Monday, July 31, 2006

Where Y'all From?

I’ve always wanted to be able to say: "When I awoke from my nap this afternoon...."

A friend of mine says that when you have a ton of things on your To Do List, it’s important to get your nap out of the way first. I never used to get one, but since I "semi-retired" last year, to concentrate more time on volunteering for Pearlington, I am more able to say:

When I awoke from my nap this afternoon, I had an idea. I would like, for the Reunion, to know more precisely where everyone who volunteers in Pearlington, is from. Charlie Holmes, of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, says that the top three suppliers of Pearlington volunteers is North Carolina, Colorado and Canada. Think he’s right?

Let’s find out. Everyone who reads this, please send me a fast email, with your state or province in the subject line. Say hello, if you want to, but that’s all I really need. I would like to read the results at the Reunion and see if we can fill in all 48 contiguous states and 10 provinces of Canada. I have a great map I can color and then post on the blog.

Send your e-mail to:

If you are not on the Pearlington mailing list and would like to join, please indicate so in the body of the e-mail. This list enables me to send out group e-mails from my server to inform you of new postings and other valuable information, I sometimes don’t wish to post publicly.

Let’s see if we can color in the entire map of North America and beyond.

Have a great week. There’s lots of great info coming your way. Please check the Adopt-a-Home blog, as new families are being posted.

"Canada Jon" White

Friday, July 28, 2006

More Stuff....

Only 30 more sleeps until the reunion. Make sure you have contacted me with your guest list, please. We need to know how much food etc. to prepare.

Great things are afoot, including a very special Gospel Musical in Pearlington, to honour the volunteers. It is being organized by Mr. Joseph Keys and will be held the night before the Reunion. I will post the program and full information, as soon as I have received it from Joseph.

Just a reminder that Dr. Sharon Gerald will be manning a 24 hr blogathon this Saturday, July 29, 8 am to July 30, 8 am in support of Pearlington. The site is:

Sharon teaches English & literature. We need to catch her and her fellow teachers misspelling, and making grammar errors at 3:00 am!! Join the fun. This event historically has raised an amazingly successful amount of money.

Livingston F.B.C.:
Check out what’s happening in Livingston, TN at the First Baptist Church and what they’re planning for Pearlington. There web site is here.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


New Phones:
The Recovery Center was able to negotiate a decent deal for cell phones for their use. The new numbers are as follows:

Laurie Spaschak: 228-342-4247
Larry Randall: 228-342-4245
Herb Ritchie: 228-342-4246

Laurie is still using her cell phone, but would prefer to do business at this new number.

School Uniforms:
Look for a new link to the right of this panel very soon. The Hancock County Board of Education has decreed this year that all students must wear uniforms. In fact, they were supposed to wear them last year, but the decision was abated because of the storm. We are working on the protocol and then will ask for your support in helping to equip the kids of Pearlington with their new threads. They have endured a great deal and have been shuffled around this year; let’s make sure they don’t stand out and have everything they need to begin school on August 14.

That’s not much time, so we are on top of it. I am awaiting a list of sizes for all the kids. Two of our most loyal volunteers at the Recovery Center: Stacy Bennett and LeeAnn Hecker, are working feverishly on this. The Dress Code is already listed on the side and I will post the sizes as soon as I get them.

Let’s get right to work on this, please!

Other thoughts about Faith:
"I prayed this morning that today would go well, that we would accomplish much and do God's work. As I kept checking in with the groups during the day, each was getting more done than I had expected. The ladies from the community showed up unexpectedly and helped in Pearl*Mart all day, and on their own came up with a project to help get uniforms and supplies for the kids who go back to school on the 14th.

A phone call came and a playground full of equipment is being donated, to arrive in a few months. A volunteer called Hobart Company (the manufacturer of the new freezer unit we can't figure out) and they want to help and will send someone to put it together for us. It rained and cooled off nicely, all the work around the camp was done when I got back from a meeting this afternoon. The whole day went without a hitch!

