Thursday, March 30, 2006

Remembering Sidney Strickland....and other news....

"I remember Mr. Strickland very well. He injured his back during Katrina when his stepson pulled him into the attic to escape the rising waters. Sidney Strickland was in a wheelchair at the Red Cross Shelter the entire time we were in Pearlington as he was waiting for a trailer. FEMA did not want to put him in a trailer on his property due to his injury but rather in a handicapped trailer in a trailer park. Mr. Strickland insisted on putting a trailer on his land so he could use his workshop as he had been a woodworker and hoped to be able to continue woodworking. His foster son Tim White took care of Mr. Strickland including doing his wash, assisting with his personal hygiene, chauffeuring, meals, etc."

- Bev Wentz, Water Missions International

"George and Margaret Ladner are the older couple who live on the corner of First Street and 604. Their son and daughter-in-law, Eddie and Lorraine Ladner, live directly behind them, close to Mr. Strickland’s trailer. He lived directly across from Eddie's big blue shed. He had stayed in his home for the hurricane and had narrowly escaped drowning. George woke Margaret up about 2:30 this morning and asked her if she had heard a thump. She hadn't but got up (they were sleeping in their new shed)...and looked outside...and saw the reflection of red flashing lights on Patrick and Evan's trailer. Her heart sank because she thought something had happened with one of the boys. Then, Lorraine came over and told her that Jack's trailer had burned and that he was in it. It's just too sad for words. I just don't understand all of this...I keep trying, but it is so hard."

- Claudia, the Ladner’s daughter from Shreveport

"I remember Sidney. Every morning in November, while I was managing the Recovery Center, I would stride up the parking lot from the Pearl*Mart for coffee at the Shelter. On my way I would bellow "Goooooood morning, Pearlington!" I did it to keep spirits up and it became a bit of a trademark - you know, the crazy Canadian. Sidney would smile and say nothing. Only now I find out he was a retired psychiatrist and that we had a lot more in common than I knew then.

Sleep well, Sidney. I don’t profess to know God’s plan but I have complete faith and trust that there is one."

- "Canada" Jon White

The Sun Herald story is available here.

On some other notes:

Three of the six bunkhouses being constructed on the field at the school in Pearlington are finished and two are even occupied. The remaining three will be completed by the weekend. A group of students from North Carolina are busy painting them. Contact Laurie Spaschak at 518-573-3033 to reserve. The school is also still available. There is a new shower in the field as well, with five stalls each for males and females, thanks to the United Methodists. A new food tent is set up and the kitchen should be in full operation by the weekend. Mary-Lena Anderegg, who has been doing lots of the cooking, reports: "We should have a restaurant class kitchen when finished." Volunteers have been feeding 150 people nightly outside the Pearl*Mart, as well as providing a basic breakfast. Some lunch packs are also available.

Ice-making equipment is desperately needed. If you can help, contact me and I will refer you on.

The First Missionary Baptist Church under Pastor Rawls should be applauded for the greatly appreciated hot lunches they have been providing volunteers daily. Jennifer Johnson from Huntsville, AL writes: "The first night we were there, Rev. Rawls from the First Missionary Baptist church (the old white church with the blue trim a block off of 604 on Hancock) invited our volunteers to have a free hot lunch (donations accepted). It was awesome. I cried each day as I thanked the precious women who prepared the meals and told them they had no idea how much it blessed us. Each time that I go to Pearlington, I see a little more integration within the community and it warms my heart. You know that you go down to bless these folks, and just the tiniest words that they speak, the hopeful look in their eyes, blesses us twice as much."

As spring arrives in southern Ontario, my home, I watch the daffodils and crocuses bloom. In death, there is rebirth. Amidst loss there is renewal. Despite tragedy, hope still burns.

And so it is in Pearlington.

"Canada" Jon White

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Tragedy in Pearlington....

According to a report filed with me this morning by Mary-Lena Anderegg, the following occurred in the early hours today:

"This morning, about 3 a.m. one of the FEMA trailers burned here in Pearlington. A Mr. Strickland, in his sixties, died in the blaze. I don't know any more particulars than that, but please pray for his family and for this community."

