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When an ACU shuttle bus veered into a ditch and crashed at an intersection near Ballinger, the students and faculty from the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences were heading south toward Medina Children’s Home, a campus 40 miles northwest of San Antonio, for their annual mission trip.

Medina Children’s Home, part of the not-for-profit Christian care organization Arms of Hope, assists orphans, at-risk youth and single-mother families.

After the accident, word traveled to Medina quickly.

Kevin McDonald, president and CEO of Arms of Hope, received a call about 4:30 p.m. from Medina Children’s Home campus minister Tory Robertson. Friends from Ballinger, where Robertson once served as a youth minister, had begun calling him with news of incident.

“My reaction was complete shock, sorrow and disappointment,” McDonald said.

“We had been very excited about the visit. Everyone gets really excited here when the ACU group comes out. It is a real inspiration to all of us to see young people who are so committed to helping others and making themselves so available to those who are in need of good influences in their lives. And to hear that they had such fantastic plans that were interrupted by such terrible tragedy was really heartbreaking for me and everyone at Medina Children’s Home and Arms of Hope.”

But news of the crash did not just affect the organization’s leaders. It soon spread to those living at the home as well. The 314-acre facility is home to an average of 60 children at its residential group care program and 28 families in the mother/child care program.

“A lot of the children and the families that we help have been accustomed to having bad news for much of their lives,” McDonald said. “The level of disappointment is very noticeable among the young people who had something to be excited about.”

This would have been the department’s seventh consecutive trip to the Medina home with Emmett Miller, assistant professor of range and environmental science.

“Without the help of volunteer groups coming out to help us, it would be impossible for us to take care of our affairs,” McDonald said. “We are always very grateful for the help.”

The ACU students and faculty had a full schedule for their time with the charitable organization, which operates completely on donations and volunteer labor.

“They were going to help out with various tasks around our campus including helping to make repairs and improvements to some of the facilities where our children live and helping us maintain some of our agricultural land,” McDonald said.

But to McDonald, the true benefit of the visit was due to something more than labor.

“There are a lot of things here that go way deeper than just a group of students coming to work with some disadvantaged children,” he said. “There’s a lot of relationships here.”

Students would always cook dinner on Saturday night for the campus of nearly 200. Afterwards, many would join the children and families and play basketball or do crafts.

“It was that time that was most treasured by our children,” he said. “To be able to be around students who are successful and who have taken time out of their busy schedule to come and unselfishly be with them and encourage them makes a huge difference in their lives.”

Some of these relationships came from more than just the yearly mission trip.

McDonald, a long-time friend of Miller, also has many relatives who attended and remain connected to ACU.

One student involved in the crash, Kendra Unamba, junior pre-med major from Midlothian, had spent the past summer as an intern for the organization.

“She developed many close relationships with the children in our care,” said McDonald. “There has been an especially high level of concern by our students for Kendra.”

McDonald visited Shannon Medical Center in San Angelo and Abilene Regional Medical Center over the weekend to deliver these cards and artwork produced by the children at the Medina campus for those still being treated for injuries in the accident. He also planned to attend Chapel on Monday morning. In addition, the prayer room of a chapel under construction at the Medina campus will be dedicated to all students involved in the wreck.

Arms of Hope already had planned its annual dinner for Nov. 19 with a keynote from Dr. Phil Schubert, president of the university. McDonald said the dinner will continue as planned and will honor Anabel Reid.

“The money that we are able to raise at that event will be used for scholarships for our children in honor of those students that have made sacrifices for our organization,” McDonald said.