Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Soaring Above the Storm

Things are very challenging in Pearlington right now. I think a lot of us know this. Never was there a greater need for residents to step up to help us direct the outcome of rebuilding and to support and nourish each other, as fear grows daily and desperation abounds. EVERY volunteer is burnt and tired; tired of trying to manifest new homes out of thin air and burnt by being blamed or criticised by some when they cannot.

My days are filled with trying to be supportive from a distance; listening and suggesting, counselling and calming, planning and creating. I feel helpless, knowing it will be four more weeks until I return, but no more helpless than every other volunteer in Pearlington who feels like they spend their days throwing bottled water on forest fires. It’s overwhelming.

Yet, it is my experience that NONE of those same volunteers would give up, even if God had told us all from the outset exactly what we were getting ourselves into. We don’t give up on our children, we don’t give up on faith, we don’t give up on the world and we will NOT give up on Pearlington - even if, desperate and scared, they drive us out of town.

So we will shoulder what we must and act better than some are acting towards us, and carry on. There are signs of life everywhere, things are getting done, people are on their way to help and we have had some exceptional volunteer groups donate their time, energy and money to the cause. Signs of progress are everywhere. I wish I could share with you all the things I know, the things that are being worked on and the miracles being created every single day. I will not at this time, because nothing is ever for certain and we will do nothing to disappoint these people.

Here’s some things I can share now:

The roof is on the new storage building at the field in Pearlington - pictures to follow. Now we are working hard at filling it up.

"Beautify Pearlington Week" is alive and well. View or download the .pdf file of the schedule of events here and let’s make Pearlington SHINE! To hell with the Hurricane season....let’s all be hippies and wave a flower in it’s face!

We are looking for some special volunteers for the last two weeks of June. The last Americorps team leaves Pearlington on the 14th and Laurie has 250 volunteers coming to town shortly thereafter. We are thinking of two teams of five, both with a leader responsible for the other four. You would assist Laurie in keeping the Volunteer Shelter, and other amenities, clean and ready for all the hard-working folks on their way to help. Those interested, please contact me and I will give you precise dates and a list of duties. Perhaps if we could get four teams of five, each set of two teams working for a week each....

I leave you with part of a hymn, sung this past Sunday by the Pearlington Praise Team at the First Southern Baptist Church:

"When the oceans rise and thunders roar,
I will soar with you above the storm."

Let us rest and gather our strength, volunteers and residents alike. We are partners in recovery and we travel this road together, for a time.

Then let us soar above the storm, take back the town from tragedy and despair, and show the world what courage and faith can do.

God bless,
Canada Jon

Monday, May 29, 2006

An Open Letter from Canada Jon to the People of Pearlington

Back in November, when I was managing the Recovery Center in Pearlington, there were days when only the sanity of my phone calls to my wife back home enabled me to make it through the long hours. There was always a challenge. I called it "Crisis du Jour" and many of them required all of my skills as a manager and as a psychotherapist to restore order and to re-establish a sense of goodwill and cooperation within the community.

We are at that place again. In November, it was the critical mass of trying to get the last of the residents of your town off the ground and into trailers. Now, as May draws to a close and hurricane season arrives officially on Thursday, it is the critical mass of trying to get everyone back in their homes. Yet this task is akin to trying to build a large subdivision of 300 or 400 homes - but with NO materials, NO skilled help and opposition from large organizations that promise Pearlington things they do not deliver, by changing the rules in mid-stream.

It is the volunteers of Pearlington that take much of the heat for that - and many other things. Yet, I know for a certainty, that the folks of Pearlington see only about 25% of our efforts on their behalf. You do not see the thousands of hours of planning, fundraising, pleading , begging, organizing and praying. You do not hear our million phone calls nor read the vast number of emails that are exchanged trying to get help for your town. You do not see our tears; that perhaps we could have done more, or that perhaps we helped someone who truly had other resources they did not disclose. You do not feel our hearts move in our chests as we say goodbye to you and pray for your safety nor do you know how much we have given up because we know you need help and that you depend on us.

Since I arrived in Pearlington in early September, I have spent probably 20-25 hours a week assisting Pearlington. I semi-retired to enable me to do so. I am not a wealthy man. God called me and I have answered in faith and trust. I am not the only one. People like Jennifer Johnson, Paula Buhr and Laurie Spaschak have cheerfully given up tens of thousands of dollars in income to be at your side. We work tirelessly behind the scenes and I spend hours each week motivating, re-inspiring, supporting and counselling scores of volunteers who must deal with the trauma that coming to Pearlington creates. I spend hours more doing the same thing for many of you. Again, I am not the only one - not by a long shot.

I share this with you not to encourage guilt or shame, but rather to remind you that we are your PARTNERS. We have no central warehouses, nor lines of credit or unlimited resources. We have nothing but what we can create out of thin air on your behalf. There is no glory in our tasks, save the glory of God who channels His will through us. We have left the safety of our own homes and families because you have lost your own. We have proven that we will stand beside you through thick and thin and will try our best to keep our heads when many around us are losing theirs and blaming it on us.

We love you. We are called to love you because you are hurting and because NO ONE does this work unless they can reach inside themselves, as citizens of the world, and find a place of unconditional love from which to operate. We cannot save you, yet we want to - and we punish ourselves in many quiet ways you will never see, when we feel we’ve failed. We celebrate with you, grieve at your losses, for you are our Pearlington family and we come to you knowing we are breaking our own hearts on purpose. We are fiercely protective of you, in words and deeds. We have chased away those who would prey on you and will continue to do it every time. We have stood up for you, made noise on your behalf and talked to reporters and news people all over North America, to tell your story - our story.

Things are hard right now. Please work with us, as best you can. There is never an easy choice we must make and we hold each of you - black, white, young, old, rich or poor in high esteem EQUALLY. We have no agenda, save to rebuild this town. Despite what comes now, we will not give up. We will lick our wounds in private and move on. We will stand beside you and face down another storm, if that is God’s will. And we will stand together against all those who think we’re foolish - or worse - for caring so much what happens in Pearlington.

We are human, same as you. We all make mistakes, poor choices and say things we wish we hadn’t. I call upon ALL of us to consider if any choice we make is something we will be proud of in a year - and then to NOT make it, if the answer is NO. We must call each other to our best place - our highest common denominator, not our lowest.

