It all started with a call home. Marquelle Woods, a junior nursing major, shared with her mom plans the college had announced to renovate classrooms and other areas of campus. Marquelle felt strongly the college would be better off focusing on rooms in the residence halls if Union was going to attract more students.

As she listened, Susan Woods, Marquelle’s mom, recalled helping her daughter move in to Rees Hall for the first time. “The drawer was falling apart. The glides had fallen off, and it was difficult to push in. It was hard to miss that it’s an older building,” she said.

With move-in memories and her daughter’s well-reasoned arguments fresh in her mind, Susan summarized their conversation in an email sent through the contact form on Union’s website. She didn’t know who would see it or if she would ever hear back. Then, just a couple of days later, she got a reply from the president of the college.

Vinita Sauder had seen the email address and asked if Susan thought Maranatha would be interested in helping on exactly the project her daughter had been wishing for. Susan replied immediately. “I happen to be sitting next to the North American projects director: my husband,” she wrote. “I think we can work something out.” That kicked off a series of meetings, a site visit, and several rounds of budgeting.

With Susan and David Woods coordinating the project for Maranatha, and Union’s Advancement team kicking off a fast-paced fundraising initiative, the project came together. Maranatha volunteers and Union’s Plant Services worked together to renovate 34 rooms in Rees Hall in the three weeks from June 21 to July 13, 2019, with a budget of $5,000 per room. It was an ambitious project, and the greatest challenge was finding skilled volunteers.

“Up until the day before the project started, we had people canceling who had previously committed and had the skills we needed,” Susan said. “David and I were a little bit nervous, but we’ve come to trust God always works things out.”

Susan said that people started coming in from the community who they hadn’t expected, and often they were exactly the volunteers needed: someone to lay the floors or someone to lead out in painting.

Roger Stearns was one of those who decided to help. Beloved at Union as Warriors athletics’ number one fan, the former owner of Stearns Painting brought his lifetime of experience in professional painting as well as training and managing workers.

Mick Ray, president of Empire Electric, was another local professional who showed up to volunteer. In addition to giving his own time, he encouraged his employees to help out and paid for their time as if it were any other contract. “I was blown away by Mick’s generosity,” said LuAnn Davis, vice president for Advancement at Union College.

According to David Woods, as the initial volunteers’ time ended, there were always new faces eager to keep the project on track. “God’s been a huge part of this thing,” David said, “and He’s a good partner.”

Many hands, one purpose

With stories as diverse as the 16 states and two countries they came from, all of the 118 volunteers shared the goal of glorifying God through service. Nearly half of the workers had little or no previous connection to Union College. Two such volunteers were Theolene and Nyah Johnson from Florida. They kicked off their mother/daughter vacation with a week of manual labor in Nebraska.

“I’ve done Maranatha mission trips before, but this is the first one where I could bring my daughter along,” Theolene shared as she painted. “I told her mission work is God’s work, and God’s work is not just about preaching, but also physical work. Look at Jesus. His life was ministry. He started working when he was 12. He didn’t start preaching until he was 30.”

The other half of the volunteer team was comprised of current and former Union College employees, alumni, parents, and members of the local Adventist community—most of whom have areas of expertise that do not include construction and carpentry.

The Woods admired the spirit of the less skilled volunteers who were living examples of Maranatha’s mission to build people through construction. “There were a lot of people trying new things,” Susan said. “David enjoys teaching people, and he spent a lot of time teaching volunteers who had never been in a woodworking shop before to route, sand and assemble cabinets. I was impressed seeing how they wanted to do things well and paid attention to quality. That’s what we like to see on a Maranatha project, because everything we do is for God.”

One of the most labor-intensive parts of the renovation was replacing the drawers, cabinets and bookshelves. Under the supervision of David Woods and Union’s Plant Services team, volunteers built all of the new woodwork by hand, saving the college thousands of dollars and making the project financially possible. “Everything we made is solid oak,” said Bruce McArthur, a volunteer from Florida and parent of a former Rees Hall resident. “Hopefully it will last until Jesus comes.”

Sylvia Quimby was among the alumni for whom the project was a kind of homecoming. Now living in Florida, she responded to the call for volunteers in CORDmagazine and returned to Rees Hall for the first time since she graduated in 1984. The trip brought back many memories of late nights studying and laughing with friends.

Quimby was happy to help in any way she could. “I believe no job is too small for anybody,” she said as she taped a room in preparation for painting. “To be a leader, you must be a servant.”

How you can help

Maranatha will return to campus in May 2020 to help renovate more rooms in Rees Hall, and there are two ways you can help Union students have an even better learning and living experience.

Fund a room (or two or three)! We need to raise $5,000 to renovate each room and $1,000 to furnish them with new furniture such as chairs and beds, so every gift matters.

Learn more about how you can help:


Maranatha needs volunteers of all skill levels May 10-31, 2020. Learn more and register at

Scott Cushman is the director of digital communication at Union College.