Monday, January 7, 2008

Katrina Thank You Note

Project Hope and Compassion
“Camp Hope” in Lizana, MS

January 6, 2008

Dear Janet and Fellow Volunteers,

Thank you for your dedication, tireless efforts, hard work and sweat to help us rebuild a new Mississippi.

It is wonderful people like you that are so caring and dedicated. You have helped tremendously with the work during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and it has made a difference.

Many Mississippians homes were totally destroyed and without the volunteers helping so graciously, they could not rebuild and pick up the pieces to put their lives back together. The outpouring of support from volunteers throughout the country has been phenomenal! It makes me proud of be an American.

I think I can speak for all KATRINA VICTIMS and say THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts. You will not be forgotten.


Terri Moore
Volunteer Reservations Coordinator
Project Hope and Compassion

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Personal reflection on the trip

As a first time missionary, I had no idea what to expect. My biggest hope was that I, along with my sons, would be part of something that would leave Mississippi a little better off than when we arrived. I think we clearly accomplished that. What I didn't expect was to leave feeling almost embarassed at how much I got out of the trip and how much fun I had. Everyone on the trip was personable, outgoing, selfless and hardworking.

I especially want to extend my appreciation to those of you in the let's say "twenty-something" demographic. I wanted my two teenaged sons to come on this trip to see a small part of our country that doesn't have it so well. What they got to see is a group of young role models, whose work ethic and attitude had more impact on them than all of the fatherly lectures I endeavor to pass on. You had a huge impact on them. They didn't say much but believe me they noticed. Thank you for that.

Every aspect of the trip was well planned and well organized; a true testament to Bob and Janet's tireless efforts. I look forward to catching up with as many of you as possible very soon. Thanks for letting us be a part of this.

What a great way to start 2008.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Pass Christian

While we were in Mississippi, we worked in Pass Christian (pronounced "Chris-chi-ann"). Pass Christian is a quiet, historical city along the Gulf of Mexico. The city is 6 miles long and 1 mile wide.

The following information was provided by Skip Barrett, who works for Square Foot Ministries. He lost his family home in Hurricane Katrina and spends 8-10 hours per day helping other people and dreaming of ways to get more volunteers into Pass Christian. He hopes to find a quicker way to get the citizens of Pass Christian back into homes and out of FEMA trailers.

Before Katrina, the city had a population of 6,900 residents. After the storm, only 2,500 residents remain.  Approximately 4,000 homes were destroyed, and 3,500 still need to be rebuilt. 

During the hurricane, the water reached depths of 30-37 feet, and 100% of downtown Pass Christian was destroyed, as well as the water and sewer systems, police and fire departments, city hall, the library, local businesses, and many of the churches. Eighty percent of the homes were destroyed, including many historical houses. Only 6% of the remaining houses were habitable. No rental housing was left, and there were no grocery stores for 6-12 miles. The loss of homes also meant no tax base for the city.
All residents of Pass Christian experienced loss and had to start over. In a town where everyone knew everyone else, the loss of history and culture was overwhelming. The residents felt like "POKs" or Prisoners of Katrina. Many elderly citizens died from the heartbreak of the situation. 

There are many roadblocks to rebuilding Pass Christian. First, insurance carriers only paid off the mortgages on homes, leaving little money to rebuild. New regulations require houses to be elevated, but there is a lack of qualified foundation builders. Many contractors are overcharging or robbing people by taking their money up front and leaving. In addition, the gas, water, and electric systems are incomplete. Finally, many trees are dying and debris still needs to be cleared.

At this point, the number of volunteers is down. Recovery is estimated to take 10-15 years. Grant money is not being released, and rules are changing daily. 

Many people are falling through the cracks and becoming depressed. They may not qualify for or understand government grants. Residents have experienced many false starts and promises. With debris still visible, weeds overtaking the city, and the slow rate of rebuilding, citizens are slow to return. Many who remain are living in FEMA trailers.

Above all, the citizens of Pass Christian need your prayers. They need volunteers who can help rebuild and bring hope and joy to the citizens. What can you do to help?

Monday, December 31, 2007

We're back!

We arrived home safely after two uneventful flights. Some of us are off to New Year's celebrations. The rest of us are happy to be home to get some rest and to take a hot shower for as long as we want.

Overall, we had a wonderful time in Mississippi. Many friendships blossomed. At the airport, Facebook addresses were shared, and photos were swapped. We hope to stay in touch and get together at some point in the next few weeks to share our memories.

