Recovery continues in MS

Kami Williams and her three children are confined to a couple rooms in their home - but volunteer teams are opening the way for a more spacious future.

BY HEATHER MOYER | GULFPORT, Miss. | October 23, 2006

Kami Williams and her three children are confined to a couple rooms in their home - but volunteer teams are opening the way for a more spacious future.

The Williams home has three bedrooms, but the family is living in one bedroom and the living room.

That's because the mold has taken over the two bedrooms. Ever since Hurricane Katrina tore through her Gulfport neighborhood, the house has remained severely damaged. Williams tries to remain in good spirits. Laughing with her one-year-old grandchild in the kitchen, she spoke about her community's closeness in the aftermath.

She said staying in the home during Hurricane Katrina was frightening, but afterwards the neighbors really looked out for each other.

"Neighbors are closer now," she said of her small Gulfport neighborhood called Gaston Point. "We all shared food and helped each other out."

Now she's seeing some hope from the local disaster recovery organization and CRWRC. The West End Disaster Relief and Development Association (WEDRA) formed in Gaston Point after Katrina ripped through, and Williams' house is now on the list to get help.

WEDRA worked closely with CRWRC to form and continues to work with them as CRWRC volunteers help repair and rebuild homes like Williams'.

Jutson Holton, WEDRA's president, said he and a neighborhood pastor knew the community needed a recovery agency not just to respond to Katrina, but also to help the community become stronger in general.

"I remember two days after Hurricane Katrina, I was sitting outside of Little Rock Missionary Baptist Church with the pastor just looking at all the commotion and people," said Holton, a resident of Gaston Point since 1957.

"We knew right then that we needed some system or something in place to handle disasters and hurricanes. It was just pandemonium. People were really in shock. We needed something in place because we knew that these things were just going to keep coming here."

From there, Holton and the Rev. Lee Adams from Little Rock Church formed WEDRA with several other community members. Then Church World Service (CWS) and CRWRC found them and gave them a much needed boost, said Holton. He said CWS taught them about the ins and outs of a disaster recovery organization and CRWRC helped them move forward quickly.

"They're a godsend, that's all I can say about them," said Holton. "CRWRC just fell into place. The ball really got rolling through them."

Now CRWRC volunteers arrive in groups of 15-20 for three-week terms to help rebuild and repair Gaston Point homes. They stay at a nearby apartment complex the agency repaired for the owner in exchange for a two year lease.

Ken Guerink, a needs assessment manager for CRWRC said the people of Gaston Point continually impress him. "Some people could just give on up on a community, but not here."

Guerink said now that volunteers are out and active in the small, roughly one-square mile neighborhood of Gaston Point, more families are stepping forward for help. CRWRC has made a two-year commitment to the area's recovery.

Mary Visser, a CRWRC Regional Manager, said the work she's done with Gaston Point is some of her favorite work done during her entire CRWRC career. "They've just pulled themselves up by the boot-straps. They're fantastic people to work with. Just seeing the look on their faces when they know you're willing to come down to help them, that's just a favorite part of mine."

For Holton, that someone offered to help their community in the first place is inspiring. "We know we have to fix this place up and do what we can for it," he said. "God sent people to help us, and really to help us help ourselves."

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