Friday, April 28, 2006

Focus On....BRICK Layers of Alabama

The following is written by Jennifer Johnson for the Huntsville Times and is the third in a series of articles focussing on the Volunteers of Pearlington.

BRICK Layers - Believers Rebuilding In Christ’’s Kingdom
Our Motto: REBUILDING PEARLINGTON…….one brick at a time

Last fall when we were helping Katrina evacuees get settled in housing here, we realized they also need help to salvage furniture and belongings from their homes. Mark Javins gathered some supplies from his church in Hazel Green to take down to the tiny little forgotten town of Pearlington, Miss. The 30-foot storm surge that swept through the town destroyed most of the homes there. We were shocked at the devastation. Since then, 90 individuals from Hazel Green, Madison and Huntsville have been down to Pearlington to help several times.

Many others have donated supplies, household items, building supplies, gift cards and money. Many of our volunteers have given up Christmas presents, birthday presents and family vacations so that the money could be used for the residents of Pearlington. Individuals car pool and pay for their own gas and expenses. That way, any and all donations that are made to the Madison Baptist Association go directly to needs of the residents of Pearlington.

Our groups are usually 30 to 35 people from several churches and denominations, some with no church affiliation. My home church, Willowbrook Baptist, has adopted Pearlington as one of its missions. The members of Willowbrook have been very supportive with their time and gifts of supplies, gift cards and monetary donations. Bonnie Beard, teacher at Grissom High School, collected uniforms here to take to schools there. She organized Hoops for Hancock at Grissom and raised almost $4,000. Everyone at the Madison Baptist Association has been very supportive of our efforts.

Our mission is to rebuild Pearlington ... one brick at a time. We are working with all of the other volunteer organizations in Pearlington to assess each resident's needs, take them where they are, work on whatever their current needs are, and leave them in a little better condition than when we arrived. We have had nine organized mission trips so far and have plans made through October when we will take our 15th mission trip. Our biggest dream is about to be realized when we begin framing a house for George and Margaret Ladner June 24-30. My family, husband Keith and daughters, Meg and Emily, and I have made a personal commitment to make a trip to Pearlington at least once a month for a year.

Each time we go to Pearlington, we think that there is no way that we can beat what we experienced on that trip. When we return, our next trip is always better than the one before. We keep thinking and praying for the people we've met there.

We cannot get the original pictures out of our mind of Susie's home, with insulation fallen from the ceiling, desk and freezers turned upside down as if they had been stirred with a giant spoon. On her property stand two crosses in memory of her husband, who died in April 2005, and her brother, who died on her property in November 2005 while using a backhoe to remove hurricane debris. With the help of volunteers from all over the United States and Canada, Susie moved back into her home this month! We also cannot erase the memory of George and Margaret's home, the roof barely held up by a few remaining 2 by 4s. They lost two sisters and a brother, their home, their son's home and their daughter's home.

I would encourage any group that wanted to go to any of the towns on the Gulf Coast to do so. Don't think about it too long. Don't plan for it too long. Just jump in your cars and go. They are in need of skilled workers to frame, wire, plumb, sheet rock and roof houses. They will be in need of people who know about landscaping so that they can have grass again.

(Jennifer Johnson was recognized recently by the Volunteer Center of Madison County for "Outstanding Efforts in Disaster Relief for the City of Huntsville" because of her work with Katrina recovery.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Focus On....Laurie Spaschak

Michael Moran
June 26, 1959 - Nov. 9, 2005

Laurie Spaschak, with daughter Maureen

Laurie first appeared in Pearlington on October 10, 2006. Attached to the Red Cross and the Shelter that was formerly housed in the library at Charles B. Murphy E.S., she became Manager of that Shelter two weeks later.

Laurie did an outstanding job as Shelter Manager and was in that position when I met her towards the end of October. There is an untold story here; one that we kept to ourselves for many months, so as to not jeopardize all the good work that was going on in Pearlington. It’s time that story was told now and it speaks a lot to Laurie’s courage and strength.

Michael Moran was brought into the Shelter, after living on his property in the woods for weeks after Katrina. His son had been killed in a car accident a few months before the storm and all he wanted was some peace of mind and a small trailer to call home. He hoped he would get to see the rest of his family then.

Mike struggled with substance abuse....and with hope and faith. Day after day, he was disappointed again and again in his efforts to get a place he could call home. One night in early November, following a particularly disappointing day, Mike went to bed and never awoke. As the Red Cross descended to control the flow of information, Laurie and I sat quietly and dealt with her grief and loss, her frustration at a system that had failed so many. Eventually, Mike’s passing was called an "accidental death" by drug overdose.

Laurie has the hat you see in the photo above-right and treasures it as a memory of a man without hope in a situation without pity. Not long afterward, the Shelter was closed, many finally got their trailers and some were moved into Buccaneer Park. One of the people who received a trailer was Dr. Strickland, who died when that trailer burned to the ground in March.

After her tour with the Red Cross, Laurie went home to NY state, returning to Pearlington on December 1, 2006 as Shelter Manager of the Naval CB (Construction Battalion) base and spent two more weeks with the Red Cross in Gulfport. She closed that Shelter out and returned to Pearlington as an unpaid volunteer on December 15. Laurie’s been there ever since, asked by the community to stay and help manage the Recovery Center and the Volunteer Shelter.

Her tasks are many and she does them with her typical attention to detail. She manages the Volunteer Shelter; organizing incoming groups, taking reservations, ascertaining skill levels, matching volunteers with appropriate work orders, arranging feeding, shower schedules and sleeping arrangements. She set up again the systems I had put in place in the Pearl*Mart in November; including donation logs, receiving orders, inventories, tracking volunteer hours, restocking the Shelter, coordinating with the Hancock County Food Bank and maintaining accurate Needs Lists.

Laurie is committed to staying on in Pearlington at least until December 2006. During a recent visit by her daughter Maureen - who will be ten tomorrow (Geez! I have T-shirts that old!) - I asked Maureen what she thought of her Mom working so far from home. "I think it’s really great," she replied. "None of my friends' Moms would do all this. But, I do miss her a lot." Maureen, a going concern in her own right, started a pen pal program at her school between it and the students of the former elementary school in Pearlington. She instituted a dog-walking service and a lemonade stand on her own initiative and donated the proceeds to Pearlington.

Laurie Spaschak’s efforts are a critical element in the recovery of Pearlington. All the volunteers and the residents of the town appreciate "Miss Laurie" immensely and know that it is her dedication and willingness that helps get so much done. Thank you, Laurie, for everything.

"There are two ways to spread the Light;
by being the candle or the mirror that reflects it."

Clearly, Laurie is both.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Bits, Bytes and Pix

Mr. Dunaway's new chair

Jacqueline Acker, hard at work feeding volunteers at the First Missionary Baptist Church

Madison Lackey, from Ardmore Baptist Church of Winston-Salem, NC
delivering Alexis Doyle's new wheelchair.

68% - Proportion of New Orleans homeowners who had flood insurance when Katrina hit.
30% - Proportion of Mississippi homeowners who had flood insurance when Katrina hit.

* Source: Time Magazine

"There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisly then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer Him our service only to the extent that we can and for as long as He grants us the strength....the love of Christ urges us on."
* Pope Benedict XVI, On Christian Love

To those we leave at home when we toil in Pearlington:
Thank you for caring for Pearlington through caring for me and what I must do. Thank you for the sacrifices you make, the meals we miss together, the work you do to care for our lives while I'm away. We make our contributions, each in the way we can, and this is yours.
Thank you for sharing me with Pearlington. And when I'm done, I cherish the knowing that I am coming home to you.

