Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Manitou - and its friends - pull together

By Erin Prater and Garrison Wells Published: August 13, 2013

Friday's flood in Manitou Springs was a force to be reckoned with, washing away houses, vehicles and unwitting victims, one who died.

But its might has been matched by a deluge of volunteers who have inundated the city in the days since, said Daria Wilber, volunteer coordinator for the Business of Arts Center (BAC) in Manitou Springs.

"We have seen volunteers from every walk of life and have received an amazing response from visitors," Wilber said Tuesday inside Venue 515, an events center owned by the BAC.

Since Saturday, Venue 515 had served as a grassroots volunteer coordination center. On Tuesday and again on Wednesday, it would double as Manitou Springs' temporary Disaster Assistance Center.

After Friday's flood, "a good number" of tourists who'd planned vacations to the city - including visitors from Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio and Kansas - chose to come to the city, or remain there and pitch in, Wilber said.

"There has been a tremendous sense of community and willingness to help no matter where they're from," Wilber said. "When visitors saw the locals volunteering, rather than being casual tourists, they decided to become part of the Manitou community."

Since the Venue 515 opened its doors to feed citizens and coordinate volunteers on Saturday, the center has seen more than 500 come through its doors.

"We're doing as much as possible to provide a little bit of respite," Wilber said.

So were the Browns, of Salina, Kan.

When they hit the road this weekend, Steven and Erma Brown were aware Manitou was nursing its wounds.

They thought about delaying their trip or heading elsewhere. But they didn't.

The couple spent Monday and Tuesday cleaning furniture and shoveling mud outside Manitou Springs businesses.

"The Lord has been good to us, and we want to be a blessing to other people," Steven Brown said Tuesday during a lunch break inside the Disaster Assistance Center.

"We had a choice not to come, but God asks us to love one another as we love ourselves," Erma Brown added.

Across the table sat an unlikely new friend with a shaven head: Amma Thanasanti Bhikkhuni, a Buddhist nun who lives in Colorado Springs.

The Browns and Bhikkhuni met while volunteering. Their personal beliefs may diverge, but their shared goal of loving others with their actions won out.

"It's important to that there are many hands to make work light, to feel like there is hope when it feels like catastrophe," Bhikkhuni said. "There are resources to deal with this, and we'll get through it."

"With each other," Steven Brown added.

Bhikkhuni nodded.

"It doesn't mater what your skin color is, what you believe or what food you eat," she said. "What matters is that you showed up to help."

Tom Rompies showed up, his concession stand in tow.

Rompies, the owner of Littleton-based concession company Not Just Lunch, heard about the flood on Friday. Over the weekend, attendance was poor at an event he catered.

He knew what to do with the extra food.

On Monday, he showed up at the BAC with more than 700 bratwursts, hotdogs and hamburgers.

He served volunteers again Tuesday and planned to do so until he ran out of meat.

"It's real easy to watch on TV and turn it off, maybe write a check," Rompies said. "I always say, 'Oh, I should go help,' but I can't always do it. I can't go to New Orleans and help.

"But I can help here."

It's volunteers like the Browns, Bhikkhuni and Rompies that make Lorelei Beckstrom want to stay.

Beckstrom, an artist who lives in Manitou Springs, considered moving away after the flood, which drenched her apartment and left her without hot water.

But when she saw both locals and outsiders ban together this weekend, she realized abandoning her city wasn't an option.

"After seeing the community come together like this, I've scrapped all plans to leave," she said Tuesday.

Torry Cooksey isn't sure where he'll end up.

He lived at 527 Canon Ave. until Friday, when flood waters destroyed his home.

He was sleeping in his bed when neighbors rushed in to save him.

"My legs were getting cold, but I figured I'd kicked my blankets off," he said. "I didn't know it, but the water and mud was up to my bed."

He's been staying with the neighbors who saved him.

Tammy Pfaffl and her daughter haven't been so lucky.

Friday's flood rendered their cottage unlivable and washed away everything they owned. Since then, the two have been living like gypsies.

A few nights here and there.

On Sunday, Pfaffl and her daughter could end up living on the street.

"It depends on what we're able to move into," Pfaffl said Tuesday. "I've got a couple of offers of 'You can stay the night here,' or 'Stay the night here,' which is great, but getting our own place is a little bit of a challenge."

Pfaffl, a personal assistant with precious little savings, lives on a tight budget and she is broke.

"Having this happen so suddenly, you're not prepared to have to move and pay rent somewhere and deposit and all the expense of having to move into a new place," she said. "There's no way I'd be able to earn enough fast enough to get into a place."

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