Behind the Hammer is a quarterly publication of Mennonite Disaster Service. The purpose is to share the work of our many volunteers and the ways they work to restore hope to those impacted by a disaster. 


Bring out the joy


LEADERSHIP VOLUNTEERS NEEDED MDS U.S. 800-241-8111 Canada 866-261-1274 “I honestly feel that what you’ve been given in terms of resources in your life—they’re all gifts from God. Serving as a leadership volunteer is really a way to give back.” —Doug Garrett, who has served as an office manager, in Texas, South Dakota, California and now Maryland “When I go to an MDS assignment, I feel like I have a bigger purpose for why I’m living, for why I’m still here. My life is so enriched by all the people I meet.” —Em Yoder, who has served as a cook on many projects “It’s an opportunity to fulfill the mission that God wants us to be in. We live in a country where we’re well off. We’re more or less commanded to help the poor and take care of people in need.” —Fred Hershey, who has served as a construction supervisor for many MDS projects over the years

MDS Crew Leader, Kelly Foster, teaches 11-year-old Lena Kreeb construction skills as part of the MDS Family Program. (Story p. 4)

FALL 2022

FEATURE — STURGIS, MICHIGAN Times to treasure 4

FEATURE – PARADISE, CALIFORNIA Trauma, toughness and joy 8

HOMEOWNER EXPERIENCE – PARADISE, CALIFORNIA “We put it in God’s hands” 10 VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE – GOESSEL, KANSAS Cabinet shop opens new doors 11 FEATURE – PRINCETON, BRITISH COLUMBIA “You will never be forgotten” 12

Q+A Field Ops 13

RECIPE Strawberry Spinach Salad 13

Notes from the field 14

ON THE COVER: Wildfire survivors John and Teri Rubiolo enjoy their new home and give back to their community in Concow, California. (See story page 10.) Photo by Paul Hunt.

director ’ s letter

Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) is a volunteer network of Anabaptist churches that responds in Christian love to those affected by disasters in Canada and the United States. While the main focus is on cleanup, repair and rebuilding homes, this service touches lives and nurtures hope, faith and wholeness. Our programs, funded by contributions, aim to assist the most vulnerable community members, individuals and families who, without assistance, would not have the means to recover. MDS volunteers — women and men, youth and adults — provide the skills and labor needed to respond, rebuild and restore.

Ode to Joy

As I look through the following pages seeing over 100 faces – nearly all are smiling. I suspect those behind the masks are too! Whether the owner of a new house or a volunteer with an ice cream cone — joy exudes beyond measure. The beauty of volunteers coming together at a disaster site reminds us we are not alone in this world, no matter how much we may feel

otherwise. These 100 faces coming together make up a mighty stream of smiling people flowing to the heart of God. We are and can be that justice that “rolls down like water” and righteousness that “flows like a mighty stream” that the prophet Amos (Amos 5:24) talks about. Despite the pain and loss happening around us, I hope all who read this issue will draw inspiration and joy as well. Reach out and give a

Behind the Hammer is published quarterly by Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) and is available for free upon request. This magazine shares the stories of MDS work in the U.S. and Canada and of the more than 5,000 annual volunteers who are the core of MDS. The stories are meant to encourage people to continue expressing the love of God through the work of MDS. Printed on Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) certified paper using environmentally friendly plant-based inks. Executive Director: Kevin King Communications Manager: Jesse Huxman Production Coordination: Jesse Huxman, Judith Rempel Smucker Writers: Susan Kim, John Longhurst Photographs: Dan Coyne, Caleb Gingerich, Paul Hunt, Julie Kauffman, Anabaptist World, MDS volunteers Designer: Julie Kauffman STAY CONNECTED If you have story ideas, need subscription information, want to donate or volunteer, please contact us: MDS Binational Office 583 Airport Road, Lititz, PA 17543 USA tel: 717-735-3536 | toll-free: 800-241-8111 fax: 717-735-0809

Scholarship recipients serving with MDS in Monte Lake, British Columbia, for eight weeks this summer became “friends for life” – Betty Ramones, 31, Lindsay Hofer, 20 and Shannon Lang, 27. Of her time with MDS, Ramones said, “it has pushed me out of my comfort zone in the best possible way. I’m texting all my friends and saying, ‘You have to do this!’”

hand of hope by volunteering with MDS, or say a prayer for these volunteers, or speak a word of praise. In doing so, we can stand up against those forces that would divide us as the body of Christ. Keep smiling and spread the joy! Why? “… for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) May it be so.