Monday, April 24, 2006

These are the Moments....

I spent a restless night worrying about Pearlington.

Will there be enough volunteers to do this job? Has the world given up caring and moved on to the next big thing? Is anybody other than us aware of the devastation that still exists?

As a Canadian, I don’t agree with what seems sometimes to be the Canadian consciousness about America. Big Brother living across the thin line that is the 49th parallel. Loud, brash people who are generally unaware of the world beyond their borders, who think they are the centre of the Universe. People who outnumber us ten to one and don’t let us forget it. People whose knowledge of Canada is that all it does is snow here and perhaps we live in igloos and all speak French. People who think we produce really funny comedians but have an enormous inferiority complex.

Maybe we do.

Marshall McLuhan, the famed Canadian communications professor once wrote: "Canadians and Americans are generally indistinguishable from each other - and the only way to tell the difference is to make that observation to a Canadian." I personally have long known that Americans are much like us, individually, despite the different directions we might take internationally. Caring, sensitive people who are just trying to feed their children, love their neighbours and get to Heaven intact.

In Pearlington, I have been proud and honoured to stand beside my American brothers and sisters. Today, I write these words using the Canadian spelling because I wish to make a point: that we ARE the same, all of us, all over the world, despite an extra vowel or two. We care what happens and I have seen that first hand. I wrote in early September that if you want to know if North Americans really care, have a crisis and you’ll find out.

We inhabit this world as a family and we are not going anywhere unless we ALL go together. "Every man’s death diminishes me, for I am a part of mankind. Therefore send not to ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." * Every time the village bell rings to announce the passing of another of our family, we are the less, all of us.

That’s why we must find a way to inspire our countrymen and women to come to the aid of Pearlington. Because they are family and because they need us. It could be our town or city the next time. It could be you or I who loses everything and needs a hand up. It could be our children scared and unsettled, looking for some sign that our lives and our pain have even been noticed. It could be our homes that need the help of Perfect Strangers to restore some sense of normalcy to our lives.

People in Pearlington ask me all the time why I would put my life on hold and come half way across a continent to help people I do not know. My answer is always the same: "I do it because I believe you would do the same for me." Their response to that is also usually the same: "I may not have before this, but I sure would now."

Small deeds and large, they all make a difference. Each reminds us of our connection - one to the other - and we are changed. We learn and grow and understand that life is a series of making a difference in the lives of others, for good or for ill. Katrina has invited us to the Dance and we have a unique opportunity to make that difference. I for one will not pass it by, not let the chance escape.

Laurie Spaschak sends this, this morning, in response to a call I put out for a special chair for a senior disabled resident of Pearlington:

"Jon....delivered the chair this morning... it was another one of those almost tearful moments.... seeing him laying there in bed, in a cramped FEMA trailer on his oxygen machine, telling me he was just too tired to get up today as we brought the chair in. I know the driver of the truck (Ray Meyer) felt the same way. He said if he had known it was so badly needed he would have brought it much sooner. So please extend a huge thank you to the folks who arranged for its arrival. I have some photos of the event to share. He had fallen in the bathroom a few days ago and has some bruising. I am going to get her [his wife] some cream for him, and help her move things into the house next week."

Thank you, dear God, for eyes to see, for ears to hear and for a mouth to speak my truth. These are the moments I thank You that I’m alive.

"Canada Jon" White

* John Donne, 1571-1631

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Call for Heavy Equipment....and other tidbits

"Jon - can you put the word out that we need some heavy equipment and operators? We still have folks that need demolition to clear the lots to make way for FEMA trailers. These are, in most cases, folks that have just returned and have missed the deadline to get help from the Army Corp (such as that help is). I know it’s not an easy request, but very few if any can afford to pay for demolition out of the insurance check or FEMA settlement and have anything left over with which to rebuild.

We are also still very light on volunteers for May - in most cases only 20 -30 volunteers a week - and there is so much to be done by July 1st.

It is hot, muggy and sunny here again today. I guess summer is coming whether we are ready for it or not. There is still no word on any procedures from the County for the coming storm season either...."

- Laurie Spaschak, Recovery & Resource Center

"By the way, we just finished a severe weather warning here in Pearlington - haven't seen rain like that since I was a youngster on the prairies! We moved all persons to Pearl*Mart to weather the storm and now begin the task of mucking out our own huts!! What's up with that?"

- Wilf Wityshyn, Presbyterian Disaster Relief

Saturday, April 22, 2006

State of the Onion in Pearlington - Part II

Trauma and loss affects all of us in a variety of ways. We tend to move firstly through shock and disbelief into an angry stage, wanting to blame something or somebody for our loss and pain. This is often followed by a period of great sadness, despondency or depression. In time, we come to a place of acceptance and, when appropriate, even forgiveness and the hope and faith of a new and better future.

The residents of Pearlington were very much in the first stage when I arrived in town in September, just after the storm. Each has inhabited the middle two places - anger and depression - and some are still there. It takes a person of great emotional maturity and/or deep spiritual commitment to have moved to the final stage by this phase of the event. Some, unfortunately, seem to get stuck in the middle two stages for an extended period of time.

Every volunteer also experiences these stages. Last Friday night, as I addressed a team at the PDA Camp in Pearlington about what to expect upon returning home, I asked who of them had experienced each of the first three stages. Almost all hands went up.

Some people deal with their anger appropriately, some do not. Family violence tends to increase around this time and people find it hard, especially men, to express their deep feelings of grief and loss and instead store it up until they explode. Some attempt to stay in denial and that can cause problems down the road. Many people resort to alcohol and drugs - prescription and otherwise - to deal with their feelings of helplessness and depression. Both alcohol and many drugs are depressants to start with, so this method of coping has the opposite effect.

What can we do as volunteers? Recognize firstly that many of the same coping methods the folks of Pearlington may be using, we also may resort to if we don’t stay balanced. Be patient; this is incredibly hard for everyone. Avoid making judgements; we are not often catching people at their best. Be gentle and compassionate and remember that the expressions of emotion - like anger and tears - are just that. Encourage people to talk. Offer lots of hugs and, of course, ask permission first, especially with children. My favorite way with kids is to say: "Are you giving hugs today?"

Be cheery and upbeat; it offers hope. Take care of yourself emotionally, by regrouping with each other and by calling home - anyone outside the area that may be able to give you perspective. Avoid heavy drinking, gambling or drug-taking. Take a break regularly. Have fun - find a way that’s respectful to yourself and to the community. Celebrate each victory. Cry when you need to and laugh just because it’s good for you. "Keep your head when all about you, are losing theirs and blaming it on you." *

Have Faith. No doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.

* Rudyard Kipling’s "If"

Friday, April 21, 2006

State of the Onion in Pearlington - Part I

I arrived back in Canada late Tuesday afternoon and there was, of course, an enormous amount of work waiting for me here in my "other" life.

Although I have six clients yet to see today, I would like to take this time to reflect on my personal and professional observations of the rebuilding effort in Pearlington. Like peeling an onion, as we strip away the layers that Katrina deposited on this small Mississippi town, what then is revealed within this particular Pearl Onion?

