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Reuben VanGilst is using his talent in construction to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

That may not sound unusual, but for the Ottawa-area native this is not a short mission trip. VanGilst, 18, had just finished high school when he decided to work with Disaster Response Services (DRS) of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC). That is unusual. And—even more unusual—he wanted to stay for nine months.

Becky Purdom at DRS says most volunteers work for about three weeks with a team of up to 24 members. Many spend their vacation time on the service project and most are senior citizens.

Once VanGilst’s parents consented to the trip, he worked with Purdom to find the right situation.

In the fall of 2007, he started working with volunteers in Gulfport, La. By February, he was so experienced that the construction supervisor made him a team leader. Now he is moving daily, working on some of the more challenging problems.

He hopes the experience will help the people of Gulfport while giving him valuable skills, as he plans to have a construction business of his own some day.

VanGilst’s quiet demeanor and easy smiles have earned him the love and respect of everyone on site, including the cooks who tease him mercilessly about his girlfriend and make special treats just for him.

Ken Geurink, the project manager in Gulfport, says working with VanGilst has been a pleasure. “He is truly a remarkable young man.”

CRWRC-DRS places thousands of volunteers each year in disaster relief work. To find out more or to volunteer, go to or call 800-848-5818.

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