Kevin King Executive Director

MDS Canada 200-600 Shaftesbury Blvd. Winnipeg, MB R3P 2J1 Canada tel: 204-261-1274 toll-free within Canada: 866-261-1274 fax: 204-261-1279

And the bridge held! If you’re wondering how MDS volunteer-built driveway bridges are doing in recent flooding, check out this bridge in McDowell County, West Virginia. It may be covered with post-flood debris— but it’s holding strong and ready for the next deluge.

Times to treasure

The weeklong summertime program was filled with a balance of family fun, work, good food, activities, campfires and spiritual growth. Ellen Rosenberger, mom of Elizabeth, along with David, 11, Emily, 9, Lucy, 7, and Amanda, six months, signed her family up because she treasures the opportunity to help her kids experience what’s it’s like to serve on a mission trip. “You never know what trips can do for a child,” she said. Her husband, Luke Rosenberger, pastor of East Bend Mennonite Church in Illinois, recalled how, when he was 11 years old—the same age as his oldest child, David—a mission trip to Nicaragua with his own father changed his life. Luke’s parents, Judy and Dan Rosenberger, also came along with others from church: Lena Kreeb, 11, and her father, Matt Kreeb; Jayne Eby and her son Bradon, 16, and their family friend Kyleigh Kiogima, 20. REPAIRING THE CAMP The Amigo Centre serves as a church retreat facility, children’s day camp, summer camp, and a place to connect with nature for many groups. For Cheryl Mast, who coordinates outdoor education

MDS Family Program draws generations together to grow the seeds of service

Five-year-old Elizabeth Rosenberger is good at finding treasure. During the MDS Family Program at the Amigo Centre in Sturgis, Michigan, she collected feathers, pretty rocks, flowers, shells, and pine needles she eventually tied together to make a broom. “I’m making a movie,” she explained, as she divided her time between sanding the wooden sides of a fire extinguisher box and tending to her collection. At the Family Program there were treasures for everyone, from grandparents to infants, from teenagers to toddlers.


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Look like fun? Start planning now for next summer’s MDS Family Program in Canada and the U.S.

Pictured: Some of the Family Program crew and participants – see a few of their favorite things on the next spread.

“You never know what trips like this can do for a child.” – ELLEN ROSENBERGER, MOM

and volunteers for the Amigo Centre, these families are a treasure: they are repairing a camp badly damaged by a derecho—a straight-line windstorm—in 2020. As the families painted the last two cabins damaged in the disaster, Mast said their efforts were just in time: a band camp would be using the cabins the very next week. Mast, along with MDS project director Dan Coyne and MDS crew leader Kelly Foster, coordinated daily tasks for the families, with age-appropriate work for all. “I’m going to show you some plants you can eat—and I’ll show you what poison ivy looks like!” said Mast, who also helped the kids paint

David Rosenberger sat back with a sense of satisfaction: “That was a lot of time and work,” he said. When asked about her favorite aspect of the MDS Family Program, Lucy Rosenberger, arranging an on-the-fly salad, said. “I like the plants to eat!” The teenagers, who helped put the last coat of paint on the newly repaired cabins, were surprised by how much work they were able to complete each day. “It was impressive,” said Bradon Eby. HOPE FOR THE FUTURE Coyne, a mental health therapist and social worker, said the MDS Family Program—which has been running in Canada for several years and was offered for the first time in the U.S. this year—is about including every voice in the next generation of MDS volunteers. Coyne said he sees a lot of hope for the impact MDS could have in the future. “The kids are brilliant—and their voice is imperative,” he said, adding as he smiled at the kids: “I hear there’s gonna be some ice cream, and there’s gonna be some s’mores!” — Susan Kim

the wooden panels for a ball court and construct wooden fire extinguisher boxes. As he finished painting his name— complete with a specially designed shadow around it— on a wooden panel,