I think Pearlington has a direct line to God still. Whenever we gather and pray here, we are heard and answered, like nowhere I have ever seen before. We are going now to a Gospel Revival at the Southern Baptist Church, a collaboration of all the churches here in town, to say thanks and have fellowship...."
- Laurie Spaschak

"From my view, there is a phenomenon occurring in Pearlington and other parts affected by Katrina, that has not occurred before in this country, at this degree. The numbers of volunteers, the amount of resources, and the projects taken on, seems to go on unabated, even at this date, almost 11 months after Katrina made landfall on August 29th, 2005.

I believe that history is in the making, and that this effort will set the model and the example for volunteerism throughout the country for years to come."
- Tim Goodnow, Dog Soldiers

Special Note:
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi reports that volunteers are urgently needed for the last 2 weeks of August and all of September.

Please contact Nell Nation.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Shining Face of Faith

I recently got an email from a Pearlington resident, asking me - out of frustration and weariness - to assure her that everything would be all right. My reply to her included this:

"I wish I could wave my wand and make everything all right. But I cannot - only God can. I do know this: the Universe was not created to punish us - we all do a good enough job at that ourselves. I ask you to have faith - belief without evidence - and trust that things will, in the end, be as they should."

Those of us who have, over the many months, watched this recovery unfold are very clear about something. There is magic afoot in Pearlington. Too many times, thousands now, when we needed something to get the job done, it has shown up at exactly the right time. Serendipity, synchronicity, coincidence, happenstance - they are words that seem to speak of unguided occurrence but are, in fact, descriptions of how God works.

So what is this faith we possess that convinces us that things are unfolding as they should?

Faith is such an easy concept to speak of and such a difficult one to live. As a therapist, I’m frequently surprised by how many Christians speak of it in hushed and reverent sentences, yet live lives devoid of its reassurance and comfort. Faith is the antithesis of control and control is an illusion. We are not in control of anything - just ask the people of Pearlington.

Faith is not an intellectual nor religious concept. It is an emotional and spiritual way of life, a way of being in the world. It understands that NOTHING is random, that all has a purpose and that purpose is to call us to our highest place as individuals and to our highest common denominator as a species. It allows and accepts change - even catastrophic change - as part of our Creator’s plan to call us to that place.

Have we responded?

I have watched the great majority of volunteers in Pearlington work their way to that place. C.O.D.R.A. is not a political nor even a practical device; I created it as a symbol of that unity, that highest common place of spirit in which we reach out in service. In the process, most of us have empowered our own lives in ways and areas that the people of Pearlington may never truly know nor understand the loving nature of their gift to us.

Yesterday, I found the blog of a group of young people from near Seattle who are currently serving in Pearlington. Go there, click on the group picture from Monday, July 24th’s posting and examine their beautiful, shining faces and read their words. Their excitement and dedication; their innocence and willingness to serve is the gift Katrina provides. If this is the future, we are indeed in good hands. Never mind the kids who seem to be frittering away their youth - look at the ones who are making a difference, in other’s lives and in their own.

And what of the folks of Pearlington who have "lost all?"

Many tell me their faith has been restored by our determination and commitment. Some will have homes better than the ones destroyed. Some have been required to examine the meaning of their lives closely and to make life-altering decisions. Some have reached out to help neighbors they didn’t know or cared much existed before the storm. Some have found their own place of service.

Most importantly, THEY ARE ALIVE, in the truest sense of that word. They are awake and conscious and aware of what matters most to them. How many Katrinas, how many tsunamis, how many Iraqs and Lebanons will have to happen before we ALL wake up to what is real and valuable in the world? We are brothers and sisters in spirit and we are all in this together. None of us is going anywhere until we all are ready to go - together, arms linked, heads held high, skidding into Heaven with a hearty "Ya-hoo!"

Katrina isn’t the worst thing that ever happened. Hate, anger, apathy, bigotry and loneliness far exceed her toll. Let’s not wrestle with Katrina. Let’s dance with her and receive her gifts.

They are gifts from God.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bits, Bytes and Pix

There is lots of news to share in the next couple of days.

Buster’s Badge:
Buster has finally earned his "wings." After many months of study and preparation, Buster has finally earned his Hancock County Firefighter’s Badge. We join the Verden family in congratulating Buster for his determination and commitment to the protection of his community.

Gospel Revival for Pearlington Volunteers:
Laurie Spaschak writes: "Jon - I just heard from Joe Keys, the gospel revival for the volunteers is on, with a group of singers that Joe knows and all the local folk. It is specifically to thank the volunteers so I sure hope we have a bunch coming! It is scheduled for Friday night the 25th - the day before the volunteer party. It is at the New Hope Baptist Church in the evening....

