Stories of Change


Home in Mayfield Kentucky destroyed by recent tornados

In the Face of Disaster, a Community Comes Together

When Sabrina decided to make the dangerous journey from her home in Guatemala to the United States, she knew she would face new challenges. She had to leave behind her family and friends and establish herself in a city where the only person she knew was her older sister, Valentina. She also knew that she would face difficulties due to language barriers. Sabrina grew up speaking a Mayan language of Guatemala called K’iche’ and spoke limited Spanish and no English.

What Sabrina did not expect, however, was the community of other K’iche’ speaking Guatemalans she would find in Mayfield, Kentucky. At school, she was able to find a group of students who spoke K’iche’ and helped her adjust more easily to her new life. Sabrina and Valentina quickly realized that there is strength in numbers when a series of tornados hit Mayfield in early December.

While at home, Valentina received a call from Gaby Acree, who works at Sabrina school as the Migrant Education Program Coordinator. Gaby warned the family that a tornado was coming and that they needed to shelter in place immediately. Valentina shared, “we hid in a room which we believed would be the safest. Thanks to God, nothing happened to us, but our roof was ripped off by the strong winds.” Fortunately, since the family was told to seek refuge in their home, no one at the home was injured.

This, however, was not the case for many of the family’s friends and neighbors, who were badly injured and whose homes were completely destroyed. Valentina recalled, “that night, many of my neighbors came to my house and stayed in my living room. It was filled with people and many ended up staying the night since this happened around 9 p.m. They slept here in my home and I gave them all the blankets I had.” She added, “they arrived with no clothes, with nothing, so I gave them my own clothes.”

The next day, her neighbors began to slowly depart from their home, and Sabrina and Valentina’s family began to confront the effects of the tornado. With no electricity or water, they relied on members of their community who brought them water from the countryside. One of Valentina’s family members had a gas stove and allowed them to use it so that they could cook. Another had running water and invited them over so they could shower.

For an entire month, this is how Sabrina, Valentina and Valentina’s four daughters survived. They relied on their community, and their community relied on them. Gaby connected the family to CWS and the family was able to receive financial assistance and information about local clinics, food pantries, attorneys and other useful resources. Sabrina shared that before receiving financial assistance, she didn’t have a lot of clothing as she didn’t bring much from Guatemala and also lost many of her belongings during the tornado. After the assistance, she was able to go out and buy herself some clothes with Valentina. The two young women continue to receive support from their CWS caseworker. 

As the family continues to focus on their recovery, CWS continues to check on the family and address their needs. Sabrina, who is focused on learning English, said to us, “I want to say thank you very much. [CWS] helped us a lot.” Just as Sabrina and Valentina welcomed their neighbors into their homes, we at CWS are working to ensure our newest neighbors feel welcomed and supported in their new homes here in the United States. This is especially true in the face of a natural disaster of immeasurable magnitudes, such as the one that hit the community of Mayfield, KY, on the fateful night of December 10, 2021. 

Note: Pseudonyms have been used in this story to protect the identity of our clients

We are grateful for our valued partners, Brother’s Brother Foundation and Church of the Brethren, for their support in our Kentucky response. Their kind generosity has allowed this project to be possible.