Thanks for your support! We were only in Mississippi 1 week. Please keep in mind that for the residents of Pass Christian, Gulfport, Biloxi, and many more towns, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is a daily affair. There is so much we can do to help, whether it be through donations, prayers, or appreciation for what we have been given.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sad to Say Goodbye

We had a great last day of work, but it was also a bittersweet one. We have grown to love the people of Mississippi, who have been so kind and generous. We will miss talking to Steve over his cup of coffee. We will miss Helen and Mable, who chose bright colors for their walls to combat the dreariness the hurricane brought into their lives. We will miss the stray dogs and Buddy, the little dog who was always by Skip's (Square Foot Ministries) side. We will miss Karen's (Project Hope and Compassion) vivacity and boundless energy. We will miss the other volunteers who brought with them the determination to make a difference in the face of overwhelming hopelessness.

We sent two groups back to Steve and Debvie's house, and they were able to finish almost all of the ceiling and 80% of the drywalling. The third group continued their painting crusade and were able to paint a deck, a ton of rails for another deck, and base board.

At the end of the day, we had the privilege of presenting the nail gun, drywall screw guns, and other equipment to Skip and Carolyn at Square Foot Ministries. As I mentioned before, it was sad to say goodbye, as we had grown fond of them. Skip presented the group with one of his jackets. It was especially meaningful because he had lost most of his possessions in the hurricane. The group decided to give the jacket to Janet Wehner because of her role in planning for the trip.

Tomorrow, we will return home to Maryland, but each of us will take with us something that will stay with us forever. Whether it was hearing the stories of survival, listening to the train as it rumbled through the heart of the town, seeing the difference one person can make, making new friends, or simply getting to know a grandmother better, we all have cherished memories from this experience that we will share with you when we get back.

Thank you for checking this blog. We appreciate your prayers and your help in making this a successful trip! We hope to return. With your support, we can continue to make a difference in Mississippi.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fish Fry

We finally had the big fish fry, and it was excellent. We had fried catfish, hush puppies and corn balls, and French fries. The fish was so good that Joe Amoyal got the recipe.

We also got a chance to present the Nativity Giving Tree gift cards, and they were greatly appreciated. Father Pete said that donations were strong after the storm but have tapered off. The cards will help with purchasing extra materials when people run out of money. He hopes that our group will be able to return so that we can use some of the equipment that they have purchased.

We found that Square Foot Ministries, where we are working, was short on supplies, so we purchased a nail gun, two drywall screw guns, a T-square, tape measurers, nails, and other necessary supplies to work on our projects. We were able to purchase these materials through the generosity of the parishioners of Church of the Nativity.

Today, we put up more dry wall. We had two teams going in one house, so it was very crowded, but active. The third team continued painting (we will try to let them have a break from that tomorrow). They also found a stray dog and took her to the humane society.

We attended Mass at Holy Family Parish. The Mass was given by a visiting priest from Michigan, who had come with another group of volunteers. The Mass was at the same parish where we ate last night. The resident priest, Father Dennis, thanked all of the volunteers for their help. When he asked the volunteers at Mass to stand up, it was half the people in the church. The altar servers were so cute. There were three of them, and they looked about 6 years old.

I forgot to mention that Marie Amoyal has been helping out in the kitchen at Project Hope all week. She has been cleaning, organizing, and helping plan the meals. All of the more than 100 volunteers staying at Project Hope greatly appreciate her help. The meals have been delicious!

Another group arrived tonight from Indiana. It's great to see so many volunteers. Thanks for your continued prayers.

By the way, Happy Birthday to Terry McTeague!

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Rainy Day

We had a rainy day today, but in the afternoon, the sun came out, and the weather was great. It is in the 70s. The painting group continued their work today, and the girls on this team have really bonded. The second work group continued their work on the the dry wall project they started yesterday. The last group started putting up dry wall on the ceiling of the house (after they had completed the insulation yesterday).

We were invited by the town of Pass Christian to a dinner sponsored by the local Knights of Columbus. The mayor was there, and he thanked us for our help. He shook each and every volunteer's hand. He gave a poignant speech in which he thanked Hurricane Katrina because it gave his town the chance to make so many new friends. His town was 1 mile wide and 6 miles long, but now he knows it goes from coast to coast from all the friends that came and helped. He knows the future is bright because of all the young people who have come to help.

We are excited because tomorrow will be a catfish fry. We got red beans and rice and jumbalaya tonight, so we are enjoying the Southern hospitality. We have to bring home some recipes for the cafe :o)

Thanks for checking the blog. Please keep the people of Mississippi in your prayers.