I actually think we may have several residents back in their homes in the next month. I talked to some today and asked if we can post pictures of them when they are finished so we can actually see some accomplishments and they are all gladly agreeable.

We have Mississippi Public Broadcasting here with us all week - doing a brief series on "A Week as a Volunteer" and possibly a documentary. They already can see that there is more than enough for a story...." Adam Daniel and photography Randy are from Jackson, MS.

Through the generosity of Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, of Mobile, AL and facilitated by Andrew Harper, there will be two new Porta-Potties in Pearlington soon. Thank you all for your generous support. We need more, so let’s see who can match Spring Hill’s commitment!

Chickering Trip:
John Chickering, who recently worked with his team in Pearlington, sends this accounting given to his local news service.

Please also visit his Photo Album; there are some great pictures. At the risk of my personal safety, I have dubbed them: Chick's Pix:

Free Transport to Pearlington:
Bob Britts sends the following:

"Water Missions International will be sending one truck and a van to Pearlington the last week of August. I have spoken briefly with George Greene IV of WMI and Tim Goodnow of the Dog Soldiers about the possibility of picking up building supplies on the way and bringing them to Pearlington in these pick-up trucks. I have made a few calls here in the Columbia SC area and Charleston SC area. I have started looking at the Adopt-a-Home section on the blog to see what is needed.

If anyone in the SC area could benefit from this transport, please contact Bob.

More to come....

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Farewell to MEMA Mike

There is so much that goes on behind the scenes getting Pearlington back to its feet. Much of it will never be known; there are just too many people doing too much to even start the telling. They all have something in common, though. They are all heroes, unconditionally loving a little devastated town back to life.

They toil in silence and sometimes relative obscurity, because none of us signed on for glory or recognition. They make their contribution and hold their families more closely each night. But, we all have a bond, an indescribable brother and sisterhood that binds us together forever. It is why the Reunion is so important to me. I have said before that we have shared a common peril, the "Foxhole Effect," and it has forever changed our lives.

This family of volunteers and others goes well beyond the call of duty, because we wish to know on our final day that we tried to make a difference. And when we lose one of our own, it hurts as if we lost a dear heart with whom we made a connection. It is a bond that words cannot describe, nor challenge diminish, nor death sever.

Today we say goodbye to "MEMA Mike" - Michael Dill.

During Hurricane Katrina, Mike served as a member of the State's Emergency Response Team that deployed to Camp Shelby in Forrest County and then to Harrison County to serve as the operations center for the six most southern counties. He also served as the Area Coordinator liaison for Hancock County for several months following Katrina.

The Hancock County Board of Supervisors and Emergency Management Director presented Mike with a plaque honoring him for his service to their county during the disaster. In 2003, Mike also received an appreciation award from the Mississippi Civil Defense/Emergency Management Association for his support and service to the association and the field of emergency management.

Those are the facts. Paula Buhr knew him in a different way, and sends this:

"This is MEMA friend and problem-solver. He was with us in Pearlington and helped keep the clinic open. He was there sending supplies to the Pearl Mart....bulldozers, fork lift, port-a-potties, and anything else he could round up. Mike became a friend and an ally of Pearlington. He knew we needed everything. Mike would work hours upon hours looking for supplies.

I am so sad that my friend has died. Our friendship did not end with Mike returning to Jackson and me returning to Houston. His wife Debbie and I became fast friends when they came out to visit my husband, Craig and our children. It was Craig's 60th and we wanted the Dill's to come celebrate. In usual Dill style, he helped set up the Hawaiian Luau. Mike and I have continued to speak probably 2-3 times a week. We just loved each other. He said I reminded him of Debbie and he reminded me of Craig. The bond we made in the disaster was a life long friendship.

I will miss my dear loved friend. Please pray for Debbie and her family."

Friday, July 21, 2006

Focus On: Bob Putnam

Bob Putnam came to the coast after Katrina to redeem himself.

Years before, he watched with cynicism as his sister formed her own charitable organization, Labor of Love. He watched over the years, convinced that it would never work, as she and her team worked one regional disaster after another. By the time she was finally driven out of business by politics and then saddled with a significant debt, Bob had learned an important thing.