The Progress of Recovery:

Some people have moved back into their homes and some are in the process of rebuilding. Some homes have been "abandoned" and there is evidence the owners are not returning. For most, however, this process is just beginning and that is where they need our help. Most people did not get enough money from insurance, FEMA or other sources to do the job. While many can contribute what they did get towards materials, many need the help of volunteers to provide the labor.

Labor has become a different issue. Many of the volunteers, particularly young people, who have come to Pearlington have performed tens of thousands of hours of labor gutting, mudding out and cleaning houses to prepare for rebuilding. While this is important - and while there is still some of this to be done - what is really needed now in Pearlington are skilled tradespeople. All of our efforts now must be bent to this task. These homes have to be rebuilt properly and none of us will ever rest if something unfortunate happens due to unskilled workers performing certain important tasks.

Each tradesperson could be accompanied by unskilled or semi-skilled workers. There is a unique opportunity here to provide young people with considerable on-the-job training while performing valuable community service. Each person now coming to work in Pearlington should be equipped with proper safety equipment. There have been several minor injuries and we cannot afford for there to be any serious ones. This safety equipment should include work boots with steel toes and shanks, eye and ear protection, proper work gloves dependent on the task (leather and rubber), masks for breathing protection (usually available at the Pearl*Mart), etc. All skilled tradespeople should bring safety equipment (harnesses for roofers, knee and leg protection for carpenters and dry wallers), etc. Those in the trades are familiar with the appropriate equipment.

The New Building Codes and Requirements:

As I have posted previously, there are stringent new rules going to apply to rebuilding on the Coast commencing July 1, 2006. This cannot be stressed enough: all residents planning to rebuild, must obtain their permits PRIOR to July 1st. Failure to do so will result in a return to previous code restrictions stringently enforced. This may require four inspections, septic inspections and permits etc. Right now, the cost of permits in Hancock County is FREE. Under a grant program, there are now five clerks hired to issue them. After July 1st, these clerks will be gone and a permit on a 2000 sq. ft. house could cost between $500-1000. My understanding is that you have six months from the issuance of the permit to commence building. Residents must get their site elevation certificates ($200-300) and their building permits NOW to be "grandfathered" under the new rules.

It would appear that all new construction and all rebuilds will have to be 4 feet higher than the zone’s previous elevation. Pearlington is in a 9 ft. zone and so homes will have to be built 13 feet or higher and rebuilt homes will have to be elevated to the same height. After July 1, 2006 that could mean actually having to lift the home. There are many companies showing up on the coast offering to perform this service and often charging exorbitant fees to do so. If you are required to do this, please contact Laurie Spaschak at the Recovery Center. She has access to a short list from FEMA of contractors who can do it for under $10,000. FEMA will also be offering an ICC Grant - Increased Cost of Compliance Grant - of up to $30,000 to perform this task, should it become necessary. I would also personally recommend that residents rebuilding their homes for resale should hire tradespeople licensed in the state of Mississippi to perform skilled tasks and ask for a certificate to prove it.

There have been pirates and charlatans on the Coast since day one - I’ve personally run off a bunch - and residents should double check their credentials carefully - as well as the quoted costs of their work. I am still working on a source of professional assessors who might make that job easier and more honest.

The State of the Volunteer Community:

I was very pleased to observe and to participate in a bonded and cooperative volunteer community in Pearlington on my recent trip. This is a critical element of this recovery. We must all work together, share resources and people power where possible and feed all information as to what we have accomplished to Laurie Spaschak and her staff at the Recovery Center for recording. There is too much to do to send two teams to the same place or to hoard information that could make another volunteer group’s job easier. All new groups coming to town are asked to check in with the Recovery Center upon arrival, for that reason. It is also our desire to ensure that we support you in any way we can.

The decision to separate the Recovery Center from the Pearl*Mart by putting it in one of the new bunkers on the field has been rescinded, for obvious security and safety reasons. It will be segregated from the Pearl*Mart in the same building and kept secure and dry at all times. OK, Putnam, you were right....

It is also my observation that the black community of Pearlington is not asking for as much help, nor as often, as is the white community. Anyone who knows me at all knows where I stand on this. Every effort must be made to invite BOTH communities to come forward, help themselves and help us help them. Katrina herself saw no color bar and nor do we.

Despite inevitable ups and downs, the resident and the visiting community of volunteers in Pearlington are doing an outstanding job in a very challenging and difficult environment. There is never enough of anything and that’s why we must continue to share. There are times when we are fried and burnt out and we need to encourage each other to take a break. As a therapist, I suggest you get away from "resting" in other communities where the evidence of Katrina still exists. My friend Sid Kennedy taught me this. When, in November, I was invited to his home in Bugalosa, I spent a restful day eating real food, having a nap on a real bed and came back to Pearlington recharged and with a whole new perspective.

We have to look out for each other. We must not get so immune to the damage and the tragedy that we forget to take care of ourselves and each other. Some residents expect more than we could ever deliver. Some forget to say thank you. Some are rude and pushy and swear at us when they don’t get what they want. Get used to it. If YOU had lost everything, how would you be? Spend time instead with the many breaths of fresh air in Pearlington: the kids, the old folks and others who are grateful for what we have been able to do. Congratulate each other on your successes and set the bar HIGH for those who follow you. We are the leaders upon whom so much rests. If we fall apart, if we get angry, if we don’t take care of ourselves - despite the circumstances - what hope will there be for the people of Pearlington who lost everything?

And while we toil, our lives unfold without us back home. Bills come in, people make choices, tornadoes rip through our home towns and life goes on. Yet, we were called to do what we do and we have answered. For the time we are in Pearlington - one week or two years - all we have most days is the family of volunteers and our new friends in Pearlington. I write this blog hoping to help the volunteers maintain a healthy perspective and to give feedback and credit where it is due. I know that none of us went there for glory. But, we’re human beings and we need to know the sacrifices we have made - in many cases well beyond what anyone in the community will ever know - are making a difference. As I share our stories, I also know it inspires others to come and help and informs the people of Pearlington that we will NOT give up until they are back on their feet.

OK. ALL VOLUNTEERS. Stand up. Hug another volunteer close to you and tell them what a great job they are doing! Reach over and pat yourself on the back. There. Doesn’t that feel good?

OK, that’s enough. Now get back to work.

TOMORROW: My professional observations of the condition of the residents of Pearlington.

"Canada Jon" White

Monday, April 17, 2006

Live from Pearlington - April 18, 2006

"Hi Jon, hope you had a good Easter. I also hope you've found or will find someone to pick up the material. I'm excited to be able to help in any way I can and I'll tell you why.

After Katrina my idea of my world was shook to the core. I like to think I have a pretty good idea of the world around me, what's in it, and what to expect. However, I realized just how naive I was in the days and weeks after Katrina. I tracked the storm as I do every other one, especially since it first hit south Florida going right over my wife's hometown of Hollywood, Florida. I watched in amazement as the storm crossed the Everglades overnight and barely weakened over the shallow marsh. As I looked at the sea surface temps I saw a potential disaster of enormous proportions forming. The average American was barely aware of the storm's potential and I understood that - I track hurricanes tediously along with other enthusiasts online. We were convinced the storm had the potential to explode into a monster. Unfortunately, as everyone knows, we were right. I read in horror 2 days prior to landfall the NOAA warning. Untold human suffering from water shortages it read. Areas uninhabitable for months it warned. How clearer can a picture be painted?