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“I like the plants to eat!” – LUCY, 7

“It’s a very fun, very authentic way to introduce kids to service.” – DAN COYNE, MDS PROJECT DIRECTOR

“It’s been so fun. I don’t like to pick favorites because I want to enjoy everything.” – EMILY, 9

“We got a lot more done than I thought we would. It was impressive. I want to come back next year.” – BRADON EBY, 16


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MDS FAMILY PROGRAM A few of our favorite things …

“I’m making a movie.” – ELIZABETH, 5

“God’s creation is amazing. Everything works together.” – KELLY FOSTER, MDS CREW LEADER

“When I found out my brother couldn’t go, I asked if I could go help. I think more people my age will come once they see us involved.” – KYLEIGH KIOGIMA, 20


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Kostiantyn Nikitchenko (right), a Ukrainian refugee, joined his friend Douglas Brake, from Pennsylvania to volunteer for a week in Paradise.

Trauma, toughness, and joy

Paradise is full of twists and turns. Paradise, California, that is. To reach one of the new homes they are building, MDS volunteers must navigate miles of canyon roads full of hairpin turns—without the security of guardrails. The drive takes patience, as do many aspects of working in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. “They’re going to have fun getting a refrigerator down in here,” mused MDS Project Director Don Lichti with a wry smile, standing at the bottom of a canyon near a home under construction.

More than three-and-a-half years after the Camp Fire killed 85 people and destroyed 18,000 structures in Paradise and surrounding areas, the grim burnt skeletons of large trees still loom over the mountainside—but green undergrowth and colorful wildflowers have returned. “At first glance, it may not look like a burned-out place because the green is here, but if you look carefully you’ll see driveway after driveway—without houses,” said Lichti. The residents who are trying to rebuild Paradise all know someone who didn’t make it out. They share their own traumatic stories with MDS volunteers. The sunny morning of Nov. 8. 2018, turned so dark with smoke and ash that nobody could see more than a foot in any direction. A nurse had to leave her car in flames, and blindly run—until by some miracle her hand hit the back of a fire truck. Another couple led their horses to a pond, hoping they’d survive. One young woman was able to leave only a two-word voice message—“Grammy, fire”—before the cell towers went down. As MDS Crew Leader Laverne Delp meets local residents

Volunteers are up to the challenge of getting wildfire survivors in rugged Paradise, California, back home after years of waiting


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and hears their stories, he increasingly realizes how patient these fire survivors have been over the long haul. At the same time, MDS has to be patient and flexible when it comes to getting people back home. Building a new home in California is complex: there are more inspection requirements than most other states, the supply chain is moving in fits and starts, and the rugged terrain poses its own set of challenges. “Some volunteers may only be here a week,” said Delp. “Some volunteers may only see the painting done.” Delp knows it’s sometimes hard for MDS volunteers to see the full impact of their work. “But some residents here have been living in a camper for nearly four years,” he said. “When we think the work is moving too slowly, well, maybe they’re better at seeing the end product than we are sometimes.” Another crew leader, Joanne Barta, has made the nine- hour drive from her home in Forest Grove, Oregon, several times to help out in Paradise. She has a sense of empathy for what the fire survivors are feeling. “When we lived in Guam, I lost my home to a hurricane, and it was really hard to go back and live there,” she said. “I was pregnant and had a toddler. For months, I couldn’t do much.” As work is temporarily stalled on one house due to

John Rubiolo lost his house to the Camp Fire. (See his story, p 10)

“Some residents here have been living in a camper for nearly four years.” – LAVERNE DELP, MDS CREW LEADER

issues with inspections and supplies, Lichti is still able to find meaningful work for volunteers by partnering with the Hope Crisis Response Network. MDS volunteers are helping to finish two houses started by volunteers from that California-based organization. Mark Cox, Hope Crisis Response Network logistics coordinator in Paradise, said he was looking forward to working with MDS volunteers in the coming months. “This collaboration is getting people home,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.” — Susan Kim Interested in volunteering in Paradise? Contact us (p. 3). Watch the video “Volunteer with MDS in Paradise, California”:

Joanne Barta has travelled from Oregon to volunteer

as crew leader several times in Paradise.