It DOES work. Independent and faith-based groups could indeed make a difference in this world.

Originally from New York, Bob left his home in Boston to help on the coast with the Salvation Army. A one-time resident of Biloxi, Bob operated a large distribution center for the Salvation Army for three months after the storm. Sent to Pearlington by CAN-DO founder Eric Klein, just to do a "simple assessment," Bob knew where the need was the greatest.

He’s been here ever since.

A valuable member of the Pearlington Volunteer Community, Bob has an innate gift to see the Big Picture. I can tell you, from personal experience, that’s not always a good thing. It tends to be the guy out front, fearlessly carrying the banner, who often makes the most convenient target. Yet Bob is nothing if not persistent and he has assisted greatly with the smooth operation of the Recovery Center and has facilitated food and materials from the Salvation Army and many other contacts. He has negotiated favorable rates on building materials and is well-connected all over the country. Bob now represents CAN-DO’s initiatives on the entire Gulf Coast.

I will not share any of Bob and CAN-DO’s plans. They are not mine to share. Suffice it to say, though, that not only will Bob "redeem" himself, but he will leave an indelible mark on the hearts and spirits of the residents and volunteers alike of Pearlington. His experience, wisdom and insight serves this community well and we support him fully.

Bob says, "This is just my way of keeping my sister’s dream alive. If you are not part of the solution, you are still being a part of the problem."

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Flashes from P'Town

Only 38 more sleeps until the Reunion! If you haven't registered with me yet, please do it now!

You will notice a new link to the right: Making a Difference - Matching YOUR Resources to Need. It is your invitation to examine what you could contribute in resources and labor to Pearlington, then letting us match that up with an existing need. Please check it out....

Laurie Spaschak shares this:
The First Missionary Baptist church, where Jackie Acker and her colleagues have been serving those great southern lunches to volunteers, is coming down. It will be rebuilt on the same site and as close to original as possible. The folks were told Sunday at service....

Wendy Gerald sends this:
I'm sure you don't remember me, but I met you once briefly at Susie Sharp's place. I am with University Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, and I've been to Pearlington a few times this year, either with a church group or on my own to help Charles Holmes out a little.
A friend of mine came up with an idea for a fund raiser for Pearlington. She wants to participate in Blogathon 2006.

The idea is that we blog every thirty minutes continuously for 24 hours. Then we get people to sponsor us by donating money to the charity of our choice.

My friend who approached me about this wants the money to go to Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi or University Baptist Church. Because of my involvement in the church, I can report back to the people who supported us on how the money was spent.

SO: Please check out my new blog at

I'll be blogging there all day next Saturday, July 29, to raise money to help rebuild Pearlington. Please help spread the word. The money raised will go to the University Baptist Church Pearlington Recovery Fund. Donations of all sizes are accepted and appreciated.

Anyone who has seen Pearlington knows how much still needs to be done. For those who have not been able to see the devastation first hand, I'll be talking all day about what the needs are in Pearlington, what the combined efforts of UBC, CBF and other faith-based organizations have been able to accomplish thus far, and what we can all still do to help.

Meet me at the blog!

Speaking of blogs....
It is my great pleasure and satisfaction to announce that the combined blogs I have created for Pearlington since the storm have now exceeded 20,000 hits! More than 30,000 pages have been read and it has turned out to be, with your continuous support, a remarkable tool for cooperation, action, information and inspiration.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for caring.

Final item....
It seems some who read this blog aren’t aware there is a mailing list I maintain. It not only informs you of new postings to the Pearlington and the Sharing Pearlington blogs, but also allows me to put out Calls to Action and other materials I may not want to go public with tight away, or information only for the volunteers.

Click on the button to the right if you are not yet on the list and I will make sure you get on it right away.

Everyone keep rocking!
Canada Jon

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Back Home Again: Capt. Harry Bell

Harry Bell’s life is part of the rich tapestry that is the historical fabric of Pearlington. It symbolizes the spirit of Gulf Coast people and their story of survival.

When he passed away last week, this is how that life was commemorated locally:

Capt. Bell's life was fit for a novel
Joshua Norman, Sun Herald

How do you sum up the life of a man whose life story would put to shame the wildest imagination of the best novelist?