The day prior I had told my boss at the lumber company that this thing was going to be massive, possibly trumping Andrew in damage. I'm regarded as the local weather nut so most just thought my enthusiasm was overblown. I figured that as I watched the behemoth churn towards the gulf coast preparations were being made for possibly the biggest natural disaster in our history. I figured the governent was acting on the potential that the Hurricane Pam study showed related to the flooding of New Orleans. Surely the so called superpower USA, proponents of a culture of life and protectors of the masses, wouldn't allow American citizens to be neglected and forgotten. A lumber salesman in Alabama knew what was coming but had misplaced faith in the government and its agencies. I was naive and had no idea.

My other passion is politics. I am transfixed on the day to day happenings in Washington and around the world most others think are as dry as toast. I'm now as cynical about politics as anyone. I watched in the days after as political figures and agency members and heads twisted, distorted and flat out and undeniably lied about the hurricane response. I saw the images coming from the coast and watched George Bush goofing around with a guitar. I saw the dead floating in New Orleans as the secretary of state bought thousand dollar shoes and took in a broadway play. I saw reporters imploring someone to do something. Much like the images of 9/11, the images of Katrina were too much to take if you saw too many of them for too long. I did.

My wife will tell you I almost lost it because people were talking about the looters in New Orleans more than the farce of a recovery effort and the fact that there were people outside of New Orleans who needed help. I couldn't understand how someone in the US could be stranded in a major city for days after evacuating to an official site. I broke down as the realization that the racism my state is known for is far more pervasive than I realized. I've experienced it but not as much by so many and so vile.

"They aint nothin but niggers." "They should just drop a bomb on that place." "To hell with them they should have gotten out of there." Unbelievable this day and age, but true. I'd point out to them that far more than New Orleans was affected but the talk would soon return to the looting in New Orleans. The disgust I witnessed far exceeded the concern I thought at least a few would show. It was like I was out on an island jumping up and down and screaming at anything that would listen but no one replied. On top of that my wedding was to be November 26th in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We both know how stressful that can be. At that point it almost seemed silly considering that 5 hours away such suffering was taking place.

I took in too many of the horrible images and saw no concern in my town as life kept on rolling by. My hope was replaced by dismay and fear. I truly believed that people would never allow their fellow citizens to be forgotten about or dismissed as animals needing to be euthanized. I couldn't handle it and I shut down refusing to accept it. I needed to know people out there gave a damn and accountability was still real. I trudged along through the fall, the wedding, and shut the gulf coast out of my mind because I couldn't do anything. Well the jury is out on the accountability but the stories I read on the Pearlington blog have helped renew my faith in my fellow man. You have no idea how renewing it has been to know that you and many others like you actually do give a damn about other people. That's why I need to help. I need to support my kind in the effort to help others. We're cut from a different cloth and sewn together by a thread that transcends ignorance, intolerance, and apathy. Does that make us special? Absolutely not. If I were in the shoes of the people of Pearlington I'd hope someone would help me. I'd hope there was a way out of the darkness. I'd hope the world held the promise things will get better.

I now know there are others out there to provide this. With that knowledge my hope has returned.

Feel free to share this with your fellow volunteers , if you see fit, as a personal thank you from someone outside of Pearlington who they've helped as well.I hope I can return the favor.


Live from Pearlington - April 17, 2006

Today is my last day in Pearlington this trip - I leave from Gulfport Airport tomorrow morning well before dawn. It's been a productive and fast-paced 10 days, although things were pretty quiet in town this weekend because of the Easter holiday.

Yesterday, my hosts Susie Sharp and Pam Kirkland made us a wonderful Easter dinner. I enjoy their company immensely and that of Pam's husband Mike Aultman. Mike made his Karaoke debut Friday night and did an awesome job. It takes a lot of guts to get up there in front of people you've known for years, but Mike nailed it! Mike....Harley drivin', tattooed, tobacca-chewin', hard workin', good ole Mississippi boy Mike - with a heart of gold, a green thumb for veggies and a promising voice. Who'd have guessed?

I thought I'd better post that last part as I headed out of town....

It was also a rare privilege to attend the Easter service at the First Missionary Baptist Church. This is one of the African-American churches in town and it was a good old time. Pastor Rawls and three other preachers whipped up a Praise-Fest and souls were being saved at an alarming rate. Much to my surprise (not!) I was invited to sing and I was ready. I'd heard everybody was at risk of being asked to perform. I shared a song by the Eagles and I took the liberty of adding a verse of my own - just for Pearlington:

Hole in the World
There’s a hole in the world tonight;
There’s a cloud of fear and sorrow.
There’s a hole in the world tonight;
Don’t let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.

They say that anger is just love disappointed,
They say that love is just a state of mind.
But all this fighting over who will be anointed, can people be so blind.


We must all learn how to dance with Katrina,
Stand together, linking arm in arm.
We will all learn that God’s love’s everlasting,
Keeping all His children safe from harm.


Oh, they tell me there’s a place over yonder,
Cool water running through the burning sand.
Until we all learn how to love one another,
We will never reach the Promised Land.


It was a wonderful service and I had always dreamed of singing in a southern black church. They made us all feel very welcome and appreciated and after, filled us with some more of that fine southern cooking.

I'll miss Pearlington, but it's time to go home. I miss more my darling wife and the green, green grass of southern Ontario in the spring. My heart is there and it's my home.

But, as Arnold would say: "I'LL BE BACK!"

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Focus on....Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

This is the first in a series of articles focusing on the volunteers of Pearlington, Mississippi

When Hattiesburg, Mississippi was hard hit by Hurricane Katrina, Pastor Philip Reynolds of the University Baptist Church there leapt into action.

With his congregation, they started helping the members of their own church first and quickly became a P.O.D. - a Point of Distribution - for their area. They busied they themselves with a blue roof program and started clearing fallen trees from homes. In the meantime, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi knew there needed to be a long-term response not just in Hattiesburg, but also on the coast. CBF's tradition is to serve those parts of our society often overlooked and selected the town of Pearlington as their focus.

Dr. Charles Holmes, known affectionately in Pearlington as "Mr. Charlie," had created a Disaster Response Plan that concentrated on CBF being proactive, rather than reactive and this model will serve for future emergencies. In the meantime, Greg Wolfe was dispatched to Pearlington to lead the effort. They looked at the immediate needs and mudding out houses became their first task. Even though they knew some of those homes might be eventually taken down they, like others, understood the psychological benefit to the residents of Pearlington of seeing some kind of action and in taking part immediately in helping themselves. This dynamic and flexible policy of following the most obvious need has been their operating principle since the beginning.

Money has been set aside on the national level at CBF and it is their goal to have homeowners, if possible, match their funds and rebuild five or six homes. These funds flow through University Baptist Church in cooperation with national CBF.

Greg Wolfe did a wonderful job in Pearlington and, at the end of his six month term as Disaster Recovery Director, took up a new position as a Pastor of a Maryland Church in early April. Pearlington was fortunate enough to have him replaced by none other than Charlie Holmes. Charlie has been a volunteer since the beginning and, along with Marion and Shirley Black and many others, his commitment to Pearlington is strong. It is the goal of CBF to continue as their funds permit - at least through December 2006 and hopefully beyond.

Group after group from churches all over North America arrive in Pearlington to do their work under the CBF umbrella. Cooperation is the operative word and Charlie and his teams have lent hands and materials to other groups as required. The goal, like all the volunteers in Pearlington, is to work together to get this massive task accomplished. According to Charlie, the Fellowships providing the most groups to assist him are coming from North Carolina, Colorado and....Canada! North Carolina alone has contributed 45% of the teams working under the CBF banner in Pearlington. It is Charlie's hope that Fellowships from all over North America will see fit to assist in this massive rebuilding effort by raising funds and teams to aid in the effort.

