ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ)– Altoona Area Softball teammates and their family members started their new year by heading down south to help the victims of the Kentucky tornadoes.

The Kentucky tornadoes took place on Dec. 10 and took the lives of 78 people. It left thousands of others homeless or without power.

Matthew and Abby Smearman was one of the father-daughter duos that took part in the volunteering efforts from Jan. 1 to 5. They both described the few days as a life-changing experience.

This trip was first mentioned by Abby’s softball coach, who found it through Samaritan’s Purse. However, when Abby approached her father with the idea, he was concerned. He was worried about Abby’s mental health when first encountering the devastation.

Luckily, they traveled those 11 hours to Mayfield, Kentucky, one of the hardest hit.

Neither of them couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Matthew called it “gut-wrenching” and apocalyptic traveling through the town and seeing nothing but debris. Abby was speechless because she wasn’t aware of how much a tornado could do to a town.

“I was literally in shock,” Abby said. “I didn’t know how to react. I just kind of sat there and stared at the damage, and it was crazy.”

“We literally went over a bridge to enter the town of Mayfield, and it was a swath about two miles wide of total devastation,” Matthew said.

The group volunteered outside the main area where the devastation occurred. They woke at 6:30 to have their breakfast, and within an hour, they were down at the job site. Abby described that she mainly spent her time cleaning up the debris from the houses’ side and cutting metal. Matthew had a similar experience, but he also chopped trees sitting on top of the houses.

“Their yards needed a lot of work,” Abby said.” There were a lot of trees down and just debris. We helped clear some of that stuff out. I was cutting metal. Some of the dads were cutting trees.”

Both of them said it was heartbreaking to listen to their stories of that evening. Matthew said they would sign a bible and say a prayer before hearing their point of view.

One experience that touched Matthew was taking part in a baptism of a child whose father died in one of the factories affected. He described that he choked up the entire time, and it stood with him for the rest of that day. Despite being emotional, he said it motivated him to help them even more.

“It was great to be a part, even a small part of it for a couple of days,” Matthew said. “I could tell anyone that’s on the fence about donating their time to do this because people in need really need people’s help.”

Abby has done other forms of volunteering before but never anything like this experience. Looking at the houses and speaking with the homeowners made her understand even more how appreciative she is to have everything she has.

“It was life-changing for me just to see how a tornado works and just to see how it can destroy a town,” Abby said. “Also how it affects people, and that was really the life-changing thing for me, and just to be more appreciative of what I have.”

Matthew is glad that they drove the way down despite the hesitancy at first. It’s something he and Abby can bond over forever. He looks at this experience as a life lesson to both of them, finding it important to look in another’s world.

“For situational awareness, I think it’s great that people understand what’s going on outside of your world or your normalcy,” Matthew said. “A lot of people are struggling, and a lot of people need people like us to pitch in and help. So, I’m super proud that we did it, and we’ll probably do it again.”

Abby said that when she heads to college in the fall, she plans to continue volunteering and helping others.

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