Some day, the history books will record the miracle that is happening in Pearlington. Some day they will speak about the thousands of average people who helped a small town rebuild itself from a devastating hurricane. I, and others, will also be there to record the indomitable spirit of the residents of Pearlington and how we all worked together to accomplish a miracle, and how we all grew and changed in the process.

Keep the faith.

With love and respect,
Jon White

Thursday, May 25, 2006



“I forgot to mention earlier that we went over to Jackie’s trailer after the funeral and gave her three rose bushes and a card from all of us: Mary and Wilf [PDA] and all the Pearlington Recovery Center crew. We ended up with donations from a jar at Pearl*Mart, totalling $100. She said she spent all day yesterday crying and asked the Lord to just get her through the funeral.

With the Lord by her side and all the community standing with her, she is determined to make it through....”


I will be returning to Pearlington on June 30 - July 10, 2006. I am looking forward to assisting wherever I can and reconnecting with my volunteer and resident friends. I also plan to belt out a tune or two at every opportunity....


Yesterday, the SeaCoast Echo in Bay St. Louis did a great article on the Pearlington Recovery Center. Like all such articles, writer Michael Prince chose to focus the article almost solely on Laurie Spaschak and Bob Putnam. Laurie was very quick to point out in a letter the next day to Mr. Prince:

“The story of Pearlington is not about me, or any one group. We are extremely fortunate to have volunteers from all over the country who come here with not only giving hearts and time, but materials and resources as well. The rebuilding of Pearlington is in their hands as well and their impact is obvious if you look around and see the homes that are being rebuilt day by day. The special thing about Pearlington is that we have all managed to work together, through tough times and differences, regardless of faith, race, age or any of the usual dividing factors - because we all want to ‘git-er done!’”

The article is available on the SeaCoast Echo web site.

Thank you for all the many kind words over the months about this blog and our new blog, Sharing Pearlington. You have voted with your “clicks.” It is a very time-consuming project and a labor of love that is unfolding just the way I dreamed it would. In an interesting way, we are connected on the Internet in a way that is similar to our connection, through God, on a spiritual level: perfectly and equidistantly. We send out an intention and someone responds to bring us resources to meet need.

This “experiment” in cooperation in Pearlington is a model of that connection and I am proud to be part of such a hard-working, humble, loving and mutually supportive community. To paraphrase Mother Teresa:

“God does not ask us to be perfect. He asks us to be faithful.”

This work is a work of Faith - belief without evidence - that we can rebuild Pearlington and hold the light high so that others might find their way. We hold that light, not only for the residents, but for each other in the volunteer community. After all, we are just ordinary people with an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference in our world.

What the future brings, we do not know. God doesn’t reveal it, lest some of us lose our nerve. We don’t need to know where it all ends up; the journey IS the destination. We only need to concentrate on the very next step, along the path to our seeming “impossible” Dream.

“You may say I’m a Dreamer,
But, I’m not the only one;
I hope some day you’ll join us,
And the world will be as one.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

News from the Ground - May 24, 2006

Good morning, Pearlington and "all the ships at sea."

PUBLIC MEETING: There will a public information meeting in Pearlington on Thursday, May 26 at 6:30 p.m. All residents are encouraged to be there and all volunteers in town at that time are urged to attend. Encourage all the residents you encounter to join us and let’s get some of the difficult answers. FEMA and the Salvation Army have promised to attend. See Laurie Spaschak for more details. The Pearl*Mart phone number is 228-533-0101 or email her.

Tim Goodnow and the Dog Soldiers will be in town in early June. Joining them will be my erstwhile Canadian friend Eileen Powers, making her second trip to Pearlington.

The photos above are of construction of Laurie’s new Resource Center office, located in the Pearl*Mart and the new storage shed that has been built in the field beside the school, right behind her trailer. We now have two safe storage facilities in Pearlington.

Laurie reports from the ground:

"Steve Halsey's group from River Chase United Methodist, Alabama worked tirelessly over the weekend building for us, using recycled and leftover materials donated by Doug Pennington, and other lumber and building materials donated by PDA Camp 6. Tom Dalessandri [Carbondale] and I went and loaded up a big pile of the stuff and we all got ‘er done! Once again, a combined effort from different groups making things happen here in Pearlington. We needed a storage space so badly and I didn't think it was going to happen. Another huge unexpected blessing!

And it's just in time too. Larry Charbonneau's team from Texas is due in on Thursday with a load of drywall and supplies that will enable us to finish several houses now, and more as soon as we can get the electric and plumbing done. (YES we STILL NEED LICENSED ELECTRICIANS & PLUMBERS). Jennifer Johnson's team will be here working this next week along with Larry's and a few other groups. We really need to push to get the electric and plumbing done so we can keep at the drywall work for the next few weeks, un til the supply runs out.

My new office is up - and slowly getting organized. It is nice to have a space with real file cabinets, a meeting table and computers, internet and all instead of just a table in the corner! I am still extremely busy but we have some new resident volunteers that are helping and are going to be a part of this long term recovery. Joel Adams, who has great people skills and a lot of experience in managing offices in the shipping industry, will be on hand frequently to answer phones and assist in managing the work orders aspect of the job.

Susie Sharp, an amazing woman who had her own large business, is our new "Administrative Assistant". She will be attending County Long Term Recovery Meetings and networking with other organizations and individuals to try to get resources into Pearlington. We have several other residents who have also offered to help out when they can. It's all good! The residents of Pearlington need to be a big part of their own rebuilding, from the resources and decisions down to the daily operation and hammering of nails.

This is, after all, their HOME."

Pearl's Cafe - our new volunteer food station in Pearlington

Monday, May 22, 2006

Revisions to Salvation Army Grants

As it pertains to our work in Pearlington, I believe NOTHING until I see it parked in my driveway, on the loading ramp of the Pearl*Mart or in my pocket, half-spent. It is the only safe way to respect those we serve and to ensure that they get delivered exactly what we are able to provide.

Despite our very best efforts; despite meetings and queries, conversations and consultations with those apparently in-the-know, some further news comes to us today concerning the Salvation Army grants.

Firstly, the homeowner will be excluded if they have already received aid from the Salvation Army or any other relief organization, meaning either building materials or vouchers for building materials.

