Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Volunteer Perspective

The forgotten coast..!

How I got to BSL/Waveland.......I have a daughter, a junior in College. She is at Elon University in North Carolina. Right after the hurricane, her college mobilized a relief effort. One of the staff of the college was from Mississippi, not the coast, but knew many on the coast. This staff member organized the relief and went down there for a couple of days right after the storm to see what the needs were. He landed in BSL and Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Parish. The pastor is Father Michael Tracey. At this point, he was living in his car. OLG is located on the beach in BSL, right near the railroad bridge crossing, right by the town and Main Street. There are several schools on the grounds, a church, community center, the parishes offices and Father Tracey's home and several out buildings. OLG was luckier than most since the church was made of brick and stone, the walls held. The wooden older buildings were totally lost.

Elon Uviversity got a group together, of which my daughter was one. They arrived in early October and went right to Father Tracey. They brought tents, and two trucks of supplies, for themselves and of course for the people. They cleared some land right by the church and set up camp. This entire experience touched these kids so much that they have returned many times, both as a college group and many others as individuals. This is where I came in.

My daughter and I went over Christmas break on our own. We also went back over Spring break. We organized out of Our Lady of the Gulf. This parish has had two volunteer coordinators, both of whom are VOLUNTEERS. One is named Dan Wilkins, from Atlanta area and one named Dan Quinn, from Pittsburgh. Dan Quinn is still there heading up the effort. Both of these men just got in their cars one day and landed there, and stayed. Dan Wilkins has gone back to Atlanta, but heads up an effort through his church there to send funds to OLG.

Father Michael Tracey, the pastor lost not only his house and the parish offices but also has the entire parish to worry about. The reconstruction at the parish is going very well. The walls of the church stayed up, but the inside was gutted. It is presently being repaired. The parish community center has been the center of the reconstruction and has been worked on by hundreds of volunteers, if not thousands. The Catholic Parishes around the country have "adopted" this parish and sent money and manpower. The volunteers who show up at OLG are also sent out into the community by Dan Quinn.

My daughter and I have met and stayed in touch with many of the people we have met. We have a real interest in the future of this area and its awesome people. We have been able to help people first gut and clean out their homes and now we are starting the rebuildng process. Like yourself, I'm sure, words cannot express what this entire experience has meant to us. We all went there to help the people and without knowing it they have helped us. Our last time there, third week of March, some of the stores were open and we shopped and found ourselves in stores with many other volunteers from all over the country. The owners of these little boutique stores were just floored at how much the volunteers have brought to the area. It is the volunteers who are helping the economy.

I plan on returning about the third week of June. I am not sure how long I will stay. We have been fortunate enough to be able to stay in several trailers on the OLG property. These trailers were formerly occupied by Father Tracey, who has since found an apartment and several were donated in the early days by good Samaritans from Wisconsin. However, we have just heard that several Bed and Breakfasts, in town have reopened and would welcome volunteers. We may help them get started this time, by booking a room there. My son will be going with me this time. Many of the college groups stay at the ICare, Morrell Village, in Buccaneer State Park, in Waveland. I'm sure you know of it.

Not being there day to day I wouldn't know exactly of all the needs, but it seems right now, that individual people need help with rebuilding their homes. I understand materials are hard to come by. I do know that a group of the Amish sect are helping rebuild and have committed for a four year time period. I have kept in touch with a woman who is having her house built by them on Waveland Avenue. So I would guess building supplies are a real need right now.

The only way to keep interest alive in this area is through the Media. I do know that once you go there you have a pull to return and one person brings 5 the next time they come. I am actually impressed with the volunteer effort, but of course, it is mostly church based and private groups. Nothing through the Government. Of Course, the Insurance companys are a disgrace, but nothing we all can do about them. Many across this country think this area should not be rebuilt, they think it is below sea level, which it isn't, they think it is NO, which it is not. They don't understand that this is HOME to many. Why do people stay in Ca. or like myself on the coast of Fla? The people who I have met have lived there for generations. Their Mom and family live on the next street. You are not going to get entire families to move out of there. Many feel our TAX money should not be going to these people to rebuild. What a sorry old story. If they only knew that it was private money and volunteers from all over this country who are rebuilding. I have been able to raise a small amount of money and donated it to OLG. From what I can see, not too much TAX money is going to this effort.

Thanks for your effort.

Peggy D
Naples, Fla.


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