United Church sends mission team to Mississippi

Mike Jones and Duane Weston meet the recipients of their efforts after a week of work at a home destroyed by the 2005 hurricane Katrina in Moss Point, Mississippi. -
Mike Jones and Duane Weston meet the recipients of their efforts after a week of work at a home destroyed by the 2005 hurricane Katrina in Moss Point, Mississippi.
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A group of nine Arlingtonians, including members of Arlington United Church and friends, traveled to Vancleave, Miss., this fall to spend their vacations helping a family in need.
We flew out 6 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 29, arriving late afternoon at the Gulfport airport via Houston, said one of the volunteers, Jan Bauer, who works by day for the city of Arlington.
We rented a car, toured the Biloxi area on Sunday and worked Monday through Friday.
The team of volunteers stayed at Camp Hope, which was established when a Methodist church converted a portion of its existing church building into a huge kitchen and dining area and also built a large dormitory.
It has a 14-bunk area with showers for women and probably about the same for men, Bauer said.
Camp Hope has one paid position that of a man who reviews all the applications for assistance, visiting each site and assessing the damage caused by Katrina. He determines what materials are needed and then assigns a caseworker, and delivers materials and instructions to the job sites with his one large truck and trailer.
Camp Hope also has local volunteers who help in the kitchen to cook a delicious breakfast and dinner each day for volunteer workers from out of state.
The out-of-state volunteers are expected to donate about $50 to cover the cost of food, according to one of the Arlington group, Ceci Smith, who left three small children home with dad to go on the mission.
I was shocked to see concrete steps up to no where, Smith said. Her husband went on the United Churchs first mission a year ago and she told him when he got back that she wanted to go next time. The church is currently planning a fourth mission in spring 2008.
The Arlington group was assigned a project in the Moss Point area, about 20 minutes from Vancleve. Moss Point is an all-black area where the residents had a history of suspicion for white people, Bauer said.
But as the residents saw that we were trying to help, there was a nice feeling of welcome.
Bauer said they were assigned a woman, aged 70, who lives with her 49-year-old disabled son.
The woman we helped is known as Big Mama, but she isnt very big, Bauer said.
They were the second team to work at this particular home for a week and it was still at the demolition stage.
One of the challenges is that people have been living in these houses for 40 - 50 or more years without doing much in the way of maintenance. Its hard to draw the line of Katrina damage and years of neglect, but that wasnt our job, so we just followed the written instructions. They did what they could in that week and left the job in progress for the next weeks team.
Smith said the highlight of the trip was meeting the woman that she was helping. Bauer said she had the most fun at the end of the week when the grandkids and great-grandkids came to visit Big Mama on Friday.
One little kindergarten-aged granddaughter wants to grow up to be a doctor so she can drive a Mercedes, Bauer said.
She was delightful, smart and a kick in the pants.
The work party faced nice warm weather that was pleasant until it rained, Bauer said.
It was mid 80s to low 90s and tolerable until it rained then humidity took a leap upward.
All you could do was sweat as you worked and drink lots of water.
Bauer and the team discovered there is still an incredible amount of work still needed in the entire Katrina-hit region, even though it has been two years since the devastating hurricane struck.
Much of the rubble has been cleaned up, but thousands of houses and entire buildings are still vacant and boarded up due to damage, Bauer said.
They noticed that a lot of cute little homes are still vacant with people living next door in a FEMA trailer.
Smith was shocked to see how much work is left to do, although the hardest part for her was leaving her children.
This is my first mission, she said.
They told us that only 50 percent of the work is done and that much of it will take years and years.
Smith was also moved by the memorial they saw in Biloxi that shows how high the water was.
I think it was about 20 feet high, she said. But the personal benefit for her was back home.
My husband learned a new respect for stay-at-home moms, she said. Even with help from the grandparents.

Arlington United Church Katrina Mission Team

Jan Bauer
Chuck Pierce
Stacie Pierce
Ceci Smith
Duke Snyder
Norma Snyder
Anna Marie Weston
Duane Weston
Mike Jones, community member

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