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homeowner experience

They barely got out. It was 6:15 a.m. that November day in 2018 when Teri and John Rubiolo noticed a spot fire visible from their house, nestled on 10 acres in the scenic canyon of Concow, California. “I called 911 and they said, ‘get out!’” said John. They grabbed what they could and, in two cars, began making their way down the canyon road. “There was a traffic jam like you wouldn’t believe,” recalled John, who at times lost sight of his wife following him because the smoke was so thick. “The fire was jumping and trapping people, and our granddaughter is lucky to be alive,” said John. “We got two texts. One said, ‘Grandmom, where are you?’ Another said, ‘Grandmom, fire!’” For hours, they heard nothing. Then they found out their family members had survived—but they had lost neighbors and their own home was burned to the ground. All told, 90 percent of the homes occupied by Concow’s 710 residents were destroyed by what came to be known as the Camp Fire. Today, the Rubiolos live in a new home built by MDS volunteers. It’s more than just a house: it’s the hub of meals, household goods, and care that the Rubiolos have been offering in their community since before the Camp Fire happened. Their mission—which they named “I Am’s Garden” or “God’s Garden,” is to provide food, essential household “We put it in God’s hands”

items, and a sense of care for the people in Concow. Before the fire, they were already known as local

angels—and even after losing their home they continued to operate their food pantry out of an RV trailer. Now operating out of their new home, the Rubiolos can help even more people:

“Whether we got a new home or not, we were going to help the community get back on their feet.”

Teri estimates they’re providing 1,000 meals each week through a combination of hot meals, food to cook, or supplies—all provided via donations from local businesses and nonprofits. “We put it in God’s hands,” said Teri of their mission to help others. “Whether we got a new home or not, we were going to help the community get back on their feet.” – Susan Kim – TERI RUBIOLO, CONCOW, CA

Watch the video “John & Teri’s Story”:

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volunteer experience

Cabinet shop opens new doors

The goal of the newest MDS project site is to support every other project site. Rather than a temporary response to a disaster, a new cabinet shop in Goessel, Kansas, is ramping up capacity to fabricate kitchen cabinets for at least 50 new homes a year. The mini factory started operation in June and should realize significant savings for MDS while giving volunteers in Kansas a local, year-round location to serve. MDS has a handful of standardized house plans using two kitchens that only differ by 12 inches of cabinetry. Those cabinets tend to be purchased locally at big-box home improvement stores. “The general idea is to build five sets of complete cabinets so a trailer is always ready to go and the pieces are ready to go for the next set,” said MDS central U.S. regional operations coordinator Jeff Koller. MDS typically spends $2,400 to $2,600 per home for each set of kitchen cabinets. It can be as much as $4,500 in a higher-cost-of-living area like California. “We know our fixed costs here over 50 sets, and we’ll deliver these at the cost of $600 for a custom, solid-wood set,” Koller said. A permanent specialized shop did not develop from an organizational strategy to save money. Rod Abrahams of Goessel, who had been building cabinets at his business, Creative Wood, since 1999, was thinking about selling the shop. Meanwhile, Kansas unit chair Cleo Koop was struggling to energize local volunteers, since not everyone is interested in traveling to a distant work site. “We’d been struggling as a Kansas unit with an inheritance,” said Koop, the shop’s project director. “We

weren’t sure what to do with it. In November the Kansas unit put in a chunk of money.” A bookkeeping office and restroom were added. “With the building and tools all here, we just had to figure out how to do the cabinets,” said Abrahams, who

MDS Kansas Unit finds way to energize local volunteers

has been volunteering as shop manager. Koller and Koop said interest has been high. They compare the operation to a sewing circle with sawdust. “This model of engaging local volunteers exists everywhere,” Koller said. He sees potential for other MDS regions to develop shops for roofing trusses, rafters or other building components. — Reprinted in an abridged version from Tim Huber, associate editor at Anabaptist World

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Some of the volunteers who served in Princeton, British Columbia.

