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MS survivors keep strength

Joyce Dawson has a few words to say about Hurricane Katrina: "I hope to never witness anything like that again."

BY HEATHER MOYER | D'IBERVILLE, Miss. | March 30, 2006

Joyce Dawson has a few words to say about Hurricane Katrina: "I hope to never witness anything like that again."

A D'Iberville resident since 1958 and veteran of Hurricane Camille, Dawson shook her head when thinking back to last September. "We had more than three feet of water inside," said Dawson, standing in the backyard of her home. "The storm took everything, it took all my belongings. They had to gut the whole thing, spray it for mold and then test it to make sure the mold was gone."

Dawson's home has been crawling with volunteers for weeks now, all from the local Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) Volunteer Village. The team inside this week was installing electrical outlets and drywall. Another volunteer crew moved like machines on the roof, removing old shingles and nailing down new ones.

She is grateful for the help, noting that her husband is unable to help fix the home due to medical problems. The volunteers add some happiness to her day. "If they didn't want to help, they wouldn't have come," she said. "This is all a challenge, but I'm enjoying it."

Dawson added that there is no timeline on getting her back into the home yet, but was quickly corrected by PDA construction coordinator Ray Bierman. "We'll have you in there in the next week," said Bierman, flashing a smile. Dawson returned his smile.

Bierman is leading the legion of volunteers, teaching them how to install drywall, staying in touch with the homeowners and just generally being a jack-of-all-trades. It's a position that pulls in every direction, but Bierman said it's a joy.

"It does take patience, but everyday is a blessing," he said. The work is different for him, being a Biloxi resident for almost a decade. Many of his friends and family were hit hard by Katrina. The homes he helps repair are sometimes owned by friends. But whether he knows the clients or not, he feels close to all of them.

"These are all people I'm tied to. I have a bond with them, I understand their emotional struggle. It can be an emotional roller coaster."

On Tuesday, Bierman was running back and forth between two homes on the same street - Joyce Dawson's, and one owned by a blind man. That home was also devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Inside the second home, volunteers from two teams sanded drywall. The home's atmosphere was one of purpose and determination, but a sense of fun is present as well. "We're very excited about helping out down here," said the Rev. May Ann Banning, the missions pastor for Mt. Washington Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.

"Our church gives a lot of money to missions, but we wanted to do something more hands-on."

Banning's church team united with volunteers from seven other Cincinnati-area Presbyterian churches for the trip to D'Iberville. She said the ages on the team range from 17 to seventy-ish.

Banning said she's glad they were able to see the destruction and recovery up close. "The destruction is incredible down here. We want to help. This is our servant ministry; we want to do what we can."

Across the room from Banning, Julie Miller is busy with the sanding. A member of the team from First Presbyterian Church in Kirkwood, Missouri, Miller echoes Banning's statements about seeing the destruction up close.

"I have a family, I can't imagine not having a home for my own family," she said. "Whole families have nowhere to go. If I don't help, who will?"

Fellow Kirkwood volunteer Al Hinton added that the survivors he's met are amazing people. "I'm so impressed by the survivors, they are truly standing in the face of adversity."

Dawson wants to persevere through the recovery process. She's already farther along than her many of her neighbors - some of whom are not returning to Mississippi at all. For Dawson, rebuilding her home is a necessity. She wants to stay. "This is all trials and tribulations, and we all got those."

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