However, in the midst of their tribulations, 71-year-old Gerald Harshbarger and his wife, Barbara, have witnessed blessings as well as Bartow County's church community has rallied around them. On Thursday, hopelessness and rising water were replaced with generosity and SPLASH Bartow volunteers, as a handicap ramp was constructed for their new residence.
"If it wasn't for people at the church, I wouldn't know what to do. They built the decks, front and back," he said, referring to First Baptist Church of Emerson's contributions. "And now [SPLASH Bartow is] building a ramp for us. They've just been a blessing from God. ... I'm so proud of the kids and I'm proud of the church. They have been a lifesaver."
The 12 youths at the Harshbarger residence were among more than 370 middle- and high-school students participating in SPLASH Bartow Tuesday through Friday. The in-county mission work provided assistance, ranging from construction projects to yard maintenance at residences, schools and nonprofits, such as The Salvation Army, Bartow County Women's Resource Center, Boys & Girls Clubs of Bartow County, Advocates for Children, Bartow Give a Kid a Chance and the Summer Hill Recreation Complex.
In its third year, SPLASH -- Show People Love and Share Him -- featured about 200 adult volunteers and more than 35 churches of various sizes and denominations. Taking shelter at The Church at Liberty Square, Grace Baptist, Rowland Springs Baptist and Tabernacle Baptist at night, the participants also attended worship services and some led Backyard Bible Clubs at the Burnt Hickory and Friendly Lane mobile home communities.
For Kennesaw State University Sophomore Ben Curlee, serving as a SPLASH team leader was an opportunity to grow in his faith and community awareness. During the week, his 10-member team conducted a basketball camp, sorted donations at The Salvation Army and completed yard work for an elderly Cartersville resident.
"Books couldn't hold the amount of things I've learned," said Curlee, a member of Atco Baptist Church in Cartersville. "It's been really an amazing and eye-opening experience for me. You don't [normally] see a Baptist church work necessarily with a Pentecostal church or a Methodist church with a Presbyterian church but this week you see that. You see a lot of cooperation between denominations.
"I see people's lives being changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm seeing huge impacts. In my life, it's opened my eyes to the needs of our town and the needs of various people here. It's just been amazing and it makes you really want to go out and make an even bigger difference every day, not just one week of the year."
Curlee's experience is common among many SPLASH participants, who annually voice intentions to continue their volunteer work, said SPLASH Executive Director David Franklin.
"Probably the biggest thing I've seen come from SPLASH is these kids have gone back to their churches and say we want to do this all the time," said Franklin, who also serves as the associational missionary for Bartow Baptist Association. "So different churches [and their] men's ministries have gotten with the kids and they go out and do [volunteer projects]. We've had a whole group of teenagers that have said, 'I'm making a commitment to do this for a lifetime.' ... The theme this year is Give Yourself Away.
"The world says to them, 'It's all about me. It's all about me. It's all about me. Live for yourself. Live for yourself.' We're trying to teach these kids life is more than just 'me, me, me.' It's about God and it's about others. What we hope to do is to create a generation and a culture that says you know what, life is more fun when you do things for others."
In addition to Bartow's event more than doubling in participation since its first year, the concept of SPLASH is expanding into other communities, with Macon and Chattooga County implementing programs this year.
"I've actually spoken this year in multiple states [like] Texas and Alabama and all over and have been asked to talk about [SPLASH] because it's so unusual for people to work together in such a large way, locally," Franklin said. "Most of the time people go off to do [mission work] but this is local. Here's what sets it apart from all of the stuff I've done in the past and I've been all over the world -- it's a local mission experience using local people from across denominational lines with multiple churches.
"Those four things set this apart in an unusual way. Most people don't work across denominational lines and it's not because they don't like each other it's just because everybody's got their own thing going on and that's very unusual. To have kids coming from this number of churches is pretty amazing."