Wiebe went on to praise town officials for their support for MDS, including how they provided MDS with the names of those who needed help following the devastating November 2021 flood. Ross Penner, director of Canadian operations for MDS, acknowledged Wiebe’s key role in helping the community rebuild. “He is a steward of the gifts God has given him,” he said.

“You will never be forgotten”

“I can honestly say we wouldn’t be where we are today without your help. I want to say thanks from the bottom of my heart.” Those were the words of Princeton (British Columbia) Mayor Spencer Coyne to MDS volunteers at an August 11 thank-you celebration put on by the town. “You will never be forgotten,” he went on to say. “You will always be a part of our community.” Ed Atkinson, Manager of Protective Services for Princeton, noted his first exposure to MDS was in Squamish, B.C. in 2003 when volunteers came to that town following a flood. “I was relieved when I heard MDS was coming here, bringing the same intention and caring attitude,” he saw in Squamish, he said. “We are very much in your debt.” Walter Wiebe served as the first project director in Princeton. He noted MDS volunteers like him came to Princeton because “we come from a Mennonite Christian tradition where we were taught to help those who are in need,” he said. With that in mind, “how could we not be here in Princeton?” he asked.

“We believe God’s love is best shown in action.” ROSS PENNER, MDS DIRECTOR OF CANADIAN OPERATIONS

“He had the ability to take on an incredibly complex leadership role. His gifts made this project possible.” Penner went on to thank

the town for its hospitality, “for the chance to be guests in your homes.” He concluded by noting that MDS’s work grows out of a “belief we hold dear to love our neighbors. We believe God’s love is best shown in action.” Altogether, 134 people served with MDS in Princeton from December last year until mid-August, repairing 40 homes damaged by flooding. MDS is still active in the province, rebuilding four houses destroyed by wildfire in Monte Lake, about two hours drive north from Princeton. — John Longhurst

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cooking for a crowd

q + a

DARRIN YODER Field Operations Manager

AMY KELLER Program Administrative Asst

CRIST BROSS Fleet and Logistics Manager

Meet the MDS Field Ops team They ensure projects run smoothly, that volunteers have the support they need, and that MDS’s resources are used in the most efficient way possible.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

Contributed by Dottie Weber, serving in Paradise, California


YODER: Watching the many talented volunteers from across the U.S. and Canada come together to serve others and make a project happen. It takes so many people with different gifts to make it happen—and somehow those people show up! KELLER: Supporting the volunteers who are at a project with whatever they need. Also, I have been enjoying the weekly staff calls which include devotions and prayer time. BROSS: Working with the volunteers that are working for more than a paycheck.

24 oz fresh baby spinach 4 cups strawberries, halved 4 small oranges, peeled and sliced 2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Dressing: 1/2 cup sugar

4 T sesame seed 2 T poppy seed 3 t shallots, minced 1/2 t Worcestershire sauce 1/2 t paprika 1 cup olive oil 1/2 cup cider vinegar


YODER: The high level of dedication and commitment shown by volunteers in responding to those in need.” KELLER: All those who have chosen to be involved with MDS in the way God has called them to be. Some are called to donate. Some are called to pray. Some are called to volunteer at a project for a week. Others are called to serve in leadership roles. Whatever that looks like for them, I’m grateful for each of them and that they have chosen to serve at MDS in each way. BROSS: The single focus of purpose with tools and flexibility to work toward fulfilling that purpose.

Wash and drain spinach thoroughly. Layer spinach, fruit and nuts in salad bowl and toss gently. Mix the dressing ingredients together in a jar. Just before serving, shake vigorously until well blended, then drizzle over salad.