Bob Putnam reports from Pearlington:

"There was a slight misinterpretation on the Salvation Army grants that we (Mary, Wilf, Laurie and I) were not aware of until yesterday, when I was in Biloxi. The grants are for the work groups to provide materials for the homes that they are working on. So let’s say, Mr. Smith is doing the work on his home and doesn't require the help of any of the volunteer forces, but needs materials Technically, he does NOT qualify for the grant. Every indication to me and the others at the meeting was that they were for the homeowner. Also, any family that has gone to the Salvation Army for assistance and were given Lowes or Home Depot gift vouchers for building materials, are also disqualified from this grant process. [They are using CAN (Coordinated Assistance Network), which lists those who have received help elsewhere, upon which to base their decisions.]

It’s a bit disheartening that two weeks after briefing us on the grants, that the criteria has changed. While talking with the Director of the Salvation Army Disaster Services for Mississippi, I found out a few other things that didn't make sense. They have written and funded this grant to serve 600 families. So by doing the numbers, they have set aside $6 million out of their $155 million announcement for disaster relief. I got to check out their funding board and as of yesterday they only had 9 projects that were funded and 3 that are pending approval.

Major Vincent is going to come to next Thursday's meeting here at 6:30 p.m. We are trying to figure out exactly who has received help for materials. The CAN system has everyone that has signed up with FEMA, so I'm trying to get someone with access to the data bank to check out what they consider aid. UMCOR is offering up to $2500 in material assistance and we are going to use the people who have already gotten aid from Salvation Army or are close enough to moving in that they won't need the grant to attain materials. I am trying to figure where we can go outside this network, to get additional aid."

We are trying to find out about grants for the elderly for rebuilding. Hopefully, we'll have something to add to the grant information soon. We are finding that the elderly homeowner has been excluded from the grant process and access to Habitat, because of their low incomes. Bob will make some calls to his contacts at the American Association for Retired People to find what they may have in their pipeline.

We’ll keep you posted.

Friday, May 19, 2006

God is SO Cool!

Lots of interesting stuff about Pearlington this morning - and our Blog!

If you look to the right, you find a new link to a Blog I have created specifically to share the stories of Pearlington. These will include the "Focus On...." series, as well as "Back Home Again" and "A Volunteer’s Tale." I am soliciting stories and articles for these three series: first-person articles of YOUR individual experiences as volunteers in Pearlington; stories of local folks getting back in their homes (hopefully in the first-person as well, but at least with some good quotes from the residents themselves) and information about your group - how and why you started, your mission(s) to Pearlington; what you were able to accomplish and how you experienced Pearlington as a group.

This new Blog is called "Sharing Pearlington."
There is so much good information coming to me from P’town these days that I’m finding it difficult to get those stories the space they deserve on this blog. You will also notice that I have revealed the Site Meter count. As of this morning, there have been more than 7000 "hits" to this blog - excluding my own visits! The Site Meter is at the very bottom of the panel to the right.

I am still investigating hosts for a Photo Blog and have not found one yet I like fully. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Let’s show Pearlington - after the storm and now - to the world and each other. I’ll keep you informed as it develops.

I also want to say this morning how deeply proud I am of all of you - for your commitment to excellence, your willingness to serve and to make such a difference and for the outstanding resilience of the people of Pearlington. We all have helped to put this town on the map.

NO ONE will forget Pearlington any more!

Charlie Holmes of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship reports this morning:

"Our CBF group laid the foundation, furnished sheetrock, and will provide all the door hardware for a house for Pam and Mike [who live on Susie Sharp’s property]. All the groups working together are like Larry the cable guy's statement: "Git 'er done!"

We also were able to lay the foundations for Ada Palode, Glen Bazor, and Alma McArthur. Hope we have as much success with teams that can get the houses up in a timely manner. Vickie Netto's house is coming along nicely - roof, shingles, siding, insulation, all installed this week. Beginning to look good."

Jennifer Johnson of BRICK Layers of Alabama writes:

"Many hands make light work. I need some help. I just spoke with Pastor Rawls at the First Missionary Baptist Church in Pearlington, MS. Six days a week, these wonderful folks who are still living in FEMA trailers, feed a hot lunch to all the volunteers that come into the town. He asked if I could find him some fresh meat. They have deep freezers at the church where they can store it. They need chicken, turkey, ham, smoked sausage, roast beef, etc. They also need LARGE (think gallon) cans of greens (they say they are hard to find), peaches (for peach cobbler) and apples (for apple pie). Please call and see if you can get some donations. If they had Wal-Mart gift cards, they could buy the fresh meat down there. I can take LARGE cans of fruits and vegetables when I go May 26, but it will be hard to take frozen meat. PLEASE help find some food so that this invaluable ministry can continue." [This is the outreach of which Jackie Acker is a key element].

Additionally, she tells us:

"I thought you would get a kick out of this. My husband, Keith, talked the Assistant Manager from Home Depot into holding a sheetrock workshop for my volunteers. Shawn is going to build a wall in the store for us and give us hands on experience. Get this....he just e-mailed me and now he wants to go on one of our mission trips."

God is so cool!!!!!"

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Jackie's Address....and other things....

For those wishing to send a note of condolence to Jackie Acker, her address is: P.O. Box 891 , 16265 Third Street, Pearlington, MS 39572

The funeral is Saturday. We will let you know the time, when it becomes known. Mary Wityshyn from PDA went to see her yesterday and Laurie Spaschak will check on her today. Laurie writes:

"She is holding up on the surface and insists she will be back to work at the kitchen next week. She has God with her and I hope that through all our prayers she will be able to get past this and go on. We have a collection jar at Pearl*Mart for her, as she had no insurance to help with the burial and we are giving donations to her directly. There will be food after the funeral at the Missionary Baptist (Rev. Rawl’s Church) and we are working on bringing a few dishes as well. I am going to try to get out and get her a live rose bush instead of funeral flowers so she will have something living to enjoy. She is still in a trailer but will perhaps have a place outside to put it."

