The lure of the Gulf Coast and spring break are drawing Texas teenagers this week, but for some this mission is less about sun or sand and more about spirit.
“We gave up our spring break to help clean up, and to show the people here we care,” said Mandy Moore, 18, one of nine Shady Oaks Baptist Church teenagers among 400 youths helping clean up damage this week in the storm-wracked coastal city of Rockport.
Sure, they've run barefoot along the beach. And they've splashed in the Gulf waves.
After all, this is spring break.
But by day, they've also pulled brush and tree limbs off broken fences and out of ditches. They've gutted the moldy Sheetrock from ruined homes.
“We cleaned up a home that hadn't even been touched yet — it was just completely trashed,” adult volunteer Allison Taylor said by phone Tuesday.
“The destruction that's still here is just incredible.”
Instead of a beachfront hotel, the boys slept in a giant tent outside First Baptist Church of Rockport. Girls slept on cots double-stacked in house trailers.
“People don't realize there's so much left here to do,” said Cindy Powell of Rockport, helping the church coordinate the visitors.
“We had one group of young people today who dismantled a house by hand. They didn't have any tools, so they just started pulling it apart to clear it.”
Taylor said she was amazed to see debris stacked as high as cars along the road to Rockport.
“These young people are getting a chance to work together and to see the people in need,” she said.
“They're amazed to see this kind of devastation right here in their home state.”
Some of the homes come with human stories and hearts broken by the destruction of Hurricane Harvey.
The church youth spent part of one day clearing debris from a 79-year-old resident's chain-link fence.
“She was this little old lady who needed help,” said Alison Tolsdorf, 16, a junior at Bell High School in Hurst.
Taylor said the woman insisted on joining the teens and trying to help.
“We told her she needed sunscreen and a hat,” Taylor said, “but she said she wanted to stay and thank us.”
Tolsdorf said she learned more about Harvey, but also about herself.
“I'm bringing back a better work ethic,” she said, adding that hers “wasn't super great.”
“Now we've done all this manual labor,” she said: “I know God is in my heart and pushing me through all that pain.”
They're bringing back much more than a sunburn.
Bud Kennedy, 817-390-7538; @BudKennedy