Yield: 16 servings

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notes from the field

Find updates at

Grant and Joan Kowalenko in Monte Lake, British Columbia

Goshen College, Indiana

“We would love to double the size of this program to both match the growing interest in the degree as well as meet the demand of local health systems for additional nurses in the workforce,” Bontrager said.

The couple, parents of two children and grandparents of five, have served with MDS before—it’s the seventh time for Grant, 76, and the fifth time for Joan, 78. As for spending their anniversary at Monte Lake, “it was like being at an all-inclusive resort,” joked Grant. “We had all you can eat meals, a full schedule of daily activities, and time in the sun.” “It was great to be around so many young people,” added Joan. A perfect anniversary get-away, in other words. building called “Westlawn,” where the college’s dining hall is located on the first floor. The second and third floors were residence halls but have served only as storage space since 1995. Local MDS volunteers and Goshen College students and alumni are demolishing the interior of Westlawn—removing ceilings and knocking down cinder block walls. Goshen College’s nursing program typically has 80-100 students enrolled, explained Ben Bontrager, vice president for operations.



Flood survivors need volunteer help—now “The need is overwhelming,” said Larry Stoner, MDS regional operations coordinator, describing the aftermath of the historic deluge in late July that killed 38 people in a rural corner of eastern Kentucky. Only one percent of properties in the hardest-hit counties have federal flood insurance. “We would like to respond in several communities—in Breathitt, Clay and Perry counties— and we just don’t have

Couple celebrates anniversary by serving with MDS For their 51st anniversary, Grant and Joan Kowalenko wanted to go somewhere with great food, meaningful activities, engaging people, interesting scenery and good accommodations. That’s why they chose a week of service with MDS in Monte Lake, B.C., helping rebuild homes for wildfire survivors.

the volunteers right now,” said Stoner. Early Response Teams from MDS are already on the ground, mucking out homes before harmful mold gets worse. Many homes took in several feet of water. MDS is ready for more volunteers with accommodations at two sites—Hindman United Methodist Church and Camp Nathanael in


Volunteers help Goshen College expand space for nursing program Out with the old, in with the new! In response to a growing demand for nurses, Goshen College is expanding its nursing facilities from 6,000 square feet of classrooms and simulation labs to 18,000 square feet of teaching space dedicated to the sciences. The additional space is coming from repurposing two floors of a

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Shirley Zeno in Welsh, Louisiana

Emmalena. MDS will also provide tools, food, and leadership support.

almost two years since Hurricane Delta slammed a tree into her roof, shortly after her husband passed away. “There was water all over everything,” she said, so she moved into a trailer with her daughter—who has since passed away. Trying to salvage what she could, Zeno spent a large chunk of her savings, accumulated from working the past 20 years as a housekeeper at a local nursing home. Then she learned she would receive a brand-new home built by MDS volunteers. “When they


God will dwell with hurricane survivor “Thank God they’re here.” That’s what Shirley Zeno said as she looked at MDS volunteers building her a brand-new home in Welsh, Louisiana. Zeno has been waiting a long time to move in with her four great- grandchildren, all under 13. It’s been

SAVE THE DATE! The MDS Annual Celebration will be held in February 2023 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

told me, all I could do was cry,” she said. “I thank God every time I look at it.” Often her neighbors stop by, standing with her as she checks the progress on the construction. “They ask me when the house will be done,” she added. “I tell them it’ll be finished when the Lord wants it to be, and He will dwell in it with me.”


Behind the Hammer is also available in a digital version with additional content for easy access on your phone, tablet, or laptop: Subscribe to upcoming issues here : newsletters/

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Eastern Kentucky


583 Airport Rd Lititz, PA 17543



JOIN US for the 2023 MDS Annual Celebration! Be inspired and encouraged as you hear stories of MDS service across the U.S. and Canada!

February 10-11, 2023 Lancaster, Pennsylvania Location: The Worship Center 2384 New Holland Pike Lancaster, PA

The entire event is free and open to all. If you plan to attend, please register by January 31, 2023: Online: Phone: 800.241.8111 (to request a registration form)

THE JOY OF SERVING At the work of your hands, I sing for joy. Psalm 92:4

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