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July 20, 2007     536 Words

Rebuilding Homes and Hope in Mississippi
After Hurricane Katrina

CINCINNATI—The destruction felt by the citizens of Mississippi from Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005 was incomprehensible. Antebellum homes, businesses and landmarks were gone. Some places were laid so bare they seemed to have never been there at all. Memories collected over the course of a lifetime were washed away in Katrina’s rage. The destruction was complete—no one was left untouched.

In the aftermath of devastation, the outpouring of camaraderie has been evident: neighbors helping neighbors, sharing what little they have so others can be comfortable. Students from across the country conduct charity drives to replace victims’ personal belongings. Many spring breakers skip resort beaches in favor of Mississippi beaches, fighting mosquitoes, reclaiming and rebuilding.

Pamela Bozeman is a lifelong Mississippi resident and staff member at Biloxi’s Diocesan Office of Long Term Recovery (DOLTR), which was started after Katrina. In St. Anthony Messenger’s August issue, Bozeman writes of Katrina’s destruction and Mississippi’s reconstruction in an article entitled, “Rebuilding the Gulf Coast: Determination Amid Devastation.” After July 23, the article will be posted at:

In the 24 months since Katrina hit, more than 3,000 volunteers have brought muscle, resources and talents to help DOLTR’s recovery efforts. Volunteers such as Win Lander, a musician from Omaha, recently completed his second mission of mercy. His first was in the early days after the storm. What Lander experienced had a profound effect. “I was privileged to work with a medical team, driving the streets of east Biloxi making contact with survivors, giving medical care, hugs and just listening to their almost surreal accounts of the storm,” he says. “Talk about a life-changing experience. I hated to leave.”

John Bledsoe, a 68-year-old deacon in the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts, left his home in South Hadley and drove 1,500 miles for two weeks of volunteer work, rebuilding homes. Though it was hard, Bledsoe’s experiences changed his life and outlook. He simply states, “It was an experience that changed my priorities.”

Residents of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast have stood in wonder at the work of DOLTR and the volunteers. Billy Ray and Toreatha Fairley of Mississippi’s Benndale Community requested help to repair their wind-damaged home. Confined to a wheelchair, triple-amputee Billy Ray found it nearly impossible to maneuver inside his home due to twisted doorways and unsound floors. DOLTR began negotiations with other organizations to partner in building a home for the Fairleys. Within four months, the Fairleys’ home was complete. “I’m truly amazed! Thank God!” Toreatha says through tears.

Volunteerism has been crucial in rebuilding Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. Mary Wimberly, DOLTR’s director, shares the continued need. “Estimates indicate 80 to 90 percent of all Katrina home rebuilding so far has been by volunteers connected with faith-based organizations,” she says. “Volunteers are critical to home reconstruction here, where the eye of Katrina came ashore and the storm surge obliterated so many houses and lives. Their work has been instrumental in returning people back to their homes.”


Permission is granted to reprint this release.


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