Most of the people of Pearlington are still residing in their FEMA trailers. I remember back in the fall, as I was working 16 hours a day - as were many others - to get people off the ground and into a trailer. I also remember trying to keep in perspective the reality that the PRIZE then was a hastily-built trailer that was generally poor in quality and often had electrical issues and other problems. I don’’t know yet the circumstances of the fire, but it really doesn’’t matter.

I beg all of us to redouble our efforts to get the good folks of this town back in their homes. Let's not let Mr. Strickland’s death be in vain. Rather, let it put us on notice that the job is far from done and that the TRUE prize should be a return to normalcy as quickly as possible.

It’s the right thing to do and Pearlington is counting on us.

With sympathy,

Jon White

Monday, March 27, 2006

News from the Ground - March 27, 2006

I thought I would share the adjacent picture of a small business in Bay St. Louis. It speaks volumes, in my opinion.

The bunkhouses for volunteers, in the field adjacent to the Charles B. Murphy School, are coming along just fine. One is complete, one almost complete and a third is partially finished. There is a large food tent coming apparently and in the meantime, the volunteers are being fed regardless. Kudos once again to Larry Randall, the SeeBees and all others who have facilitated this outcome.

Last week, I posted some news concerning the Reynolds Center in Pearlington. Here is some additional information, particularly as it concerns the Community Garden being built there:

"The contact person for the Community Garden is Laurie Spaschak. Laurie is also the Volunteer Shelter Coordinator. Laurie can be reached at 518-598-3033. She's asking for donations of garden seeds (flowers & vegetables) as well as other gardening supplies (i.e. garden tools, garden furniture, flower pots, gift certificates to Lowe's garden center or WalMart's garden center, etc). She's got a number of elderly residents who've already signed up for the community garden. The community garden received some donations of seeds and some top soil to create the beds and, with the help of Americorps volunteers, Laurie is currently preparing the site for the raised beds at the Reynolds Center. Anyone interested in helping in this project can contact Laurie directly. Donations are tax-deductible, as the Reynolds Center has a ‘big brother agency’ (i.e. physical agent) that is a 501(c)3 recognized non-profit: Compassion in Action Network - Direct Outcome (CAN-DO. Org) out of California."

Everyone have a great week! I'm looking forward to my own return to Pearlington on April 7th, for 11 days.

"Canada" Jon

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Foxhole Effect....Some Personal Thoughts

Two young men find themselves together in a foxhole, far from home and family, late at night. They are lost in the middle of a war zone and have come to believe this may be their last night on the planet. One is a black man from the projects of Detroit; the other, a young, well-heeled white man from Scottsdale, Arizona. They have nothing in common, nothing except the foxhole and the certainty that tonight they may die.

In the final moments of moonlight, as explosions rock the ground and smoke blocks out the light, a transformation takes place. Two men, from two very different worlds, somehow transcend the bonds of color and privilege and background to reach out to each other for comfort and brotherhood. As they share their common peril in that moment, all else is stripped away and they are naked in the truth of all we ever really possess.

One night I sat with Tom Dalessandri and Ben Taylor in Ben’s cramped FEMA trailer. Ben asked us why we did this work, why we would come so far to help strangers. I listened to Tom’s words first and was moved by his simple answers and the spirit that underpinned them. I don’t really know Tom, outside of Pearlington, but I knew we had made a connection and that I was impressed with his honesty, humour and integrity. I thought of all the volunteers I met, way back in the first frantic days, as we began our dance with Katrina.

We shared a common peril and in the very best way people can, we have come to love and admire each other. We pray that should we meet again, outside the foxhole, that was then - and still is - Pearlington, that we could keep that connection and hold onto the energy that binds us together. We wish to remain naked in the truth that we came to this beautiful world as beings of Spirit and when we connect at that level, there is something unconditionally sustaining that holds us up to the sun. We are authentic and who we really are, regardless of all the human things we’ve done of which we are not so proud as this time in Pearlington.