For Capt. Harry L. Bell's family, the answer is simple: You don't.

"He led an incredible life," said Brehm Bell, one of Bell's four children. "I can't encapsulate it. He was just a very gracious man."

Put simply, Bell, 72, was a tugboat captain, a New Orleans operations manager for T.E.C.O. Ocean Shipping, a bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Waveland, and an avid supporter of the Boy Scouts.

That does not begin to describe the life of a man whose legendary stories include, among other things: being electrocuted; being shipwrecked several times; surviving a brutal car wreck and week long coma; plunging into a bay off a drawbridge on a motorcycle escaping a sheriff who did not like that he was dating his daughter; weathering countless storms at sea; swimming five miles on Lake Pontchartrain looking for help for a wounded fellow seaman; and, in one of his last heroic acts at the age of 71, piloting a small skiff through his Pearlington neighborhood as the eye of Katrina passed overhead, rescuing several people from crumbling homes to bring them back to safety on his shrimp boat.

Bell also took the fundamental doctrine of charity of his Mormon faith very seriously, his son said, giving countless interest-free loans to his neighbors and constantly stopping on the roadside to help stranded motorists.

"I know of at least two occasions where he'd just buy engines for them," his son said. "He had a shed of tools that he mostly would loan out to friends."

For Brehm Bell and his siblings, though, their father was above all else a waterman.

"When he was out on the water, he loved it," his son said, adding that he would regularly take the family out with him. Bell would often shrimp for fun and just give his catch to friends.

"Fishing and shrimping with him was the best of times," he said.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down....

By Laurie Spaschak - Pearlington Recovery Center

As the machines woke with the sunrise, the majority of the school buildings are down, but by the time the sun was high, the majority of the walls on the storage barn were up - thanks to the perseverance and ingenuity of Bill Kitteredge's UMC group.

We were expecting a trailer of materials to arrive for the sides, so we waited and waited - and then tore down the old pump shed in back of the school that was to be bulldozed so we could save the tin off it. We waited some more, then they went to work with what we had; the tin from the shed and the rest of the church roofing that Doug Pennington salvaged for us. Lo and behold it was enough to do almost 3 walls, in a hot long Mississippi day. Just in time for a truckload of drywall from the Chickering group to arrive and take the place of the last pile that went out to be hung by Glenn Locklin's team.

When you left this morning the political tension was permeating the entire compound and chaos was winning the race for noon. As we wondered what happened to the trailer of tin for the sides of the storage barn that was due at 10 a.m., Conrad Velasco was dealing with the local police. It seems that a couple of ill-minded dudes in a red F350 had come in at dusk and hooked up the trailer and left with it. Under the pile of tin that was to come here, was 2,500$ worth of new lumber to begin building a house for another family. Their loss far exceeds ours in every way and we are all on the look out for the missing trailer.

Steve Burnsed's house will actually be seeing paint this week, thanks to the combined effort of several groups including Larry Charbonneau's, Dave Meanor's and John Chickering's hard working teams. Dave Meanor's group finished the work begun by Larry Charbonneau on my office and it is actually comfortable in there for a change! (And I almost got rid of all the sawdust!!! Just kidding guys...)

Charles Acker is well on the way to getting insulation and drywall in the next two weeks and Orealia Marshall's roof got fixed. Pam White's place is almost ready to move in to and Michael Wheat is just waiting for windows and his siding is going to be up this week.

It's amazing the progress that has begun to roll through here.

Walls come down and we keep the faith and put ip new ones. Bulldozers and politics or not, it was still a very good week.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Goodbye to Old Friends....

Despite lots of progress and miracles of new birth and rebuilding every day, there is also sad news coming out of Pearlington in the last few days.

Despite personally being told by School Board president Morgan Ladner, at the board meeting Thursday, July 7th, that the demolition of Chas. B. Murphy E.S. "had not yet been decided," the dozers showed up the following morning. By the time I left on Monday the 10th, they were hard at work.

The only thing remaining of the much beloved school is the Library and Pearl*Mart (gym). I am awaiting final pictures of the remains. The photos below were taken just as I was leaving town on Monday last.

We thank God for the mercy of the remaining portions and join all of Pearlington in grieving for what was once a vibrant and distinguished place of learning.