To date, CBF has performed 11,396 labour hours from 667 volunteers on 46 teams. They have done 62 mudouts, gutted 52 homes, installed 103 shallow well pumps, installed over 1000 sheets of dry wall, donated 190 trailer starter kits, etc. etc. etc.

Greg Wolfe and Charlie Holmes are both well-respected men in the Pearlington volunteer community. CBF has done an enormous amount of good here and we all hope that they continue to support the people of Pearlington. As Marion Black had printed on T-shirts for the teams:

Together, we WILL rebuild.

Photo of Charlie Holmes by Canada Jon

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Live from Pearlington - April 15, 2006

Susie Sharp slept in her house last night, for the first time since the storm.

Susie is my hostess when I'm in Pearlington, giving me a spare trailer to call home and even lending me her car to get around. A true daughter of Mississippi, she's tough on the outside, soft on the inside; generous, fiercely loyal and hard working. There isn't a day that goes by that someone in this community doesn't benefit from her generosity and she is well-regarded here in town. I have written about Susie before; her husband Billy passed away before the storm and her brother Valery, from Texas, was accidentally killed here on the property when he came in October to help her clean up. Their memories rest now in a beautiful, shaded spot under the trees beside the house.

Susie has worked daily to get this huge job done. She lost her entire trucking business in the storm, but rises early each morning to face the tasks that will restore her life to normalcy. Using what resources she could gather and with some volunteer help from her family and those who have come to love her from out of town, she steadily worked to get her life in order. And last night, she slept in her new bed, in her new house, with an Easter lily I gave her close at hand.
We are all very proud of you Susie! You are truly an example of "reaping what you sow" and all that has come to you is merely a reflection of all you have given to so many others over the years.

Billy and Val would be proud of you as well and will watch over you as you create the next phase of your life.

I received a letter yesterday from two young women who were here last week, volunteering in Pearlington. I would like to share it with you:

"LPE's Trip to Mississippi: Life Lessons By: Ashley Butler and Whitney Adams

Lambda Pi Eta returned from their journey to Pearlington, MS with much more than a feel-good attitude about giving back to the community. This service project was unlike any other the group had ever experienced. In three short days of work and two long days of driving, the 15 honors students learned about devastation and heartbreak, but also about hope for the future. Nothing could have prepared us for the sheer desolation and despair we witnessed upon arrival in Pearlington. Almost 8 months after the storm, we figured we would be putting the finishing touches on town that had been rebuilding since the say it was destroyed. We were wrong.

We took in our surroundings and finally understood that the pictures and news clips we saw on TV were real, the people and their suffering was real, and the tragedy was real. Change has been and always will be the most constant element of human life. From the devastated landscape to the shattered lives, the Gulf Coast and the membersof Lambda Pi Eta will never be the same. First-hand interaction with the community of Pearlington, Mississippi helped LPE members comprehend the wrath of nature and the fragile essence of life, the benefits of good will and the importance of selflessness. While each member has taken away something different from their experience, overall they learned that nothing is guaranteed; to take every moment and treat it as something special and sacred; and that one is ever too far away to lend a helping hand, an attentive ear and an open heart.

No one will truly understand the pain the Gulf Coast has been enduring since Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005 until they travel down there to lend a helping hand and witness it for themselves. It is only then that your compassion will be true and your life changed forever. We are so grateful that the town of Pearlington took us in, embraced us, and let us go with true life lessons which we will never forget. It was so difficult for us to leave, that we plan on returning in June for 1 to 2 weeks to continue our journey with the people of Pearlington."

(Lambda Pi Eta is the Communication Honors Society at Salisbury University located on the eastern shore of Maryland)

Last night I was invited to help "re-group" about 40 members of a team from California, working with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and headed home today. Most of them young people, they shared moving experiences of their time in Pearlington and I helped them understand what re-integration into their lives back home would be like. We laughed and cried together and Mary and Wilf Wityshyn, along with Wilf's son Chris have done an outstanding job since their arrival in Pearlington.

They are here because they too, in their turn, came to the Coast to help and were so changed by the experience that they re-arranged their personal lives in Canada and returned to stay for a year or two. They are kind, decent people and I am proud to call them my new friends. I was even made an Honorary Presbyterian Disaster Assister and will get to show off my t-shirt to my son-in-law back home, who is just graduating with a Masters of Divinity and will now become a Presbyterian minister. Ironically enough, he grew up in a town in Ontario less than 30 minutes away from the Wityshyn's home.

People helping people help people....that's what this is all about. The Circle of Life closes and we are all blessed.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Live from Pearlington - April 14, 2006

I have so much to share I don't know where to begin!

Something important shifted for me yesterday and I awoke this morning with great Hope in my heart. We have moved into a very new phase of the recovery and more and more people are going to begin to get back in their homes now. Larry Randall, local co-manager of the Recovery Center, reports that while driving around the Mississippi coast yesterday it dawned on him that Pearlington may actually be a bit ahead of most other places in its recovery. This little "forgotten" town may not be forgotten any longer.

We are moving out of the stage where a host of relatively unskilled workers can arrive and mudout houses, clean up debris etc. We implore you and your group to recruit more skilled individuals: electricians, plumbers, drywall hangers and particularly floaters, carpenters etc. These are desperately needed and we must put on a big push to get them here NOW. Come July 1, 2006 the emergency phase of this recovery will be deemed over by the state of Mississippi and original licensing and code laws will be re-asserted. This means that all work must be done by professional and state licensed tradespeople. Professionals licensed in other states may explore getting their MS license, which may require nothing more than verification of their credentials and a test to ensure competency. PLEASE DO THIS NOW, for preparation of the July 1st deadline.

If homeowners are encouraged to get a building permit now, before July 1st, and have graded their lots, put in the footings and foundation and at least one stud, their height elevation can be grandfathered back to the height elevations existent before Katrina. After July 1st all new home construction will need to be at least 4 feet higher than the elevation of the previous structure and rebuilds, well....let's not even go there. FEMA has completed their Advisory Base Elevation Map and we all know that FEMA is full of surprises. These houses need to be built right, especially electrically. None of us will forgive ourselves if less than professional wiring caused a fire down the road. The government knows this, hence the new rules after July 1. FEMA has published its "Home Builders' Guide to Coastal Construction" and all the code rules are in it. I will attempt to find out how to get one. I have 6 copies and will mail to groups who are serious about compliance.

LET'S PUT A BIG PUSH ON NOW. Pearlington is counting on us!

Volunteers stream into Pearlington because we all have done such a good job in inviting them here. This brings new challenges in terms of housing, feeding and safety. It requires us to be more on the same page and working together cooperatively. I cannot stress this enough: all groups visiting Pearlington must report directly, or through their parent sponsor group here, to Laurie Spaschak of the Coordination Team. This is critical for several reasons:

- we must record the work you do here and update our database, so that we eliminate duplication of effort, ensure the work being done is warranted and safe, right of entry permits by the homeowner are in place, all work is of sufficient quality, etc.
- knowing our resources that are available on a daily basis, allows our groups here to cooperate and share these resources to get the jobs done in a meaningful and efficient way; we must be more professional in this if we are to succeed as quickly as possible;
- recording this work done, the hours put in and the costs of materials and money donated allows us to create a database of same that is as good as cash when applying for government grants - some grants require, let's say, a 20% contribution by the community and YOUR volunteer hours and donations of materials can be directly used to provide that contribution
additionally, all of the hours and donations will be used to eventually offset the coming tax bill, that will trickle down from the feds, to the state, to the county, to the already-stretched folks of Pearlington; hence, your cooperation in this matter will be of direct financial benefit to the people who live here.