That is why I do this work: to find people who care less about what I own and where I live than who I am. People who have the courage to break their own hearts on purpose and to share a common peril with Perfect Strangers. People who give a damn and only stop briefly to consider all of the reasons they should not be there. People who look into each other’s eyes and know, then sit humbly before men and women like Ben and Sue Taylor and speak their truth.

There are so many with whom I have shared this, all over the world. In Pearlington, I am honored to have shared it with Tom from Colorado and all the others too numerous to mention. Pearlington is counting on us and needs us, now as much as ever. We must work as a team; to do otherwise makes us just the same as the rest of the world, many who have long forgotten the human face of tragedy on the Gulf. We work and worry, we beg and borrow, we bend and sometimes break. Then we gather up our own pieces and do it again.

Tom and I both told Ben Taylor that night the same thing in our own way. The gift Pearlington has given us far exceeds our humble efforts on their behalf and we are grateful for it from the bottom of our hearts.

"If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss.
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son! "

- Rudyard Kipling, "If"

Canada Jon

Friday, March 17, 2006

News from the Ground - March 17, 2006

There is good news from Pearlington today!

Facilitated by local Larry Randall, the Seebees have already begun construction on bunkhouses to house volunteer groups. They are being built in the field adjacent to the school and each houses 30 people with six units planned in total. Additionally, they are building shower units and a field kitchen, both which will reputedly be complete by the end of next week.

In the meantime, the cooking trailer loaned Pearlington by H.A.N.D.S. of Jackson, MS is still on site until the 21st of March, although volunteers to operate this well-equipped unit are scarce. Visiting groups may check with Charlie Holmes or Greg Wolfe of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship if they require its use. This Sunday, in preparation of a more permanent solution, the Cloverdale Church will be providing a hot supper and heater lunches and light breakfasts are also available. If you are visiting Pearlington to volunteer in the very near future, you would be wise to bring some luncheon materials for your group and be flexible until everything is up and running.

If you are requesting "reservations" at the shelter in the school or in the new field units, please contact co-ordinator Laurie Spaschak at 518-598-3033. There is a $2.00 per person per day voluntary donation requested to offset the cost of additional food required to round out the feeding process .It would appear that the Rainbow group (REMA) were unable to get their plans together for feeding volunteers and we appreciate all their efforts in this area.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all! This is indeed good news.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Same Landscape....Different Eyes

George and Margaret lived in their home in Pearlington for over 50 years. Did you know that Margaret’s father was Charles B. Murphy, for whom the little elementary school was named? The elementary school that no longer houses children, but volunteers and supplies. George and Margaret’s home was paid for. Walking around their property with canes, they had reached their retirement years. A time to sit back and relax and watch the birds as they visit the birdfeeders.

On August 29, the storm surge that swept through Pearlington took the birds with it. It took the birdfeeders. It took the houses. George and Margaret lost EVERYTHING. On the lot behind them, their son lost everything as a tree fell across his home. Across the street, their daughter lost everything. When you look across the street, where the large oak trees once provided a canopy over the street and Spanish moss dangled from the branches, what you see now are those trees lying on their sides, their tremendous root systems vertical to the ground.

When you tell Margaret how sorry you are that the beautiful trees are gone, her reply will be, "Well, we have something now that we didn’t have before." What? What could they possibly have that they didn’t have before?

"We can see the sunset."

Many of our friends are getting back into their houses. Slowly, but surely, putting the pieces of their lives back together. For George and Margaret, their son Eddie, their daughter Andrea, the healing has just begun. With their homes just recently bulldozed, they are literally starting from the ground up. With the pittance the insurance company gave them, they worry how they will afford each step.
We need to build Margaret and George a house. We have a plan. We have group of men in Pennsylvania who have never met George and Margaret and they have agreed to frame a house for them in June. We can do the rest - if we can gather the resources and money. We can help wire it. We can insulate it. We can sheetrock it and paint it.

And then George and Margaret can sit on the porch of their home once again, watch the birds as they come to the bird feeders, and look at the sunset.