On Thursday, July 13, as a consequence of gall bladder surgery, one of Pearlington’s most respected elders past from this world. Harry Bell was in his 72nd year and leaves behind his wife Nancy, two sons and two daughters, including Janet Dawson of Pearlington.

A retired tugboat captain, Harry was a native of Slidell, LA and the grandfather of 22 children and one great-granddaughter.

Relatives and friends of the family are invited to attend the memorial service at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints , 112 Rue Esplanade, Slidell on Tuesday, July 18.

"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."
- John Donne

Rest well, Harry. We’ll take it from here.

Friday, July 14, 2006

And the Beat Goes On....

Only 44 more sleeps until the Pearlington Volunteer Reunion. Remember to click on the link to the right and get your registration in!

Hopefully, by the end of the day, you will notice links to three new Blogs (I didn’t have enough to do yet)!

  1. Adopt-a-Home in Pearlington will enable groups and individuals to obtain details on a variety of rebuilding projects, with an eye to "adopting" one of those projects. This may be a home you may choose to adopt in its entirety, or to join with other like-minded groups to get the job done.
  2. The Pearlington Builders Blog will list contacts for best rates on materials and resources, as well as - eventually - an Experts Panel to provide off-site advice and assistance on particular rebuilding challenges.
  3. Raising Resources, Raising Roofs will begin now to list a variety of fund raising devices your group can use to create the resources necessary to continue to provide homes and hope for the people of Pearlington.

CHECK THEM OUT! Make sure you add them to your "Favorites" for future reference.

Please feel free to submit offers to help in any of these areas, new ideas and resources as you will Please forward all that to me and I will see that it gets in the right place.

Lots more to come.

We would also today like to welcome Four Square Disaster Relief to the C.O.D.R.A. FAMILY. Please check out their link to the right. Pastor John Elliott sends the following:

"Hi, I am John Elliott, the Disaster Relief Coordinator for Foursquare Disaster Relief on Hwy. 604 in Pearlington, MS. Please feel free to list our phone # 409.739.7474 and our e-mail or our web site and we will do what we can to help. We have been working relief in the area for nine and one half months but living in town for only two months. Our base camp was in Pass Christian.

Pastor John Elliott"

Thought you might also be inspired by another man’s dream to help:

"Couldn't get the Army interested in the mission yet, but I will be on duty the last part of July at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas. Bringing down my pickup filled with Sheetrock for whoever needs it. Hope to make a number of trips, as funds permit. 4 x 8 1/2" Sheetrock. Estimated arrival is Friday July 14th, 2006. Destination - Pearlington, Mississippi.


SSG George Klischer, 299th Engineer Company, USAR"

Thanks George; thanks everyone, for all you do.
Canada Jon

Monday, July 10, 2006

Heading Home....

I am only a few minutes away from running for the plane at Gulfport/Biloxi Airport. It has been a remarkable trip and I have a great deal to share in the coming days and weeks.

I once again thanks Miss Susie Sharp for her hospitality and generosity. She has already proven her great worth as a Resource Manager on a case in Oak Harbour.

Jennifer Johnson is in town and next week will be returning with 50 volunteers to work a number of projects in the community. This morning, Jennifer introduced me to George and Margaret Ladner, two gentle and gracious residents of Pearlington. A small group of men from Amarillo, Texas were working on their house. As for Jennifer....well. Who could have known that a slim Alabama girl could kick so much construction butt!

Pearlington still needs a great deal of assistance. Please watch the blogs for updated information and requests for your assistance. I know the world at large has to some degree moved on, and it falls to us to state the case of Pearlington eloquently. Sharing ONE story, one family at a time is the most effective way to move people. Most of us cannot get our heads around the entirety of the thing.

God bless Pearlington and all who live here and come to help. My pride at being part of it all is overwhelming some days.

Please remember the Reunion and download the file to the right. Send me your registrations and send your donation to Miss Susie.

In some ways I hate to fly away again, but my life and my love await me - not to mention my entire caseload of clients wanting my time and attention. When I return to Pearlington next month, this time with my wife Marian Rose, it will be to proudly demonstrate what love can do.

