JACKSON, Tenn. – May 5, 2003 – A group of six Union University students didn't hesitate to lend a helping hand to a victim of the May 5 tornadoes that devastated widespread parts of the city and left at least 16 people dead.
In the hours after the disaster, Union University President David S. Dockery encouraged students to help clean up the moderately-damaged campus and pray for the victims of the twisters.
Kristen Sayres, a 19-year-old freshman from Collierville, Tenn., decided to take the president's one step further and help out a 1987 graduate of Union University.
"I decided to call a woman that I babysit for," Sayres said. "She is a widow and had some trees that fell down in her backyard. There wasn't anyone to help her out."
The woman, Dianne Payne, initially declined the invitation, but Sayres didn't take no for an answer.
"I called five of my friends and we decided to spend the morning cleaning up her yard and knocking down those trees," Sayres said.
So Sayres, Kathleen Lokey, Brandon Nelms, Brad Spencer, Emily Boecking and Amanda Johnston put on their work clothes, some sturdy gloves and headed out to Mrs. Payne's home.
"At first she was reluctant," Sayres said. "She thought we would be too busy with schoolwork, but I told her we would come over anyway."
When they Union students arrived, they discovered that the damage to Mrs. Payne's backyard was worse than they expected.
"There were these huge, old trees that had fallen over," Sayres said. "We were able to clear them out with the help of Dianne's father and his saw."
The Union team managed to clean out the backyard in about two hours earning praise from Mrs. Payne's father.
"He said that he was going to have to take back what he said about the younger generation being lazy," Sayres said.
Mrs. Payne, whose husband recently died of a sudden illness, said she was genuinely grateful for the Union students.
"I thought it was just wonderful," she said. "It is unreal in today's society for college students to give their time for something like this. My husband passed away recently and these students have been extra supportive."
For the Union students, it was simply an opportunity to give back to the community. "People in the community came and helped all of us out when the tornado hit our campus last year," Lokey said. "This is a way to help others and It's nice helping someone else."
"It's servant hood," Lokey added. "We are commanded to serve as Christ served us."