'God challenged us'

As Margaret Dey looks back on her life since Hurricane Katrina, the traumatic memories are offset by the hope volunteers have brought.

BY SHARON DUNTEN | GULFPORT, Mississippi | December 27, 2006

"With God all things are possible."

—James Dey

As Margaret Dey looks back on her life since Hurricane Katrina, the traumatic memories are offset by the hope volunteers have brought.

Dey spent most of the past year living in a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailer after Katrina wrecked her home in Gulfport, Mississippi.

She will never forget the first volunteer crews from Trinity United Methodist Church who started gutting her home.

"I don't know where I'd be without you," said Dey, referring to the volunteers and to Courtney Allen, the church's rebuilding coordinator.

Dey, disabled, described the day Katrina hit her community. "We were at my daughter's apartment in Gulfport on the bottom level. We were just sitting in water. The cars were underwater," she explained.

Dey and her son, James, moved with neighbors to a higher level because snakes were appearing in the water. "Because it was hot weather, in some ways, the water felt cooler but we had nowhere else to go," said Dey.

But to Dey's son, a preacher for 20 years, getting his mother back into her home was an attainable goal. "With God all things are possible," exclaimed James Dey.

To Allen, the goal is to get people back into their homes. But repairs do not come easy. From gutting a home, to repairing a roof, to installing sheetrock, to disinfecting walls to kill the black mold, the process may take as long as three months before a "move-in ready" home.

Allen balances 10 - 15 active cases a week with a certain 75+ work orders per month. "It was not the strength of the storm but how far reaching and how many lives were affected," said Allen.

For Trinity UMC, the need for aid and volunteers evolved quickly. Immediately after the hurricane, the church opened its doors to distribute what little resources the congregation had available. "We started feeding 50 people at first then it went up to 1000," explained church member Huntley Biggs. For the members of Trinity, it dictated creating a volunteer facility to house individuals to help in the recovery effort. "God challenged us. It was the greatest opportunity to serve, love each other and our neighbors," said Biggs.

One neighbor, Shirley Ducksworth, was very anxious to leave her trailer located in a FEMA village. Facing what she described as mounting violence in the village, she sought aid from Trinity UMC. But her home was plagued by more damage after the hurricane and she received very little insurance money. She said she was tapped out to put her home back together without help.

To counteract Ducksworth's situation, Trinity UMC volunteers replaced her tin roof with shingles as well as rebuilt her water-damaged bathroom and kitchen.

With the final touches of paint and trim, the volunteer group from Southport United Methodist Church, Indianapolis, was able to participate in a "blessing" of her home. Ducksworth, together with the volunteers of a weekly mission at Trinity UMC gathered to pray and celebrate that her reconstruction was complete.

"As we pass the baton to the next volunteer group, God calls you to be faithful," said Mark Fisher, pastor from Southport UMC. According to Dick Bender, Southport member, closure on the needs of Katrina survivors is not necessarily easy no matter how many volunteers go down to help in the reconstruction.

Since the hurricane, Trinity UMC has served 35,000 meals, and has provided lodging for more than 3,150 volunteers from across the country. Volunteers have logged almost 420,000 hours. What began as a cleanup effort has now transitioned into a rebuilding effort. As of August 2006, 525 homes have been rebuilt either in part or completely finished with many more to come.

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