A wise decision has been made to move the Resource Center portion of Pearlington out of the Pearl*Mart and into its own office in one of the new bunkhouses on the edge of the field. I support this decision fully, as the hours of operation for this and for the Pearl*Mart itself are quite different. It will allow Laurie and others to do their jobs with more room and organization, less interruptions etc. Now, if we could just get power to the bunkhouses....

As I have stated, I am also concerned - as a therapist - with the emotional impact of volunteers coming to Pearlington, especially young people. This is still a traumatic situation and it has a profound effect on many who volunteer here. I will be posting, as I have said, guidelines for preparing your group, strategies for de-briefing them nightly and - most importantly - how you can support them after they get home and try to re-integrate into a society that hasn't shared their experience, doesn't understand and (seemingly) doesn't really care. It can be very difficult to re-adjust. All young people on your team need to be carefully supervised and supported and I would advise that you give great consideration to the makeup of your teams, ensuring that the ratio of youth to adults be something on the order of 1:3. Young children are not equipped to handle this situation and can be at greater risk of physical and emotional harm.

Watch for this material in the coming weeks....

Please let me be clear: if it were not for volunteers this town would still be in shambles. We need all the help we can get. We need, however, to be respectful and mindful of ALL the needs of our volunteers. Not everybody can come down here and do this and not everybody should. But EVERYBODY can make a difference in their own way: fund raising, promoting, recruiting, supporting and inspiring others.

No one really wants to talk about this, but the hurricane season will be upon us June 1st. We are working on a Volunteer Evacuation Strategy for Pearlington and will keep you updated. Simple things can be done. Ensure you have enough vehicles for your team; purchase insurance on your airline ticket in case you need to change it at the last moment. Be smart, be safe. More to come on this....

Safety issues while working in Pearlington....more to come on this....

It's Good Friday and all of us here working in Pearlington wish you and your families a wonderful Easter holiday. In your prayers, ask your Creator for guidance and inspiration to make the rebuilding of Pearlington a speedy success. Ask for how YOU can best help. As Jennifer Johnson of Huntsville, AL has so eloquently put it:

"Together, we WILL rebuild Pearlington - ONE BRICK AT A TIME."

God bless you all.
Canada Jon

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Volunteer's Prayer for Pearlington

It's the dead of night and I cannot sleep. I find myself at my keyboard, somewhat overwhelmed. There is so much to do here and it seems to take so much to get even a little something done.

If the whole world could come to a place like Pearlington, they would understand what it is we witness here; what it means to lose everything by an act of God and then to try and hold bravely onto one's Faith. Words like dignity, integrity, trust and hope take on new meanings; no longer vague abstractions, but the stuff of everyday challenge to understand their meanings and to walk them in the world. Faith really isn't Faith until its ALL you're holding onto. Hope is the daily waiting, looking at the mess that was once your life and praying someone will come to help. Many people in this town are holding on to to both, like two life preservers keeping them afloat in a sea of broken dreams.

They never expected us here, never needed us here, but they need and want us now. Some are too proud to ask for help, some ask for too much. Many are manifesting some version of post-traumatic stress and we need to be gentle with them. And with ourselves. We can't do everything, only what we can and it serves no purpose to burn out on the altar of service. I remember back in November thinking I hadn't called home in a couple of days and almost resenting the fact that I should. It was then that I realized I was at risk of "going native," of over-identifying with the good people of Pearlington, as if they were MY people, MY town. As a therapist it's a dangerous spot to be in and a sure sign of Compassion Fatique. I had come to care so much, to be so busy on their behalf, to want to help and make the monster go away.

Now I'm back once again, rested, with a healthier perspective and still I feel their pain. It shouldn't be so hard to get some paint, some plywood, some nails. Simple things that would merely occasion a short trip to the Home Depot, but magnified 1600-fold - is daunting. And that's just Pearlington. If I only share with you the karaoke, the crab boils and the fried turkey; only talk about miracles of resource meeting need; only sound up and happy and that it is all easy, I would minimize the experience of both resident and volunteer alike. Don't get me wrong: Karaoke Nights in the fall were fun, but I intended it as group therapy for us all.

Tomorrow, I will arise and put my customary smile on my face and rejoin the adventure. I am an optimist by nature and I believe in the power of the human Spirit. I believe in all the volunteers who come here to help because that very same Spirit called them to this journey. I'm proud to be a part of this volunteer community and a friend to the people of Pearlington. I know I have asked you before and once again, I call us all to redouble our efforts.

God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference. Grant us the resources to fairly distribute to those truly in need of the materials required to rebuild Faith and Hope. As leaders and volunteers, grant us the ability to stay focused and healthy, leading by example and staying determined, organized and co-operative with each other. Guide us to the creation of 1600 miracles, 1600 opportunities to show we care, 1600 ways to find what we need to do this job. God, place the invitation in the hearts of all good people to come and join the Dance, each in the way they can do best, by sharing the abundance of this great continent with our brothers and sisters of all faiths and ancestries and beliefs in this little bayou town.

It's Easter and Christ will rise again. As will Pearlington.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Live from Pearlington - CURRENT NEEDS LIST

Things continue to build in Pearlington and I have identified many needs - material, organizational and practical - that I will be sharing with you in the coming days and weeks. The more you and your group understand about the timelines and the situation in Pearlington, the more informed choices you can make about who and what to bring, what you can expect when you get here and how you can be of the most value to this struggling community. A sample of what I am working on:

Downloadable .pdf files, attached to this blog, with basic instructions for:

- mucking out a house, stripping it down to the studs, cleaning and de-moulding and preparing for rebuilding; these instructions will prepare your group for what is involved, what you will need to bring with you; safety instructions, including what safety equipment is required to ensure all volunteers have a healthy experience, etc.
- assisting in the hanging and finishing of sheet rock (dry wall)
- cleaning, spraying and de-moulding a house to EPA standards
- other semi-skilled tasks that are required in this community at this time


- a brief history of Pearlington, demographics before and after Katrina; the stages of recovery and my personal and professional observations of each stage in Pearlington
- a brief instruction on Cultural Appropriateness on the ground; for those of us who have worked traumatic and cataclysmic events here and around the world, this is critical - it's about not assuming we know who these people are and what they need, but rather being open to learn, to fit into their culture regardless of our personal beliefs and history; to respect and honor their traditions and ways of doing things; to never make assumptions of even the simplest things, etc.
- basic leadership skills for managing a group of people on the ground; setting the moral and work ethic, modelling behavior while a guest in another culture, supporting your team emotionally while working in a difficult and traumatic situation; setting healthy boundaries concerning what can be realistically accomplished; never making promises you cannot keep, avoiding emotional entanglement while bonding with those you come to serve; a basic understanding of transference and counter-transference, etc.
- fitting in and working cooperatively within the existing volunteer community and allowing us to inform and guide you, based on our experience, in the appropriate methods of delivering your mission to this community.
- which issues are safe to become involved in and which ones of which to stay completely clear, etc.

