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Volunteer work ongoing in MS

Photos of smiling volunteer groups cover one wall inside Hope City's main trailer in Gulfport, a visual list of people who have donated time to help Gulf Coast residents recover from Hurricane Katrina.

BY HEATHER MOYER | GULFPORT, Miss. | October 26, 2006

Photos of smiling volunteer groups cover one wall inside Hope City's main trailer in Gulfport, a visual list of people who have donated time to help Gulf Coast residents recover from Hurricane Katrina.

The Hope City volunteer site is run by the Hope Crisis Response Network, an Indiana-based disaster response agency inspired to help in Mississippi because of the amount of destruction and work to be done. Volunteers come in each week to help gut and repair homes severely damaged some 14 months ago.

Hope City's gathering of trailers sits on a slab just across Highway 90 from the Gulf. The site can house up to 40 volunteers and offers a large social area, a kitchen, a laundry unit and shower trailers.

The site's volunteer coordinator said providing some comforts and work to do will keep the volunteers happy. "I've learned that if you give them a good night of rest, you feed them well and you give them good work - they'll come back," said Kevin Moss. "And we've got some good work for them."

The statement proves true for Hope City - of those volunteer teams pictures on the walls, many have already signed up to come back and do more hurricane repairs and rebuild work.

Moss said his volunteers do most any work they are asked to do, from gutting to building entirely new homes, but it's all done to put people back into their homes. The volunteers get their assignments from the Harrison County long-term recovery organization so as to not duplicate any work. They also do some work specifically for Mississippi Power employees - a connection made because of where the Hope City trailers sit.

The slab home to the trailers was donated by its owner, a Mississippi Power employee who had been trying to sell the site after Hurricane Katrina washed away the travel agency and beauty school that had been located there. When the employee heard that Hope City was looking for a site to house trailers and volunteers, he let them take it over temporarily. "We estimate that we'll be here for about three years," said Moss.

The view around Hope City is a grim reminder of how much work remains. Crumbled buildings and piles of debris sit next to cleared off slabs and just across from the picturesque beach on the Gulf. Volunteer numbers remain consistent for Hope City so far and Moss hopes that will continue despite Hurricane Katrina falling out of the news media.

"People from up north will ask us, 'Oh, isn't that already cleaned up?'" said Moss, shaking his head.

Some of the homeowners helped by Hope City's volunteers are still at a loss on where to start. Moss said they walk them through which materials they need to get and the process. "We also help some families who have been scammed," he noted. "We run into that at least once a month and maybe have worked on five or six of those situations so far. It's disgusting."

Hope City volunteers are given a good talk about what to expect from their work week, he added, even though many of them expect a lot of work. "I tell them to be flexible and that they will see so much more work to do down here. I tell them that all this work won't be done in a week, but that their piece of it all is important."

Volunteers are also encouraged to stop working and talk to homeowners if the moment presents itself. Moss said getting to know the residents and letting them share is vital. It's also important for the volunteers to hear it.

"The teams really enjoy it. I love having them see the big picture. I love watching the change amongst the volunteers as they're here. Also, if you get them to see it all and experience it - then they get hooked and want to keep helping."

Moss himself is a volunteer, staying for longer-terms than the average volunteer. Making time for this project and his home life back in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, is a challenge, but he loves the work. He hopes to inspire other volunteers to make a long-term commitment to Hope City, especially ones with construction skills. "If people stay one month or two, or six weeks - whatever - it's a tremendous help. There's certainly not a shortage of work here."

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