Work team serves ECHO for 24th year

By Maddie Christy

Every summer for 24 years, John Hanson has volunteered at ECHO. Adding up each two-week trip to the Global Farm in Florida, he’s totaled almost one full year of volunteering!

Mr. Hanson is the leader of a volunteer work team comprised of students from the Indiana area who are part of the Reformed Presbyterian denomination. The high school and college students come each year to serve alongside the staff members and interns at ECHO Florida.

“It’s about helping and blessing the workers here at ECHO who have dedicated their lives to this mission,” said Lauren Daniels. “We want to come and partner with the work that’s being done globally by serving the long-term staff here.”

Ellen Smith (left), eight-time return volunteer from Indiana, works alongside Andy Cotarelo (center), ECHO Farm Manager, to clear a research plot at the Global Farm in North Fort Myers, Florida.

Ellen Smith (left), eight-time return volunteer from Indiana, works alongside Andy Cotarelo (center), ECHO Farm Manager, to clear a research plot at the Global Farm in North Fort Myers, Florida.

ECHO’s farm manager, Andy Cotarelo has had the opportunity to work with the team for 12 years. Cotarelo expressed what a blessing it has been to have extra hands on deck for big projects and general farm work over the years. He and Mr. Hanson have also cultivated a friendship during the 12 years they’ve known each other. 

Lauren Daniels, a senior at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, has served at ECHO three times with this team. She jokes about how unglamorous the work is, but counts it a joy to serve missionaries who equip people around the world. 

“Getting out in the heat of Florida and doing hard physical labor on the farm has done wonders for my character,” Daniels said. “We are doing this work and nobody is going to know our names. That’s why it matters. That’s why it’s important that we do this.” 

Ellen Smith, a volunteer who has served at ECHO for eight years, acts as the mother of the group. While the students are working in the morning, she prepares lunch and does laundry before joining them on the farm. 

“This trip was invaluable for me when I was in high school,“ Smith said. “I want to play a role that provides that same opportunity for other students.” 

The Indiana Work Team, as ECHO staff refers to them, has certainly left their mark over the years. Returning members look around the farm and point out the rice paddy they revamped, fences they built, and fields they cleared that now bear fruit. Each year, the team works on a couple big projects. This year they’ve re-thatched the roof on the hut at the Anderson Appropriate Technology Center, tarped and replanted the bamboo field, and cleared out the research plot. When they’re not working on group projects, the students split off with ECHO interns to work alongside them in their areas of the farm.

“I can’t say enough about the influence of the interns on the lives of the high-schoolers,” Mr. Hanson said. “They are just a few years older and have been through exactly what those students are going through. The interns really encourage and inspire my students.”

Both parties have benefited greatly from this long-standing relationship. The high-school students are quick to recognize that this mission trip is about pouring into people who are used to doing all the serving. Along the way, they often learn about themselves and who they are in God’s kingdom. For ECHO staff and interns, the hard work and friendships that come with the group are a great encouragement. They are thankful for the willingness of Midwest students to spend part of their summer serving in an unconventional way. 

The Indiana Work Team is a testament to the Lord’s faithfulness to ECHO. Those who give of their time and resources help to sustain our work all throughout the world. Whether it’s a tradition of 24 years and counting, or a first-time volunteer, ECHO is greatly blessed by those who choose to come and partner with us in our mission to honor God by empowering the undernourished with sustainable hunger solutions.