Helping others rebuild

BY PJ HELLER | HOUSTON, TX | January 22, 2002

"Here, we're looking at 1,500 cases plus another 400 we haven't even seen yet."

—Dale Peercy

For Dale and Jeannie Peercy, life on the road has been one disaster after another.

But they're not complaining. In fact, the Miamisburg, OH, couple welcomes the challenge of helping others rebuild their lives and their homes in the face of a disaster.

As construction coordinators for Lutheran Disaster Response, the Peercys have been traveling throughout the country for nearly five years following floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters. They have been to the Virgin Islands, South Dakota, Texas, and North Carolina.

They most currently can be found in Houston assisting the rebuilding efforts there in the wake of last year's Tropical Storm Allison.

With an estimated 2,000 homes on the repair list, the Peercys and a third construction coordinator admit they have their work cut out for them. The flooding caused by Allison last June prompted more than 119,000 calls for housing assistance to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Officials said the number of eligible housing assistance requests was the largest in the agency's history.

"In North Carolina, between Jeannie and I and Richard Stewart (the third construction contractor who is working with them in Houston), we ended up doing almost 400 construction jobs," Peercy recalled.

"Here, we're looking at 1,500 cases plus another 400 we haven't even seen yet. If they keep coming in, I could see this going on for two or three years.

"We're going to stay here as long as we possibly can until this thing is finished," he added. "This thing is huge."

For the Peercys, the greatest need right now is for skilled labor volunteers to help in the rebuilding. Various faith-based organizations have either sent or are scheduled to send teams of workers in to assist. Long-term housing for those workers is still being sought. Funds for materials have been in short supply.

Despite the seemingly slow pace of the recovery effort, Peercy said that affected residents are generally delighted to see him.

"When I go up to a house, people are so thrilled to see that there's somebody actually coming, immediately there's a kind of hope that comes back in their face," he said. "Some people are so happy they just cry."

There are some people, however, who are angry over such things as the amount of assistance money they received through FEMA or the fact that people who were supposed to show up to do repairs were no-shows.

Sometimes those residents take out their frustrations on the Peercys.

"If I don't have the spirit to let that kind of stuff roll off me I'm in the wrong business," he said. "I just have to understand that's not really the person talking but rather it's the pain, the disbelief, the depression.

"I truthfully believe you have to be called," he added.

Dale and Jeannie Peercy first felt called after attending a global Lutheran mission event. For the next several years, they asked a lot of questions, knocked on a lot of doors and filled out a lot of applications in the hopes of getting involved in disaster response.

"All the doors seemed to be closed to us," Dale Peercy said.

What was hard for them to understand was why a couple with their experience -- Dale was a general contractor who built custom homes and Jeannie had her own painting business -- were having such a difficult time signing on to do disaster recovery. They both were ready and willing to give up their businesses.

"This (disaster recovery) is what we really wanted to do," Dale Peercy said. "We felt like we were called. We tried everything we knew to do to get into the mission field. It just wouldn't work." Finally, he recalled, they were about to give up.

"I just said, 'OK God, I'm tired of this. If you want us in the mission field, you'll have to do it.'"

Two weeks later, they were called to go to the Virgin Islands to assist in hurricane recovery efforts there. They haven't looked back since.

"For two years Jeannie and I were trying to work it out our way," Peercy said. "When we finally said, 'Okay God, it's up to you, if you want it you do it.' I think at that point He decided we were ready to go."

Peercy laughs today about the six months they spent in the Virgin Islands.

"That was where we started out. I think that was God's way of sinking the hook in."

Being their first job, they didn't have much chance to relax.

"If I knew then what I know now I would have enjoyed myself much more," Peercy said, adding, "I'd love to be back there."

After several years of being on the road, the Peercys sold their home in Ohio and now travel and live out of their 27-foot travel trailer.

Accompanying them in their travels is their cocker spaniel Babe.

Asked what they do between disasters, Peercy noted "so far we haven't been between disasters. It's been one right after the other."

They came to Houston in September directly from working in North Carolina.

While dealing with people who have suffered in a disaster is nothing new for the Peercys, in Houston they found themselves the ones in need.

Their utility trailer filled with $20,000 in tools -- some of which Dale Peercy had worked with for 20 years -- was broken into and everything was stolen. Included were tools that he had given his wife as presents, tools they had been given by their home church, and a set of golf clubs.

It wasn't until the theft that they discovered that the contents of the trailer were not covered by their insurance.

"We were always real proud about the fact that when volunteers called

and asked what they should bring, I would say, 'Bring your nail apron, your hammer, your favorite tools and just the basic things. If you forget something or don't have anything, don't worry about it, we're completely equipped.' Now I can't say that," he lamented.

The couple put out a plea for help and have received a few thousand dollars in donations to help them buy new tools but, Percy said, "It's still a long way from $20,000."

Jeannie Peercy also found herself in a Houston hospital with pneumonia. At the time of this interview, she was still at home recuperating.

Despite those problems, Dale Peercy says the couple would not want to be doing anything else.

In fact, looking back on all his years of construction work and his wife's work as a painter, Peercy believes that it was simply God's way of training them for the work that they were meant to be doing today.

"I feel like we were called -- but at a certain time -- to do this," he said.

Related Topics:

What makes a community resilient?

What's changed, what hasn't at FEMA

Teams continue to rebuild in SC

More links on Disaster Recovery

More links on Tropical Storms


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