Donations could be sent to her c/o Laurie Spaschak, Pearlington Resource Center, 6098 First Street, Pearlington, MS 39572. God bless you, Jackie.
I would like to welcome CAN-DO to our family of Disaster Relief Agencies operating in Pearlington. A link to their exceptional web site is listed to the right on this panel. Welcome Eric Klein and his local representative, Bob Putnam. I have spoken at length with Eric and we are very much on the same page as to how a charitable organization should be transparent and accountable. Bob I know well and he works tirelessly for the good of Pearlington.
Update on Pattie, the Delaware Dog:

Sam Bailey writes:
"I would like to thank everyone who offered transportation assistance to Pattie, since she is wayyy too young to drive.

Sara and Harold Carter and Cyber came down from Hattiesburg on Friday and met Pattie. They have provided her a seat in their van next to Cyber, their pup, for a ride just south of Dover, Del. Pattie got to spend her first night in a real hotel. I heard through the grapevine that Cyber took Pattie for a ride in some of the hotel's elevators. Many thanks to Cyber for getting his parents to provide transportation."

Additionally, Sam has been working on some other things:

"For the dogs: I have contacted a company who want to help me and the Pearlington animal community. They will provide special pricing for the following chain link kennel panels which are described as follows:
-plain panel, 12-1/2 gauge, galvanized chain link wire, 6 ft x 6 ft= $30;
-gate panel, 12-1/2 gauge, galvanized chain link wire, 6 ft x 6 ft= $50
Pricing is delivered (FOB) Pearlington.
Any questions, please contact Sam Bailey 228-533-0045 or
email me. If responding by email, please put "Dog Kennel Panels" in subject line, to identify from spam."
Bob Putnam informs us:

"The Army Corps of Engineers is finishing up the R.O.E. requests and, as of May 30th will not be picking up any more debris from the rights of way (roadsides). I talked with the Liaison Officer and he thinks they will be around until the end of the year. I called Chris LaGarde, an aide for Sen. Gene Taylor, and he confirmed this but also said that he was trying to get answers for the remainder of the debris. The county hasn't condemned any property as of yet. When they do, I think the law says they have to publish condemned property in newspapers for 45 days before they can actually be razed. That may be for abandoned property. This worries me because the state and county can't afford to pay for debris removal and there is really no place to haul it away. It would seem that the Corps is being paid $75,000 a day for Hancock County and they haven't touched any of the road drainage ditches or plugged culverts."

"It appears Beautify Pearlington Week will be a time I would not want to miss. I have prayed for the success of our visit there and also individually for the residents, as I have read their stories. Thanks for the wonderful information on the pdf. files. I have passed it on to the leaders of our group - especially the most recent info on how to support the people there. Something we should all consider!

I do have several boxes filled with small garden tools and gloves to give to those who need them still. Other needs can be taken care of after our arrival. It appears our garden club donations will be between $1000 and $1200. I realize this is just a "drop in the bucket," as we say in the south, but I have to keep reminding myself - IT IS, AT LEAST, A DROP!!! Maybe more will come in unexpectedly! The power of prayer, you know!"

Joye Smith
Calvary Baptist Church, Lexington, Kentucky

I have written before of Susie Sharp of Pearlington. In a week of challenge and tragedy, she sends me this:

"One of the guys working here on the property got a phone call from his daughter last night to tell him that his wife has a mass in her brain. I will be bringing him to the airport this afternoon to fly home. Thank God for frequent flyer miles and that I have some."

Yet another example of Susie’s generosity. We wish her friend all the best and pray for his wife.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Supporting the People of Pearlington

As promised, to the right of this panel, is a new .pdf file available for download.

It speaks to how we, as volunteers and friends, can support the people of Pearlington through the trials they are facing in the aftermath of Katrina.

The Times That Try Us

There have been a couple of times in my life at which I didn’t know how I would go on; didn’t understand how God could load one man with so much pain. All of the aphorisms, all the trite sayings that are meant to bring us comfort ran through my head - and brought me no comfort at all. I was left with sheer determination and I admit there was a time or two that I was challenged to choose life.

Many of us know Jackie Acker. She’s the wonderful woman who has served so many great southern meals to the volunteers at Rev. Rawl’s First Missionary Baptist Church.

On Sunday, Mother’s Day, her daughter LaToya was killed in a car accident. The young woman was in her early 20's, had graduated with Larry and Beth Randall's son and attended CB Murphy Elementary School. Jackie only found out Monday morning.

I’ve known Jackie since the storm and I know she always finds her way through adversity. Our hearts go out to her in her pain and grief and we are called upon in faith and trust to bear with her this burden as members of the community. Jackie has little or no money left and has not made much progress getting her home back.

And, then there is Russell - the man behind New Hope Construction, the organization that is the sponsor of One House at a Time. His son was killed in an auto accident a few days ago. The funeral is in two days.

Laurie Spaschak writes: “Pray for us all. I had four people in Pearl*Mart today crying about one thing or another - from FEMA mistreatment to family stress to money issues, whatever. It is becoming a critical point here. As much as there is good and progress, there is equal distress. I had to take a break this afternoon. I went to Joel's house and looked at the flowers and talked for a while....”

Please pray for Jackie and Russell and their families today. They have given so much of themselves to the Pearlington community - to us - and we are grateful.

I don’t profess to know God’s Plan, but I have come to believe with all my heart that there is one. I don’t pretend to understand that I always know what’s going on, but go on it does and, in the end, we will have our answers.

Later today, I will be posting a new file available for download. It will outline what we can do to be supportive of the Pearlington community in these times that try their faith.

Canada Jon

Monday, May 15, 2006

Buster Needs Some Sheetrock....and other stuff

Remember Buster?

Jennifer Johnson, of BRICK Layers of Alabama sends this:

"Buster needs some sheetrock. I have a crew that can help his dad, Jeff Verden, hang it. But we need some sheetrock. Where can we find 68 pieces of 4 x 12 (1/2 inch, I believe) sheetrock before May 26?"

Can YOU help? If so, please contact Jennifer directly by email.

Bob Putnam writes from Pearlington:

"Yesterday (Friday) the Habitat people announced that they will not be building in Pearlington and will not be helping people who have an income below $1200.00 per month. That means just about all the elderly, who live on that fixed income called social security...."

