Union College’s International Rescue and Relief Program has received a grant for $147,750 from the Archie Tonge Education Fund. The grant will purchase two flood water boats, a solar generator and a truck for use in both rescue training and disaster response. “We’re very grateful and plan to use the money to make a big impact both for our students and on the community around us,” said Andrew Saunders, the program director.
This infusion of new equipment will allow the program to offer flood water boat operating classes and flood management classes to students and first responders. Not only will the truck be useful in hauling the boats, it will also accompany Union’s Disaster Response Team on future relief missions around the country. The solar generator will provide the team with power in areas suffering from outages in the wake of disaster.
Saunders believes the new equipment will be particularly useful in expanding training opportunities for community members. Every year, Union College teaches several certification classes geared toward local first responders, and this new equipment will allow the college to expand this community partnership with more certificates. To find rescue training at the same caliber as Union offers, professional rescuers would have to travel as far as Texas or Illinois. “My goal is to create a center of excellence for the Midwest here at Union College,” said Saunders. “All of our rescue classes are up to the national standard, and there’s no one else doing that in our region.”
Flood water training is extremely useful for first responders. “Surprisingly, floods are the most common natural disaster in the world,” said Saunders. “For example, we had a major flood in 2019 here in Nebraska. Several first responders almost died, in part because of lack of training. Having better equipment to train with will be a really great thing, both for local first responders who take our classes and for our students.”
With an emphasis on excellence and community participation in Adventist education, the Archie Tonge Education Fund was created by Dr. Tonge’s family to honor his life of service. In addition to grants that empower innovation in education, the fund also provides college scholarships to graduates of Seventh-day Adventist high schools.
Like the medical and mission work of Dr. Tonge, Saunders believes rescue and relief opens doors to demonstrate the love of God. “When you look at the way Jesus touched lives, you see that He started by feeding, healing, and having conversations,” Saunders said. “The rescue and relief field allows you to be there for someone on the worst day and show them that you care about them as an individual by taking care of their medical needs, feeding them and clothing them. Doing these things, you develop relationships that open doors to saying ‘I’m a Christian, caring is what I believe in doing.’”
“The IRR motto is ‘A career of adventure, a lifetime of service,’ and that’s how we want all our students to approach their careers,” he continued. “Not only can you have a fun job full of adrenaline, but you can also build relationships and take care of people spiritually.”