COMMUNITY GEMS: Union couple serves others after disasters

Burt and Helen Wolf participate in mission trips, arrange them for others

Helen Wolf grew up with food, shelter and the loving support of others.

“Since I had those blessings, I feel like I want to give, I want to share, I want to help make life better for someone else,” she said.

Helen, 71, and her husband, Burt, 79, are coordinators for Brethren Disaster Ministries’ Southern Ohio and Kentucky District, which helps survivors of natural disasters. In addition to organizing mission trips for others, both have participated in more than 60 themselves, from Colorado to New Jersey, from Michigan to Florida.

The Union couple is responsible for sending volunteers to disaster sites for one-week trips, ten times each year. Last year 125 volunteer slots were filled with their help.

The Wolfs have been coordinators for 12 years, but they were introduced to the ministry far earlier. Burt went on his first trip through the ministry after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. Later, Helen became the liaison between the Church of the Brethren’s district board and the disaster ministries’ group.

In 2011, they both retired – Helen as a teacher at Milton-Union Elementary, while Burt had previously served as a pastor at several different Church of the Brethren locations. They wanted to participate in a ministry together after retirement, but they weren’t sure what form that would take, Helen said.

They became coordinators in 2013, and Burt said that the volunteer work is an extension of their faith.

“Christ calls us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves,” he said.

In serving others, the Wolfs personify the meaning of their church and denomination, said Andrew Wright, the coordinating pastor at Oakland Church of the Brethren in Bradford who nominated the couple as Dayton Daily News Community Gems at the suggestion of Ross Gruber, a fellow member of the church.

“They live out their beliefs in what they do,” said Wright, who called the couple generous, kind and sincere.

Brethren Disaster Ministries also includes Children’s Disaster Services, which provides trained volunteers to care for kids while their parents complete necessary tasks after being affected by a disaster. But the Wolfs, who have been married for 38 years, work on the rebuilding efforts.

Those tasks may include repairing siding, flooring, drywall and trim work. Helen often works in the kitchen, feeding the volunteers. The sites involve a collaboration of agencies to smooth the recovery process.

Closer to home, they also were volunteers after the Memorial Day tornadoes in 2019. Many volunteers who were unable to participate in a weeklong trip elsewhere would show up to help for a day or two – or many more.

“Having had that experience in our own backyard has definitely given us a whole new perspective,” Helen said.

In addition to the mission trips, the pair also fundraises and works with Church World Service to put together school kits, hygiene kits and emergency clean up buckets.

The ministry not only helps disaster survivors, but it also provides volunteers with meaningful mission trips that enrich their lives, Helen said.

“We go to serve and wanting to help others, and that we do,” she said. “But we receive so much ourselves.”

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