Cullman-area students complete day of service in storm-stricken Lee County

CATA students remove debris from a heavily damaged Lee County property. (Photo courtesy Adriann Basch/CATA)

Story submitted by Melody Basch

CULLMAN, Ala. – Ask someone what they think of the students of today and you will get answers all over the board.  Unfortunately, a lot of it is negative. Teens are described as lazy, rude, lacking respect, with no vision unless it’s in their cell phone from which they never look up.

Apparently, these naysayers have not met a specific group of students who represented all of Cullman County.  Influenced by the news accounts of the devastation, including 23 deaths, on the heels of an EF4 tornado that hit communities in Lee County, Alabama on March 3, several Health Science students from the Cullman Area Technology Academy (CATA) and faculty discussed their desire to help.  Initial attempts had to wait in order for the community to absorb the shock and weigh out the need.

Spring break behind them, the students and faculty set forth to initiate the plan and move forward with the project that weighed heavy on their hearts.  After reaching out to Jeremy Jones of the Lee County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), and two of their board of education members, Gina Ivey and Michelle Rutherford, it was decided that gift cards to local businesses for supplies still in need would be the first step of the process.  

Teresa Fincher, a Cullman County Board of Education employee, was contacted.  Fincher’s servant’s heart and contacts with members of the community jumpstarted the fundraising efforts.  Tracy Smith and Adriann Basch, who head the Health Science department of CATA, started a Facebook campaign to raise monies, supplies and gift cards for the project.  Local Cullman businesses, civic clubs, churches, several area schools and community members all participated in the efforts to help. A Coin Drive was organized campus-wide at CATA with a total of $500 being raised.  On the day the students and several members of the CATA faculty rolled into Lee County, they had in hand, $7,000 in gift card donations. Additionally, with the help of these entities, they were able to give a book bag to EVERY student (approximately 450),still dealing with the tragedy and the loss of several classmates.

With a plan in place, the date of Thursday, April 18 was decided upon.  CATA instructors spoke to students about the expectations for the community service day and the opportunity to volunteer was offered.  In all, 48 students representing all CATA programs stepped up to go. On Monday, April 15, with forecasted severe weather for the 18, it became necessary to change the ‘go’ date to the 17th.  Due to scheduling conflicts and short notice, only 37 of the 48 students were able to go.

Thirty-seven CATA students and five faculty members, along with Deputy Sheriff Ron Wood and George Krigbaum, representing both The American Legion and Cullman Lions Club, arrived at CATA by 4:30 a.m., and by 5 a.m. the group was on its way.  Hanceville Jack’s General Manager Elizabeth Cruz asked the bus to stop by on the way out of town so Jack’s could provide a hearty breakfast for all the workers involved.

Cruz messaged the students that morning, stating, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of our God’s varied grace. 1 Peter 4:10…Let their lights shine so bright and God be the glory in all they do!”

There was a concern that because of the change in date and short notice there might not be enough time to be the most beneficial to those in need.  Through a Cullman connection with Dr. Rusty Sowell, pastor of Providence Baptist Church, CATA students were introduced to church member Priscilla (Prissy) Goodson, an advocate/asset/friend of the Beauregard community.   Goodson is in tune with the everyday needs of those in her community, emotionally, physically or financially. Michael Gay, CATA’s engineering instructor, described her as being the “true heartbeat of the community.” She coordinated the group with two families in great need of assistance at their properties.

As citizens of Cullman County can attest, much like the tornadoes of April 27, 2011, there is still much work to be done in Lee County.  Long after the news moves on to do other stories, Red Cross transfers to another disaster, and volunteers have returned home, devastation still remains.  At 4:30 a.m. on the morning of April 17, 2019 students from all communities of Cullman boarded a bus and headed for Lee County with one purpose. One team with one goal: to serve those in need.  Typically, with this age group, students tend to want to only work with those whom they are associated. Not on this day! Without any prompting, all students and adults got off the bus and went to work as one team.  Teens from both city and county worked diligently to provide the most benefit to the families who were affected. For the first family, it was cleaning/hauling large amounts of remaining debris and picking up what was left of their homes.

Tim White, CATA Precision Machine instructor;   Tim Melton, CATA Auto Mechanic instructor; and Gay headed up efforts to remove trees and large limbs, as well as foundation blocks from the property.  

On to the second, a building had imploded upon itself leaving all the contents piled under the walls of a shed. The team coordinated its efforts and was able to move the walls and old shelving units, in order to help the gentleman go through his belongings.  Volunteers were able to pull from the debris those items he held so dear. They were then able to aid him in securing his treasures from the elements.

The dedication and work ethic of this group did not go unnoticed in the community.  The East Alabama Medical Center provided a complimentary lunch to every volunteer and to the family of the residence where the team was working.  The EAMC staff, experiencing the enthusiasm of these teens, were supportive and provided words of encouragement to the students, specifically regarding the pursuit of their dreams in their selected careers.

As mentioned earlier, so many times today the news we hear about schools and today’s youth is negative.  This proved to be what is good and right about education and the occasion that allowed tomorrow’s leaders to be blessed by blessing others.  The CATA students displayed strong work ethic, compassion and grateful hearts for being given this opportunity to serve. No task was too big for this group of young adults, and despite the conditions under which they were working, each student kept a positive attitude throughout the entire day.  All of Cullman should be proud of each student who worked to make a difference in a community that so desperately needs support.

CATA students and faculty involved would like to give great appreciation to Cullman County Board of Education, Superintendent, Dr. Shane Barnette and CATA CTE Director William Troutman.  From day one of the planning period to the moment we arrived back to our campus from Lee County, they continued to show their overwhelming support of this endeavor. We are truly grateful.

A summary of the day is best described by CATA students Tamela James and Destiny Hunt.

Hunt shared, “The trip was exhausting but so worth it! I’m so glad we could give back to those precious families.”

Stated James,, “I just can’t go without saying that this trip has been so eye-opening and such a blessing in so many ways.  You don’t realize what all you have to be thankful for until you see something so tragic! I just wanted to say that I’m so grateful for this opportunity to show God’s love to those people and want to ask that everyone keep them in your prayers as they continue to clean up devastation physically and mentally.”


CATA Faculty

Adriann Basch, Health Science Instructor

Michael Gay, Engineering Instructor

Tim Melton, Auto Service Technology

Tracy Smith, Health Science Instructor

Tim White, Precision Machining Technology


CATA Student Volunteers

  • Cullman High School

Garrett Evans, Braxton Lynn, Garrett Smith

  • Fairview High School

Saydi Clowers, Chase Dupree, Avery Hill, Destiny Hunt, Lexi Jacobs, Hunter Needham

  • Good Hope High School

Hope Bagwell, Jolie Bowden, Matthew Kraus, Margarito Prado-Aguirre

  • Hanceville High School

John Converse & Gracie Simmons

  • Vinemont High School

Ethan Boyd, Gracie Kennedy, Emily Mathis, Chandler Reese

  • West Point High School

Yulissa Dios, Tia Duke, Destiny Griffin, Tamela James, Kaitlyn Layton, Valerie Lee, Amber Livingston, Ty Manley, Misty Mealer, Ashton Mitchell, Bailey Richey, McKenna Sharpton, Lilly Trussell, Nikki Trussell, Andrew Tucker, Alexz Wilkins, Haylee Wright, Justis Freeman

CATA students, teachers and staffers prepare to leave for Lee County in the early morning hours of Wednesday, April 17.  (Photo courtesy Adriann Basch/CATA)