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Shepherdstown resident helps with hurricane devastation recovery in St. Thomas

By Staff | Feb 9, 2018

Courtesy photo An All Hands and Hearts volunteer stands on the ruins of a house in St. Thomas; only the kitchen sink remains after last year’s devastating hurricanes. Adkins has been volunteering there since January.

It’s been five months since the U.S. Virgin Islands were slammed with back-to-back hurricanes, and there are still many people displaced and areas without power. Hurricane Irma, a rare category 5, hit the Virgin Islands on Sept. 6, 2017. Two weeks later, category 4 Hurricane Maria pummeled the Virgin Islands, destroying much of what was left.

The islands are still dealing with the aftermath of that one-two punch, and Shepherdstown resident Charles “Skip” Adkins is lending a hand with recovery.

Adkins is volunteering with a natural disaster response organization called All Hands and Hearts, which provides immediate as well as long-term disaster response.

Adkins, a retired electrician and construction worker, left in mid-January, and won’t be back until April, according to his personal assistant, Tara Keller.

“Skip wanted to go down there to give back,” Keller said. “He has experience in the (construction) field and really thought he could be an asset.”

Courtesy photo One of the many decimated houses sits in ruins on the island of St. Thomas.

Adkins and the team he’s working with spend each day mucking out and gutting houses, averaging one per day, according to Keller. In addition to the work he’s doing, Adkins has pledged to raise $5,000 to help the organization pay for other workers to come to St. Thomas.

According to Adkins, hosting each volunteer on the work site costs $48 per day. That money pays for everything from protective equipment and tools, to food, water and transportation. All of this is provided free to the homeowner – it would normally cost them about $23,000, according to Adkins.

“We really are saving folks an incredible amount of money down here, in addition to all the intangible benefits of being available to help a person process through some of the most difficult trauma of many of their lives,” Adkins said via email.

As of this writing, Adkins has reached $3,580 of his goal.

Adkins and other volunteers are in a communal living situation at a church that donated space. Adkins’ first order of business was to build simple-frame bunk beds in order to house as many volunteers as possible.

“He’s washing his clothes in a bucket and living very simply,” said Keller. “He’s really sacrificing. He’s never lived this way and it’s humbling for him to step back and realize all the things we take for granted.”

Many of the locals are responding positively to the efforts, according to Adkins.

“The more time spent there, the more the residents are recognizing the purple shirts that all of the volunteers wear,” Adkins said. “All Hands is the only nonprofit doing mucking and gutting of individual homes … They are first helping homes belonging to elderly, homes with children and first responders’ homes.”

She said most of the homeowners are working with volunteers, unless they’re elderly or busy working as first responders. According to Adkins, “Most residents are still living in their condemned homes, as there is no other place to go if they don’t have a friend or relative in an unaffected area to stay with.”

It’s probably no surprise to locals that Adkins is giving his time to help others; he’s well-known in Shepherdstown for his generosity. He has made donations to help the ash trees at Morgan’s Grove Park, helped with donations to the guitar festival held at Shepherd and has helped extensively with the Bodice Project, a not-for-profit sculptural exhibition that promotes emotional healing through the arts for women and men facing breast cancer and life after treatment.

Those wishing to contribute to Adkins’ fundraising efforts can donate online at give.hands.org/fundraiser/1243642.