Below is the Current Needs List for Pearlington:

Current Needs List:

Desperately Needed Professionals:
- Plumbers, Electricians, Carpenters, Dry Wallers, etc.

Badly needed construction materials:
- sheet rock (dry wall), tape and mud, sheet rock and mud knives, drop cloths
- framing materials, 2X4's, plywood etc.
- insulation
- electrical boxes; 1, 2 & 3 gang boxes
- wall switches and covers, junction boxes
- outlets and covers
- wiring 100 & 220 - 12-2, 10-2, 8-3
- wire nuts
- electrical tape
- service panels 150 amp and 200 amp 14 to 20 circuit panels
- meter boxes, square D or GE
- breakers 20 amp, 15 amp, 30 amp and 50 amp square D or GE
- wire staples
- heavy duty staple guns
- crowbars, nail pullers, scrapers
- wheelbarrows
- hand tools of all kinds
- work gloves, rubber boots (all sizes) and safety footwear (all sizes)
- indoor/outdoor bug spray in insect repellent (the gnats are nefarious!)

Office Supplies:
- printer ink cartridges for Lexmark 4300 series #32, 33, 34, 35 or gift card to WalMart
- 20lb. bond printer paper
- file folders
Cleaning Supplies:
- dish liquid
- pine oil
- Lysol
- spray cleaner 409 or Fantastic
- bleach and powdered laundry detergent (in manageable sized containers)
- window cleaner

Household Items:
- plastic garbage cans (small and large)
- toilet paper
- paper towels
- garbage bags (30 gallon)
- gallon Ziploc freezer and storage bags
- Kleenex
- Band Aides
- peroxide

Baby Supplies:
- diapers (all sizes)
- shelf life 2% milk cartons

Pearl*Mart Items:
- canned meats
- canned vegetables (no black beans or chick peas)
- tuna, chicken (canned)
- salt, pepper
- vegetable oil
- baking soda
- small bags or boxes of sugar
- coffee and filters
- vinegar
- flour
- corn meal
- dry red beans (kidney)
- soda (diet and regular)
- sugar substitutes - Sweet 'n Low, Equal or Sugar Twin

- people with the proper intention to serve with humility and grace
- good behavior, remembering that you are a guest in other people's lives
- folks who ONLY promise what they themselves can deliver (these folks have been disappointed enough)
- courage, perspective, kindness, loving and open hearts who work and play well with others

Glory Seekers, Egotists, Opportunists, Bullies and Bigots NEED NOT APPLY

Thank you and God bless,
Canada Jon White

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Live from Pearlington - April 11, 2006

Resource meeting Need - that's what this is all about.

Late Monday I was approached by Jill Lackey and her daughter Madison, two volunteers from Ardmore Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC. While assisting with the needs survey, they came across a family with an 8-year-old special-needs child whose wheelchair had been lost in the storm. By noon yesterday, Alexis had a new one and a care package filled with appropriate toys from Laurie at the Pearl*Mart. She was particularly fascinated with the little jewellery box I gave her, that popped open to reveal a spinning ballerina tinkling a little song. A small thing, perhaps, but not to Alexis....

Yesterday, I had lunch at Reverend Rawl's First Missionary Baptist Church. It has a rich history dating back to 1869 and the lunch served was one of the finest examples of southern cooking yet. Jacqueline Acker, who was there alone that day - "But I'm ready!" - had prepared a delightful buffet of red beans and rice with ham hock, ribs, potatoes and snap beans, peach cobbler, salad, fresh rolls and a host of trimmings. I arrived close to 11:30 and by the time I left 20 minutes later, she had served 63 people. Later, Jackie told me she did it as therapy; she could no longer sit in her little trailer and do nothing but grieve. She got herself up and has made an enormous contribution to the volunteer community, recognizing what those volunteers were doing for her town. I left her a good donation for my lunch, used to purchase the fresh items not available through the Pearl*Mart.

If you eat there, please do the same. This stuff has gotta keep keepin' on!

I received a call from Tom Dalessandri from Carbondale, CO yesterday. He is in desperate need of a qualified electrician to repair some stuff at a home in Pearlington, in preparation of their next trip here to finish some work that needs doing. He can't find one at home able to journey here in time. If you can help very soon, please contact me and I will facilitate the job. He also needs a sheetrock finisher to tape, mud and sand another home before the 18th, so his people can come when they arrive to do the painting. Again, please contact me.

Conrad Velasco - the 'Shed Man' - and a team from Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, assisted by a team of seven from Walton County, FL are busy building resident Vicki Netto a small new home. She is delighted for this unsolicited hand up, but - as I suspected - has come under a certain amount of fire from some other local residents for the volunteers' generosity. For those Pearlington folks who read this, please know that we are here for the long haul and we will help all of you in your turn. Have Faith and give us time to get to you. Like Katrina herself, we make no distinctions between people and know you are all in need. Sometimes our donors direct their funds to specific projects of their own choosing and we must abide by that. We'll get to you. As volunteers dependent upon donations, we cannot of course, promise anything - except our assurance that we will always do what we can to help.

Help yourselves as much as you can in the meantime and try to be patient. We care about you ALL.

The new laundromat is progressing well and will hold five washers and dryers. Jake Earle has obtained the materials to bring the building housing the new kitchen up to Health Department code and will be installing them today. Then we will truly be up and running. Thanks Jake! I know how much of your time and personal money you have given to this effort and we applaud you!

Once again, let's work these miracles and get the job done. That's what we're all about. Yah!

Canada Jon

Monday, April 10, 2006

Live from Pearlington - April 10, 2006

It has long been a cherished idea to find a way to get all the volunteer groups working in Pearlington coordinated and on the same page. Our goal has always been to provide speedy help to the residents, avoid duplication of effort and to help focus visiting volunteers on the tasks at hand. That is why I created the Coalition of Disaster Relief Agencies (C.O.D.R.A.) in the first place.

That goal took a giant leap forward yesterday.

With respecting the autonomy of the various faith and agency groups in mind, we have created a system by which the needs (in various categories) of the entire town will be known and the activities of each group correlated with those needs. This will prevent groups from showing up to do work that may have already been done by another group, any duplication of effort and the provision of current information as to what is exactly needed where.

Laurie Spaschak is midway through a survey of the entire town, facilitated by volunteers from Americorps. This will be entered on a database and published weekly and disseminated to all parties. As work is completed, each group is asked to submit information as to what was accomplished and the database will be updated to reflect the current situation. Laurie will coordinate this with the help of Americorps volunteers, who will do the actual computer input.

This will, of course, require us all to cooperate and provide the appropriate information. We again reiterate the need for all visiting groups of volunteers, especially those who do not have regular representation on the ground, to check in with Laurie at the Recovery Center upon arrival. This is not an issue of control, as we thoroughly respect your right to do the work you are called to do. Rather, it is an issue of cooperation and the effective use and employment of resources that are thin enough at the best of times.

Brief Coordination Meetings are currently being held - and have been for some time - in Bunkhouse B (on the field behind the school) on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. All are invited. We have a sterling opportunity to move as one body and to get this job done in a way that may become the model for how non-government orgaizations can function smootly and effectively in a disaster situation. It will also bring a degree of professionalism to this huge project that may impress our supporters and encourage donations to our respective groups.