Laurie Spaschak reports this morning:

"The visitors at Presbyterian Disaster Assistance from Philadelphia asked us to get some of the residents together for a brief meeting last night. They have been here for a few days on a research trip to find out how better to plug in their resources. It went extremely well, and I think the residents are going to step up and get involved. We stressed that they need to go to these meetings - Hancock County Long Term Recovery Meetings, Pearlington Resource Center Meetings, and any others that pertain to their future. We have offered to car pool, we have asked them to get a representative from their neighborhood if they can't make it.

The Pearlington Recovery Center and the CODRA groups are still having our meetings the same: every other Thursday now, and it will coincide with the Long Term Recovery Center meeting, so we can disseminate fresh information at the PRC meeting immediately after. We discussed shelter and evacuation issues, the grant programs that are available and the permit deadline. I also handed out a list of surveyors.

We are again going to do a Pearlington Recovery Center newsletter and post info on the radio and in the Echo. I am going to ask the Sun Herald to put a paper stand here at the PRC - if they have those metal box type things, it should be no problem. We can also use WLOX and the public radio station WQRZ. I am losing my Americorps team June 16th - 2 days before having 200 volunteers arrive - so I am without "staff" at that point! I am going to post help wanted signs and "hire" locals if I can to fill their shoes. It is time they took a greater role in their own recovery and it will make the whole entity stronger in the long run.

I have a good feeling about this tonite!"

Today is The Ides of May - halfway through the month. Let's keep things ROCKIN'

Canada Jon

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Volunteer's Tale

Photo by Canada Jon

This is the first in a series of stories by volunteers working in Pearlington, Mississippi.

Jeanne Sommers recently returned from Pearlington, where she was in service with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, working closely with Mary Wityshyn.

"As I started out on this trip, I was looking forward to helping the people who were so devastated in this little town of Pearlington, MS, that no one had ever heard about before Hurricane Katrina. I also had many fears; could I handle the long drive in the RV, the extreme hot temperatures? Was it safe? How bad was the bug situation. One of the volunteers during the week asked about people thinking of us as being heroes. I didn’t want to be a hero.

I just wanted to do something to make a difference to just one person.

Driving home, I realized that two things had been on my mind the whole week: ‘Pushing Boundaries’ and ‘Learning to Trust God.’ I found that God was there every step of the way; climbing roofs, putting a tin roof on the Work Camp Kitchen building with Shirley. Removing the nails and taking the old shingle roof off the Kelly home with the rest of the Port Kennedy mission team. God renewed us with strength daily, as our assignments were divvied out among us. Pushing boundaries came again to my mind with each new assignment and daily we trusted in God to help us complete our tasks successfully and safely. We could all feel your prayers with us as we worked. You were also a part of our team.

While in Pearlington, someone told us that the name Katrina meant "cleansing." I went onto the Web when I came home to see what I could find about the name and two meanings came up: ‘Katrina’ - comes from the German Origin meaning "pure" and Katrina could also be related to Greek "aikia" meaning "torture." I guess we discovered that what happened in Pearlington supported both meanings of the name. We saw the devastation that the Hurricane caused, but we also found ourselves looking for beautiful things among the devastation.

New flowers were blooming, greenery was growing over fallen trees and piles of debris; playful puppies running around the work camp; the hot sun and sometimes cooling breezes; smiling faces and lots of hugs to share; laughter galore and the nighttime moon and most brilliant stars you have ever seen.

The motto of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is "OUT OF CHAOS, HOPE." There is certainly a lot of work to be done, but there is also the knowledge that God is there among the chaos, giving hope to everyone in Pearlington, residents and volunteers, alike."

Jeanne Sommers - First Presbyterian Church of Port Kennedy

May 2006

Friday, May 12, 2006

Salvation Army Rebuilding Grants

NOTE: This posting is also contained, for permanent access, on the panel to the right - available for downloading.

There is great news from Pearlington today!

The Savation Army has announced a newly-created program to assist homeowners rebuild their house. These grants are a one-time rebuilding grant of up to $10,000.00 for homeowners affected by Katrina. They are not available retroactively and application must be made properly for them to be accepted. They are non-discriminatory, in that no financial need be proven, nor will other sources of relief exclude an applicant.

The application must be submitted by a 501(c) or (d)3 agency on behalf of the individual homeowner. It is strictly for materials and works much like a voucher. We submit an application with the amount of material, price and vendor, which then goes to review board. If approved, the cheque is cut directly to the vendor. This will help keep the process transparent. If will require us to work in concert with the homeowner and to guide them in the best ways in which to invest this money in their homes. It will cover anything from exterior and structural materials, to fixtures, kitchen cabinets, vanities etc. We need to assist them in examining their current resources to find out what is needed the most.

Access to this program is the culmination of a lot of effort by Bob Putnam, a volunteer who is currently in Pearlington and who is dedicating his time to the rebuilding effort there. Bob and I are currently working on a list of recommended sources of materials; vendors who are willing to give us the biggest bang for the available buck and who, like Warren Tidwell of Alabama, are trustworthy and have their hearts in the right place. The individual homeowners are free though, in fact, to source the materials from wherever they choose. Some vendors Bob has researched are not interested in providing price breaks - they are making too much at retail. Some could not handle the demand.

Bob spoke recently with the manager of Abita Springs Lumber in upstate Louisiana, for instance, and reports:

“he was enthused that we were looking beyond the big three (Home Depot, Lowes and 84 lumber) and is offering incentives; possibly free shipping, and up to a 20% discount. They are the company that delivers the materials for the shed program across from the PDA Camp. Is willing to let us draw off the materials as we need them so that we don't have to find places that are going to be safe from the elements. This means that we can still use the storage area you arranged in Pearlington for short term storage, but won't have to have a stockpile sitting on the property. Just how much material to keep on short-term hand there is something that is going to have to be figured out. Having the vendor store the materials I think this is safer; because then the materials will not be drawn down until we need them. Although we have to have a specific list of materials on the grant application, the lumber company is going to let us deviate from the materials list. I am also investigating lumber mills in northern Mississippi and Alabama.”

It is important that all the qualifying agencies become involved. The Salvation Army wishes to spread the available monies among agencies of differing faiths and origin, as well as ensuring that it is evenly spread among the various affected communities.