If you will help, please contact me.

REBUILD brick at a time.

More great work by Carbondale!

The following was received from Tom Dalessandri of the Carbondale/Katrina Relief organization, concerning the results of their trip to Pearlington last week:

"I visited Raymond and Cindy Diaz on Wed. They had not done a lot with their home but Raymond was down the street helping others. As you may recall, he is significantly disabled and should not be over extending himself but is doing so anyway. Our CRMS students cleaned out his lower level home and then went next door to a single story home to do the same. That home had not been touched since the storm and the folks are not returning. Raymond is trying to get it back in shape for his mother in law. Students did an excellent job in both homes.

Anything anyone can do to help the Diaz family, would be greatly appreciated by all.

While we were there, a Sun Herald Reporter came by taking pictures. He told us that on Tuesday night the Hancock Co. board basically voted to condemn any homes under eight feet in elevation regardless of condition:

Check out the article here....

This effectively would require demolition of most of the Oak Harbor subdivision.

We purchased about $2000 in supplies along with what we brought down. We are doing flooring, hanging doors, putting in tub and toilet and fixtures in Debbie Sonnier's place today. Our drywall crew has been working on Ben Taylor’s all week. We also have been working on Clem Bazier (next to Lena's), we cleared away debris at the Marshalls and our CRMS students basically worked with finishing drywallers to complete interior finishing. The Church of Redstone helped Pastor Fields at his home which again hadn't been touched.

We supplied electrical materials and dry wall to Clyde and Sharon Lasier, and we helped families along the west Pearl River, where flooding continues to be a problem due to the river backing up with debris. Several other projects also but too much to mention here. In all, it’s been a very productive and successful week thanks to CRMS and the Church of Redstone group. Next planned trip is end of March. I will be working to coordinate these next projects.

Greetings to all,

If anyone can shed additional, factual light on the height restriction issue, please notify me and I will post it after verification.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Library Revisted....Again....

After a ton of research and a flurry of emails, I think I have the Library thing figured out.

Originally, the Library at the Charles B. Murphy E.S. in Pearlington was a joint-use library that fell under the administration of both the school board and the county library board. It seems that each owned some portions of both the fixtures and materials within; the exact split is not important, nor is it even publicly known. What is important, is understanding that any decisions made about or on behalf of the library at CBM requires engaging both boards and is not something that will be easily resolved.

The bookmobile that is languishing in Bay St. Louis is allegedly being painted and, when staff is found for it, will be in operation this summer. However, the local skinny is that there are a couple of other county “jewels” in the library crown that are more likely to see regular service from it, than is Pearlington.

I suggest we leave this particular bookmobile to the county to sort out, as we have bigger fish to fry.

Secondly, Save the Children is planning to bring a bookmobile to Pearlington, in concert with the school and with their Summer Reading Program which has been very successful in the past. This divorces their initiative from that whole “joint use” issue and the perils contained therein. In the meantime, Jeanne Brooks reports that she has facilitated the creation of something of a library where her school is currently located in Kiln. The photos at the top are from that site.

Jeanne (and the county) has made it clear in a number of ways that they need NO MORE BOOKS. There is a space issue and it is specific titles that the school will be requesting from Save the Children, to support their age-appropriate reading program. Jeanne Brooks reports:

“The school ‘library’ is actually coming along ok. I've worked and worked to sort through boxes of donations, label, card, and try to tie books to our specialized reading programs despite the fact that I'm working strictly with donations and that I have very little space....”

In conclusion, I think that we should just let events unfold, for now, as they seem to be unfolding. If anything changes, I will know immediately and will let you know. The county is accepting no more books at this time. This can be evidenced at their web site.

Thank you for the outpouring of support, suggestions and offers to help. This story is still evolving and there may be a call for us to serve in this department soon. If you have any questions please contact me.


Urgent Plea for Local Volunteers

Intelligence today from the ground in Pearlington indicates a big problem in the provision of meals for many of the groups of visiting volunteers. I would like all who view this posting to be in touch with their local contacts in Pearlington to help resolve this serious issue.

