(EDITOR'S NOTE: Home-Grown Missions profiles missionaries, both full- and part-time, who grew up in area churches. As part of an on-going series, letters home from those serving on the mission field occasionally also will be published.)
MILL HALL - "Sharing Hope (Ministries) is a bridge between volunteers and those in need," explained founder Bill Toner, 51. "We have the volunteers and they call us and we get them to those that need the help."
He and his wife, Cindy, began the organization after helping with Hurricane Katrina cleanup. They did not set out to start Sharing Hope Ministries, but as they continued to set up volunteers with places they heard needed help, they knew they would need to form an organization.
Cindy, left, and Bill Toner.
Seven years later, they have volunteers in 11 states.
"After Katrina, we didn't know if it would continue," Cindy, 51, said.
Yet they have continued strong, spending a winter in Galveston, Texas, after it was hit by Hurricane Ike.
NAME: Bill and Cindy Toner
HOME CHURCH: Crossroads
Community Church, 1454 Route 44, Jersey Shore
HOMETOWN: Mill Town
HIGH SCHOOL: Jersey Shore
Area School District
Sharing Hope Ministries
START DATE: 2005
"Thankfully, not a whole lot happened (in 2010)," Cindy said.
The Toners have been sending volunteers to help with flooding repairs in nearby counties since Tropical Storm Lee last year. They've worked mostly in Lycoming, Sullivan and Columbia counties.
"Bill's working with homeowners who lost their homes," she said. "Helping them to rebuild."
Before helping during Hurricane Katrina, the Toners traveled outside the country, often to the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
They sought to do trips in the United States because they kept hearing people ask them why they did not help their own country.
Bill explained that if people would visit outside of the country, they would see that the level of poverty in the United States was not as bad as it is in other countries.
They decided to take teams to help in Hurricane Katrina, thinking that if they started helping in the country, people would be more inclined to help outside of the country.
The hardest part for Bill is finding people who want to help, although the number of volunteers has grown.
"A lot of people do it here that wouldn't do it (outside of the country)," Bill said.
Part of that comes from people being afraid of what dangers await them in different countries around the world.
"It frustrates me because I want people to get what we do," Bill said. "Do we look like two adventurous people?"
Almost 30 people volunteered to help after Hurricane Katrina. Bill helped build 35 new houses over two years, teaming with the Christian-based organization, International Disaster Emergency Service.
They partner with organizations that already have raised money and clean out the muck.
"From there, it's total rebuild," Cindy said.
Earlier this week, they left for Henryville, Ind., with a group of volunteers to help those affected by a series of serve storms and tornadoes in March. More than 1,300 households were damaged. Thirteen people were killed. Many more people had minor to severe damages. More than 60 houses were damaged beyond repair.
While the organization does not raise a lot of money, that which is raised helps people in need. None of it goes for travel costs, which people are expected to raise on their own.
The second year a group of volunteers went to the Dominican, the group baked more than 1,000 dozen Christmas cookies to help the 18 people going, Cindy said.
One of the fundraisers the organzation has each year either the week before or after the Fourth of July is an auction.
The proceeds from the auction fund some of the projects, with many of the items that are donated. Volunteers from the Amish community provide a selection of food. It is held at the Clinton County Fairgrounds.
A lot of the volunteers that help with the projects are Amish or Mennonite, which helps with Bill's schedule. Bill, who is a rock picker, has the winter free, so many of the trips are in the colder months.
Summertime is too busy for the Amish and Mennonite to volunteer as they ready their farms.
Bill began their trips out of the country when he sat in a men's group in his church, Crossroads Community Church, listening to a speaker talk about mission trips. Before that, he never even thought about it.
"I knew when I got home that I needed to go," Bill said. "We all wanted to go to the Dominican the first time."
That included Bill, Cindy and their children, whom now have grown, with families of their own.
What inspires Cindy to continue going on the trips is 1 John 3:18 - "Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth."
When she reads about the ministry Jesus did, including healing the sick and blind, raising the dead and feeding thousands, she said what is more important in the stories is His love.
"He loved these people enough to do everything in His power to make it better," Cindy said. "He entered into their suffering and loved them right there. That is what he is calling each of us to do - reach out to others in their sufferings and love them the way He did."
The most rewarding part of helping for Bill is seeing how shocked people are that others want to help them. He recalled helping on Route 87 after last year's flooding.
" 'What do you mean you want to help and not charge me?' " he said. "And watching how God makes everything happen."
As time goes on, they would like to start leading groups for other churches, especially ones that might not have a way to send missionaries into the field.
"We want to venture into this slowly since we still have to do this thing called work, also," Cindy said. "We believe that God is preparing us to help mobilize the church to do His work and we are interested in assisting others who feel God is leading them to minister to others through short-term missions - locally, nationally and internationally. "
To find out more information, volunteer or receive a newsletter, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Spaces still are available for a trip to Haiti from Dec. 29 to Jan. 4.