Bob Putnam will serve as point man. He has the applications, will assist in their fulfilment and help you guide the process through. He is available at the Pearl*Mart most days and may be reached there at 228-533-0101. His cell phone number is 315-406-8234. Please remember that, like all volunteers, Bob has to cover his own cell phone bill.

He also may be reached by email at:

Please put “Salvation Army Grants” in the subject line to ensure delivery. If you have questions, please contact me. For efficiency and cost control to Bob, I will condense them and forward them to Bob and post the answers or one of us will get back to you privately.

Canada Jon

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Situation Update - Thursday, May 11, 2006

Lots of things going on in Pearlington, as always.

Jennifer Johnson will be in Pearlington this weekend. She reports:

"I will assess the job situations. We probably will not need to work on the Ladner’s, Bell’s, Breshears’ and only minor things on Susie Sharp’s home. We will work on the following homes if needed: Dawson, Hipps, Barnhart, Moss, Breckley, Verden, Diaz, Kutz. We will check with the church to see if they have any work that we can do (painting perhaps) and with Laurie at the distribution center to see what she needs us to do.

We now have 26 people going on the trip May 26-29 weekend. I expect a few more to be added."

Tom Dalessandri of Carbondale will also be in town next week. He is bringing six senior high school students for their Senior Project and will be accompanied by a carpenter who also happens to own a construction company. Everybody suck up to this man - we need people like him. Tom is also bringing a van to be donated by Vicki Podulak to Laurie Spaschak, to enable her to get around and to keep on keeping on.

Things are also hopping at the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Camp 6. The last couple of weeks they have had a total of about 140 people through. Camp Director Mary Wityshyn reports:

"They have been great and have worked on at least 15 different work orders. We have been sheetrocking, framing, roofing etc. Also my group from NY Rich Rockwood has donated 5,500 to the Hancock Volunteer Fire Department. Kim Jones was pleased to receive this. Kim also had a group from Bristol, PA that came down to help him with training on the ladder truck they sent him. They all joined us for supper here Saturday May 6. A group from Ripley and Oxford,MS cooked us a great feast of shrimp, steak and all the trimmings. Not that volunteers can expect that ALL the time! We all had the pleasure of having Jeff and Bridget Johnson and Willie Santiago and his wife join us for supper along with many of our friends from Pearlington. It was wonderful. Bill Connelly and his group from MS out did themselves.

We have had so many wonderful fortunes the last few weeks. Monday I had a chance to get to the job sites and my volunteers have outdone themselves. Tim Blackwell in Oak Harbour now has most of his electrical wiring in, thanks to Ron, Ryan and Alec from New York. Jeff Johnson and Wallie are working hard on their homes over in Belle Isle, thanks to Ken Webber's group. Willie has almost all his sheetrocking completed, thanks to Rich Rockwood’s group. Rianne Kelly almost has her sheetrocking completed thanks to Jim Kyser’s group. Additionally, Sherry Logan's group managed to just about complete her new roof. Ken and his group are going to try and complete it this week."

Bob Putnam is working on some seriously good things. We will keep you posted. Laurie is meeting today with the Governor’s office.

"FEMA officials announced today that they’re
closing their New Orleans field office.
A FEMA spokesman said,
‘There’s nothing left for us to do in New Orleans.
Now could someone please get my car out of that tree?’"
- Conan O’Brien

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Situation Update - Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Things are hopping in Pearlington!

A new office is being built in the Pearl*Mart so that Laurie Spaschak can create a special space for the Resource side of things. This will house the database of what needs to be done in town and where information from the various groups working there will be fed into the system so we are all on the same page. We are very close to a centralized work order system and it is a reflection of the cooperative nature of the wonderful groups working for the restoration of Pearlington.

The new kitchen is up and running! Larry Randall and Charlie Holmes of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship have had a new well dug and the kitchen is plumbed and electrified and cookin’ food!

Joye Smith lives in Lexington, KY. A group of 50+ from Calvary Baptist Church will be in Pearlington June 3 -9th through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Her and her husband Jim were one of the first two signing up to come and since that time they have stayed in touch with Pearlington through this blog.

Turns out Joye is a Master Gardener. She has spearheaded a fund raiser for Pearlington and plans to bring to town with her trees, shrubs and other materials to beautify Pearlington. Working with Laurie and the Community Garden project, they have identified some public spots and private homes of seniors around town. Either the week before, or during National Garden week, a blitz will be done on these locations. It will all culminate in a big BBQ and Joye’s team will hand out seeds, gloves, trowels etc. to get Pearlington growing!

An Update from Laurie on Dakota:

“We picked up the hospital bed last Thursday and Larry Randall and David Wake delivered it to the Jordan's yesterday (Sunday)afternoon. We were a bit worried when they kept Dakota a few days longer than expected, but he came home yesterday evening and is expected to do just fine. Keep the family in your prayers....”

A plea from Sam Bailey of Pearlington:

“I am trying to find auto transportation for a Pearlington pup to go from the Pearlington area to "New Jersey-GWB area". The pup is very good-natured and likes to drive or sit back and be driven. She is approx 30 lbs., female, German Shepherd mix. She will have ALL her vacs and has her suitcase and toothbrush ready to go. She was adopted by a Presbyterian minister and his wife last weekend when they were in Bay St Louis.

If you can help us out, please call me at my home in Pearlington at 228.533.0045.”

To come in the next few days:

- a new downloadable .pdf file on the current state of the good folks of Pearlington, in light of the upcoming hurricane season - and what we can ALL do (and not do) on the ground to be supportive.

- a brand new Photo Blog, to share pictures of the storm and the rebuilding.

- a whole bunch of great ideas I’m not going to share just yet, so you’ll keep coming back to the Pearlington blog to check!!

Have a great day, Pearlington. Have a great day, wherever in the world your heart beats for those who need our help.

"Canada Jon" White

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Bits, Bytes and Pix

I would like to welcome two new members to the C.O.D.RA. family:

Lyttleton Street United Methodist Church, of Camden, SC and Lambda Pi Eta's "Operation EARL" - Emergency Assistance & Recovery League.

Welcome aboard and thanks for all you are doing for Pearlington!

Sam Bailey is a local resident who has been involved in the rescue, care and feeding of the town’s pets and animals in the wake of the storm. He also has a strong interest in preserving some of the historical buildings in town that he fears are - and will be - torn down. He reports:

"A good book for ALL incoming outsiders is "Louisiana'a Loss, Mississippi's Gain, a history of Hancock County from the Stone age to the Space age. This is all about the old structures that are being torn down and why we should have kept them.

