy Lu, an international student from Taiwan, said.
She heard about the wildfires and wanted to give back in some way.
"I can imagine if American students were in China or Taiwan, they would help the local people," Lu said.
"They are learning a lot about this region, the people, the richness of the culture and heritage here, but they're also learning about giving back," Ford added.
The group from Miami University is the third spring break group to volunteer their time rebuilding. The Ministry is in the process of interview families to live in the home. They hope to have construction finished by mid-April so the family can move in by the end of that month.