We are currently seeking the volunteer support of teams of Assessors, who are qualified to assess damage in the field and provide information as to what must be done at each home. We are currently thinking of teams of two who can provide a three week stint each, until the job is complete. We agree that there are certain tasks - like mucking out houses and removing debris and fallen trees - that provide as much psychological benefit to the residents as anything else. Yet, we do not have the resources to move much past that point until we are certain that the efforts we put into individual homes are warranted, in the context of local elevation laws and the assessed level of damage by the government, as well as the level of contribution by the homeowner.

We are not necessarily asking for home inspectors, architects or people who are trained to make those kinds of decisions. We need people who can size a house up and make a determination as to what labour can safely and wisely be put into a home that is being rebuilt from its damaged core. It is another matter completely when it comes time to look for the resources to begin actual re-construction and we are working on a plan to accomplish that as well. The information gathered by the Assessors will be used to determine what can realistically be done and those tasks would be published from the database for the various groups to work from.

If you can help, please contact me, Jon White. I will sort through the information and forward it concisely to Laurie, who already has an enormous amount on her plate. I know, I've been there. We are also inviting your comments and feedback, which can also be forwarding to me, and I will correlate it and send it on. Please address your comments to me at

Thank you.


And now....some great news from the ground in Pearlington.

Susie Sharp is set to move back into her home next week! Susie has been a selfless and generous member of this community for many years and there are many volunteers - including this one - whose stay in Pearlington has been made immeasurably better by her efforts. We love ya Susie and God bless you for all your have endured personally during this time. You deserve everything we could do for you!

Under the guidance of Jake Earle, a wonderful group of volunteers from Horizon Community Church in Cincinnati, OH are building a new laundomat beside the new showers in the field behind the school. Tom and Beverly Feie, their kids Amy, Jamie and Kevin; Chad, Ryan and others are doing an outstanding job on this much needed project.

Laurie Spaschak and Bob Putnam made an outstanding homemade lasagna dinner for the volunteers last night.

I would like to recognize all the groups working so hard in Pearlington. Please send me the information so I can publish it.

Keep plugging, keep loving and keep coming!
"Canada" Jon White

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Live from Pearlington - April 9, 2006

Things are hopping in Pearlington!

While it’s quiet in town, from the perspective of the number of volunteers present at the moment, there are lots of good things going on. I met up yesterday morning with Sam Rodriquez, Eric Tilgner and Tim Goodnow from the Dog Soldiers who had tarped Cindy and Raymond Diaz's roof and were heading there to muck out and spray the interior. I was able to hook them up in minutes with an incoming group from Northside Baptist Church in Clinton, MS. who gave them all the extra help they needed. Thanks, Charlie Holmes, for that miracle facilitation.

The bunkhouses in the field are all ready to rock and the Americorps kids were busy painting them and making them look good. The kitchen tent is almost ready to open and is just awaiting some linoleum for under the equipment, a state bylaw. It should be in by Monday, but regardless, they are feeding 150 volunteers a day while they await completion. The showers are up and running and Luke will be hauling away today the last of the original units. The First Southern Baptist Church is also feeding lots of volunteers and Daniel Baldwin and his wife and colleagues are doing an excellent job there. More to come on them later....

Larry Randall has things well in hand at the Pearl*Mart and Laurie Spaschak is doing an outstanding job coordinating the volunteer housing, as well as working with many of the other groups to keep everyone on the same page. A survey of the town is almost complete, as to the stage of rebuilding of each family's home, with an eye to the big picture of what needs to be done and the most efficient way to coordinate the work and precious resources available. More to come on that later....

Mary-Elaine Wityshyn, her husband Wilf and his son Chris have the Presbyterian Camp well in hand. They are all good Canadians (of course!) have reorganized and revitalized the facility and are working extensively with other groups and with Laurie to ensure we all stay focused on the people of Pearlington and the daunting tasks ahead.

Yesterday, at the bleachers in the field, Reverend Rawls and Pastor Fields officiated at a memorial service for those lost to Katrina in Pearlington. In the audience was Tim White, the foster son of Dr. Sidney Strickland, who passed away in a trailer fire last week. Pastor Fields surprised me by asking me to sing - a capella - and a moment of quiet reflection yielded part of a song:

"There's a hole in the world tonight,
There's a cloud of fear and sorrow;
There's a hole in the world tonight,
Don't let there be a hole in the world tomorrow."

As Jennifer Johnson of Huntsville has so eloquently put it, we must all concentrate on rebuilding Pearlington "one brick at a time." We must have the courage and wisdom to ensure that all other considerations are secondary. I have done this work in many parts of the world and things succeed only when the players involved remember that politics, personal issues, ego and personal glory have NO place in our efforts. We must cooperate, remain humble servants of the greater good and remember that if it does not DIRECTLY benefit the people for whom we came here to serve, we are acting just like the other large government organizations that we are all so clear have somewhat failed these people.

We must move together gracefully, as a flock of geese, not lumber about loudly like a herd of cows. We must, first, do no harm. We must support and care for each other, as this work is taxing and demanding and most brutal when done in isolation. We are all in this together and the good people of Pearlington are counting on us.

Let's amaze Pearlington and the world with this wonderful new model we have created: various groups and individuals, standing shoulder to shoulder, hearts and hands open and linked, Perfect Strangers loving this little town back to life.

We can do it. We ARE doing it!

And being a part of this is a rare privilege and an outstanding opportunity to walk our talk.

God is watching us....

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Of Bunks 'n Beds

Two quick bits ‘bout beds today: new ones for weary volunteers and somewhere to put old ones for weary folks starting over....

"I, along with 14 others from my church (First Baptist in Goldsboro N.C.), spent the week of March 26 - March 31 in Pearlington at the Recovery Center at the Charles Murphy Elementary School. We were the first group - along with a church from Wilmington N.C. - to be housed in one of the Bunk Houses built by the Navy. We started the rebuilding of the Smith’s house while there. I was so touched by the love and appreciation in this community. Even in the midst of the devastation, the First Missionary Baptist Church feeds everyone lunch each day. The spirit inside that building beside their devastated church is so strong. We plan to return to Pearlington in the near future and continue the rebuilding efforts.

God bless Pearlington and everyone there.

Jerry Phillips"


The following was posted in the Savannah Morning News March 28, 2006, letters to the Editor:

"Please permit me to tell your readers that I know first-hand that "all things work together for the good."

My husband and I spent our 57th wedding anniversary in the attic of our daughter's home in Bay St. Louis, Miss., riding out Hurricane Katrina, with our daughter, three cats and two dogs. We watched as the water rose and when the ceiling began to give way beneath us, we sat on the rafters. After what seemed to be an eternity, the water began to recede. We realized that everything below us was gone, but we were all alive with a new appreciation for life.

After five days we were able to check on our home in Pearlington, Miss. What we found was absolute destruction. Our whole little town was gone.

We had resigned ourselves to the 100-percent loss of our home when a band of angels from Savannah, whose group is called "Pickin' Up the Pieces," arrived and simply said, "We've come to help." What they have done to restore our old lives is nothing short of a miracle. It has been an edification to realize that people so far away care enough to come here to help.

Count your blessings, treasure your loved ones, be grateful for a drink of water and please continue to pray for those in the path of Hurricane Katrina who are still in need of help.

Patricia Wilson
Pearlington, Miss.

Editor's note: Pickin' Up the Pieces, a local 501(c)(3) corporation headed by Michael L. Edwards and Linda G. Edwards, reports that on Feb. 10 Mr. and Mrs. Wilson became the first family to move back into their home in the Pearlington community."