Oh, well...."

Is there something we all can do to help this situation? Please contact me if you have ideas.

Jennifer Johnson is a force of nature. She has put together a plan, gathered all the people she needs and is working on materials to rebuild the Ladner home. There are so many people she wishes to thank, so check her link to the right for more information. It is worth reprinting the email she sent to her hundreds of colleagues, teams members and supporters:

"You never know when the tears are going to start flowing. When we realized that George and Margaret needed help in rebuilding, we dared to dream big. Is it possible for a group of volunteers to frame a house in a week? We dared to ask and John Long said yes. When we put a cry for help out to our email distribution lists and Jon White put it on his Pearlington Blog, volunteers who have never even met George and Margaret began to respond with their monetary donations and their offers of supplies and skilled labor.

Two schools are now involved. Channel 48 can’t get enough of this story. We have two newspaper reporters working on stories as you read this (Huntsville Times and Aspen Times). Maybe I have doubted God too much in the past. Maybe I have wondered too many times, is it just coincidence or is it God’s hand? I think that with every email God sends my way and each volunteer that offers help in this project, God is upstairs laughing at me and saying:

"Are you listening yet, Jennifer? Do you get it yet?"

It isn’t coincidence that Mark and Ray and I drove into the forgotten little town of Pearlington in September. It isn’t coincidence that J.P. Rogers and I delivered a care package to George and Margaret Ladner in October and met Eddie and Andrea. I feel so blessed to be a part of this journey, this wonderful adventure that God has allowed us to go on. I feel so blessed that he has put such selfless people as you in my life to share it."

You know, Jennifer, I AM getting it. God IS good and together we will do what we all set out to do.

Jennifer also reminds me the Buster’s full name is Jeff "Buster" Verden and she shares another interesting, yet not surprising, anecdote about the Verden family.

The have a huge pet hog.

His name is Hamburger.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Mayor of Pearlington

Photo by Jennifer Wiest

Anybody who’s been long in Pearlington knows Buster.

He’s a former student of Charles B. Murphy Elementary School here and a going concern. 10 or 11 years old, he is cocky, loud and completely irresistible. We call him the Mayor because he always has an opinion about how things should go and how the world should be run.

He’s usually right.

I have three particularly fond memories of Buster, during my times in Pearlington. The first occurred on Hallowe’en, in the afternoon before Laurie’s party and my Pearlington Karaoke Debut. Here is part of my posting on that day, from my Dream School International blog.

"Buster is a member of some kind of Junior Fire Club thing and has attached himself to one of the units here fighting fires from out of town. He spends the day in his junior firefighter boots and jacket, running errands and "being in charge of the unit.

Just ask him.

The men are kind and generous to him and he sits like them, works like them and eats with them. Yesterday, he was climbing on the back of a four wheeler to head out somewhere with one of the men. He lost his balance and reached out for the man's shoulder sitting in front of him. Steadying himself he sat down and patted the man on the back in thanks, as if to reassure him.

It was a small, intimate moment for a small young man in the midst of chaos."

The second memory is of a Saturday community meeting, under the "big top" that was the Red Cross food tent. During question and answer period, Buster asked to speak. We all waited with bated breath. He strode to the front of the tent, grabbed the microphone out of the County Supervisor’s hand and looked him dead in the eye.

"I want to know what you guys are thinking, when you tell everybody that you’re not going to rebuild this school!"

It was a question on everybody’s mind and only Buster had the courage to ask it. Rocky Pullman, the Supervisor, mumbled an answer, stunned by Buster’s directness. But Buster was on him now, and had him by the throat and wasn’t letting go until he heard what he needed to hear. The crowd was in stitches, that it took a little boy to remind the emperor that he had no clothes.

The third moment came during one of my November Friday evening group therapy know, Karaoke Night. Friday night was steak and potato night at the Red Cross food tent and we all had eaten our fill. I was standing in front of the Pearl*Mart, my equipment lugged all the way from Canada - in the middle of a song - when I became aware that there was a whisper going through the crowd about someone smelling smoke.

Soon it was apparent that the large trailer that housed the Red Cross food and equipment was on fire!

Fortunately, at that point in time, the place was crawling with out-of-town firefighters. We all watched as they hammered down the metal door of the trailer to get at the cause. Buster was, of course, right in the thick of things - issuing orders to his men. Turns out the "chef" forgot to turn off the oven and there were still potatoes inside. Everything got taken care of and Buster returned to the bemused crowd in front of the Pearl*Mart to announce in a big voice:

"Everybody stay calm. It’s allllll right. We have it under control!"

Some woman asked what had happened. Buster’s reply?

"Let’s just put it this way," he said, as if telling her the truth would break some fireman code or form a breach of confidentiality:


Don’t eat the hash browns!"

The picture below is that of Buster receiving a brand new typewriter at Easter. The purpose of the gift? So Buster can write the President, the Congress, the Queen of England - whoever it takes to get this world sorted out.

You go, Buster.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

May the 4th be with you!

Whew! I've waited a whole year to say that!

Your morning chuckles:

A report out of the Vatican says that the Pope has contracted Avian "bird flu." Apparently, he got it from one of his Cardinals.

Jay Leno says: "A special senate sub-committee has recommended that FEMA be dismantled. In six weeks or so, when FEMA finds out about this, they're gonna be MAD!"

Easter in Pearlington:

This morning, Laurie sends these photos. They are of Easter deliveries of food baskets and Easter Lilies in the community....

Have a great day!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Back Home Again: Susie Sharp

This is the first in a series of articles focussing on the return of Pearlington residents to their rebuilt homes.

Susie Sharp is a remarkable lady, who has inspired me with her courage, generosity and love for her family, friends and neighbours. There are few in Pearlington who haven’t been the recipient of her kindness, at one time or another. No stranger to tragedy, she marches on and offers all she can to those around her. She typifies the reason we all came to Pearlington to help.

This is her story:

"Today is another a day and it will be better than yesterday.

My husband "Billy" and I had a small trucking company in Pearlington, Ms. for 22 years. We had nine Peterbilts. Katrina took eight of them. I sold the last one last week.