As you know, it will become increasingly difficult to ask groups of volunteers to come to Pearlington to rebuild, if we are unable to feed them on site.

All of the resources necessary to do so are present, with the exception of a corps of local volunteers - or otherwise - committed to providing labor at the "chuck wagon" being operated by Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

I am aware that the residents have a lot on their plate, however our ability to assist them in their rebuilding is severely hampered - both in time and money - if the volunteers have to leave to find food. It is also using up financial resources we would rather devote to drywall and lumber, etc.

Please help in any way you can. Contact Greg Wolfe of CBM and he will tell you what is needed. His local number is: 601-519-2785.

Thank you for your continuing committment to the restoration of Pearlington.

Canada Jon White

Thursday, March 02, 2006

"I have kept the Faith...."

All of us who have worked on the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Katrina have experienced both the frustration and the deep, spiritual satisfaction of our work there.

I have selected portions of two emails sent to me recently. I share these two perspectives, because I think we can all relate to them both:

John Olsokovsky, former Red Cross Shelter Director and subsequent volunteer in Pearlington, is not a man prone to cynicism. This day, however, was a hard day for a sensitive man:

“I visited a friend in Pass Christian while there. I forgot about the bridge being out and had to backtrack to work my way around. He was originally in the Gulfport Red Cross shelter and I found him a temporary home in Lancaster, South Carolina. He now has a FEMA trailer two blocks from the rubble of his home. The FEMA trailer park is a raw, gravelled setting with a fence around it and nothing else. Frustration levels are still high among the residents. That whole stretch of coast looks like a hurricane hit it LAST WEEK! There is obviously no easy solution for recovery. The government can only do so much....the money isn't there to replace everyone's homes or jobs. In some ways, the situation is more heartbreaking than it was in September, since the publicity has died down and much of the country has moved on to other concerns. Who really cares about Dick Cheney's ‘hunting accident’?”

Quentin Holden, recently returned from Pearlington, writes:

“When sheds are finished in Pearlington, Conrad has a ritual of writing something in the sheds. Halpern had the honors since he spent the most time on it. He wrote “God Bless from the Dog Soldiers” and then signed his name. In everything I do with the Dog Soldiers, I learn something about myself and about humanity. I would like to thank the team that went down to Pearlington and the Dog Soldiers for giving me the opportunity to make a difference.

One last thing. Whenever I did something good when my Dad was alive, I would call him up.

This was one of the times I would have called him.”

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”
- Paul's Second Letter to Timothy

God bless you both, men.
Canada Jon

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Update - March 1, 2006

Tom Dalessandri - Town of Carbondale/Disaster Relief in Pearlington:

“The Carbondale trip is set to go. The church of Redstone group including Police Chief Gene Schilling and Assist. Fire Chief Carl Smith, their wives and several others will be heading for Pearlington on March 3rd. They will arrive on Sat. as will CRMS. The church will be driving and bringing with them the tools from CRMS.

I will arrive on Sunday to help coordinate the group projects.

The plan at this point is to work on Ben & Sue Taylor's, Debbie Sonnier's, the Marshall's and the cemetery. CRMS students will be divided into groups and will work in teams at various residences. Projects include helping with sheet rock, removing nails and screws from stripped walls, debris removal, cleaning out homes and the Cemetery grounds work. Jon White (Canada Jon) has hooked me up with some heavy equipment to help in relocating the tombs displaced by the storm.”

Thanks, Carbondale and colleagues, for all your great work!

Jim Merritt of South Carolina, who has made several work trips to Pearlington, posts the following:

“I have met with several of the teams over the last few months and saw a need to organize in order to make any logical progress. Being a General Contractor and past Architect there is much that I can see needs completed. We are dedicated to help in any way we can. I currently am in the process of getting my general contractors license in Mississippi and am more than willing to use it in any way I can without charge. I am also willing to design small homes for free and pull permits on them for the teams.”

Thanks, Jim and Susie for your willingness and efforts!