My husband died of throat cancer in April 2005. We had 2-1/2 year bout with doctors and hospitals. My brother "Valery" died on my property helping me. He had a accident with my backhoe on October 2005. I had to finish the house, otherwise it all would have been for nothing.

I will survive.

I am lucky because I know a little about of a lot of different things. So I knew I could rebuild and I did. With the help from my family, cousins, nieces, nephews, good friends and all of the volunteers helping "we did it". Everything came together. I moved into my house on April 14, 2006. I cried, I laughed, it was a good feeling. Life does go on.My three dogs Fancy (13 yrs), Charlie (4 yrs.) and Spike (1 yr.) were happy when we moved back into the house. On Sunday, Fancy passed away (another set back). She was ran over by a good friend of mine.

I will miss her even though I know she is with Billy and Valery. I have three crosses by a bench in front of the house with flowers and fruit trees as a symbol of my love to them all.

I want to thank everyone, from the bottom of my heart, that helped me make this Dream come true. I knew we could and would do it, without any doubt.

I am back in my house!!!!

Love Yaw,

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Vague Uneasiness....

Last week, Elizabeth Stover of the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service requested that faith-based organizations submit to her some idea of their activities and accomplishments in the reconstruction of the Mississippi coast.

Yesterday, I received this email from her:

"Thanks to all for the prompt responses last week concerning faith based organizations volunteer involvement.

The information collected is only a very small sample of the enormous contributions of so many faith based, non-for-profit, service and voluntary agencies. Twenty organizations sent back their responses, and from only those 20 it was calculated that over 2,561,906 volunteer hours have been provided since days after the storm. From this sample, it was also calculated that over 14,000 projects have been worked on by volunteer labor. Of that 14,000, over 1,600 have been completed. This truly is a testament to the wonderful organizations and volunteers that have so selflessly served the coast of Mississippi."

Maybe as a Canadian I am missing something here.

I have resisted several requests for information from government sources doing "research" on the volunteer response to Hurricane Katrina. I have felt a strong intuition that much of this research is being conducted so that the American government can discover exactly how much less they will have to come to the aid of disaster survivors and their families, in light of the contribution being made by volunteers.

It seems to me that back in the early aftermath of the storm, many volunteers appeared, me included, because of a perceived default on the part of government agencies to act quickly and sufficiently enough to bring aid to places like Pearlington. I have never regretted my decision to become involved, despite the personal costs.

Perhaps it is the cynic in me, but is it possible that our contribution is now going to be factored into recovery scenarios to reduce government responsibility in future disasters? Will our willingness to assist be now taken for granted and a hole in services purposely left that we will be expected to fill? In reviewing lots of information on the issue of faith-based organizations working on this recovery, there are some who believe our motivation is to proselytize and convert potential members. Yet, I have seen hardly any of this and, in fact, only witnessed church organizations fulfilling their responsibilities to their faith by walking their talk and putting their money where their mouths are.

Will we someday be taken for granted in emergencies and then accused of only being there for selfish reasons? It seems like a double jeopardy to me that none of the organizations deserve or have earned. While I have seen some of this in other parts of the world - notably Bosnia during the war there in the 90's - I have seen none of it in Pearlington.

Your comments are invited. I know I don’t have the answers, just this vague uneasiness. Click on the "Comments" link below and post your own opinion, if you are so called. I would be interested in exploring this together.

Please be clear: I will in NO way engage the politics of this situation - that is nothing but a huge diversion. There is too much good work to do. I have often witnessed long-term dialogue about trying to find a "magic bullet" solution to these matters only, in the end, to discover that while folks were off busy doing that, NOTHING actually got done. I put my thoughts out there in light of the upcoming conference and I know that, as David Boivin has so eloquently put it: "It has nothing to do with a specific faith... just faith in humanity in general."

Our commitment to Pearlington will NOT change. We are all in it for the long haul.

"Canada Jon" White

Monday, May 01, 2006

Situation Update - Monday, May 1, 2006

It’s a beautiful, mostly sunny day in Pearlington - just what’s needed to dry up all the rain from last week. That Mississippi Mud could be used to build houses, man!

I hope you have checked out all the new links, located to the right of this panel.

I am asking for your prayers today for 15-year-old Dakota Jordan. The son of Ken and Sheila Jordan of Pearlington, Dakota is home recovering from surgery following a brain tumour. He apparently still has an abscess and Laurie and her crew, along with Bob Putnam, are scurrying to get him a hospital bed from Salvation Army and to get the tile and flooring down in their house so young Dakota doesn’t have to recuperate in the FEMA trailer.

Laurie will check to see if they have needs we can meet, but right now Dakota and his family need our prayers.


"I received an e-mail from George Green IV of Water Missions International. They plan to participate in the conference below:

Hello all volunteers from Faith Based Groups in Hancock County MS. I have learned about an upcoming invitation only conference in Baton Rouge LA on June 7. The title is: "Heralding Unheard Voices: The Role of Faith Based and Non-governmental Organizations During Disaster." It is sponsored by the Homeland Security Institute. For information or to register, e-mail the conference or call 703-416-8426. I have the forms on my computer and if you e-mail me I will then forward them to you by return e-mail."

Bob Britts


Tom Dalessandri and a small team from the Carbondale Katrina Relief project just completed yet another mission to Pearlington. Part of his report:

"We finished painting Debbie's (Sonnier) house last week. I haven't seen it since I had to leave early but I talked with her and Dan (my painter). It apparently looks great and she is very happy. Dan also painted the entire sanctuary at the First Southern Baptist Church. That’s the big brown brick church on 604. That was a big job but Dan gladly stepped up to the plate. I offered to do theirs because they have fed some of our people in the past....

I am preparing for the next trip sometime in the next two weeks. I have six seniors from CRMS coming down to work for 10 days, two ladies, one of which is donating a van (we may use it to help with a meals on wheels program), possibly a carpenter, and another group of about four adults. I'm hoping this will be a productive visit with plans to move closer with completing Debbie's interior. I need kitchen cabinets and a bathroom vanity for her place.

Can anyone help? If so, email me please."


I am working on a new initiative to help get skilled tradespeople to Pearlington for the rebuilding.


"Canada Jon" White