God bless.
Canada Jon

Jennifer, Margaret and George outside the new Ladner home.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Why We're Here

As Sunday dawns bright and clear, after another night of cleansing rain, I reflect back on the events of the week. I am humbled once again by the sheer determination and force of will exhibited in the hearts and deeds of every volunteer present. This is indeed a unique experiment in cooperation and synergy and I am proud to be a part of it.

I am up before the dawn to create new avenues of service, that we might all find a way that suits us best to serve. The need has never been greater and I trust that all good people will rally to the call. How many more hearts must break, how many more homes must be destroyed, before the world wakes up to a simple fact: we are ALL in this together.

I have made so many good friends; so many women and men of conscience and goodwill who have flocked to Pearlington to make a difference. We all have our "stuff," yet the task itself baptizes us and invites us to come clean. We have never needed each other more, as our greatest fears and our greatest strengths find purchase on the muddy soil of southern Mississippi. We are made more whole through our common goal and we count on the support and unabridged love we have for each other.

I intended this blog to be gathering place, a modern-day flag around which we rally. It is not the American flag or my own Maple Leaf. Rather, it is the flag of all humanity expressing itself in action and outcome. It is, in fact, an opportunity; a chance to do what other great organizations have failed in many ways to achieve. It is harmony and symmetry and a submergence of individual ego in favor of the common good.

As the sultry Mississippi days unfold, there is still much to do. All of us who serve here are daily humbled in witnessing Faith in Action; in resource meeting need in synchronic and delightfully unexpected ways. Beneath the day to day, if one looks closely, is found the common thread that binds us all and that calls us to that place of spirit, where we are connected perfectly and equidistantly, one to the other and to our Creator.

Perhaps I make too much of it, but I think not. Watch for it, in the smallest of transactions in the Pearl*Mart to the rebuilding of homes in their entirety. Who are these people and how does this get done? Why is it that most young people work harder here as volunteers than many youth in our own communities do when they are paid? How and why are the volunteers called here? Whose Hand guides it all, weaving a tapestry of service and goodwill in this experiment we call Pearlington?

Make no mistake. We are all a part of something huge. As daunting a task as this may be, please mark my words. The waters of this world will not close in around us any more. We have been changed and each of us now bears a responsibility; that is, an ability to respond, that has changed our lives and empowered us to individual greatness, if we follow through. And what is that greatness other than an answer to a call from God to be all that we can be and to fulfil our individual destinies as He created them?

Please notice today, to the right, a link to a new blog. It is our latest Call to Greatness: "Adopt-a-Home in Pearlington." My wife claims I am addicted to nicknames and acronyms, so I am calling it the "AHIP Program." She is always right about me. Please explore it today and in the days ahead as its roster of need builds.

Some think they came to Pearlington to seek redemption, or to escape a life that didn’t work. Some came to run away from, or to run toward. Some came needing to fix the world, some to fix themselves. Some came because they were called.

It really doesn’t matter. In the end we will all be healed.

Thank you Katrina. Thank you God.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Focus on....Larry Randall

Co-Managers Larry Randall (l) and Herb Ritchie (r)

By the time Larry Randall was nine years old, his family had moved 37 times. When they finally settled in Pearlington, Mississippi, Larry was more than ready to put down roots.

He’s been here ever since.

He even stayed for Hurricane Camille, when it ripped through town six years later. Larry stayed, and even though Camille did not do nearly the damage to Pearlington that Katrina did, it was enough to convince a 15-year-old Larry that he would not be staying for the next big one.

So Larry rode out Katrina at the base of his former employer, Stennis Aerospace, from where he’d retired two years earlier, after a massive heart attack. He returned to town, with his wife Beth, to discover that he still had at least the shell of his house left, although there was an enormous amount of work to do to restore it. When, in early December, the Hancock County Emergency Operations Center was concerned about keeping the Pearl*Mart and the Recovery Center open, Larry and fellow resident Herb Ritchie stepped up to the plate.

The School Board agreed to allow the Chas. B. Murphy E.S. to continue to be used for that purpose. The school, named for a wealthy local landowner who had deeded the land to the School Board, was a familiar place to Larry. Like most residents his age, Larry had attended the school in his time, starting in Grade Six when the school opened. And, like most residents, Larry felt a keen attachment to the buildings and to its perception in the community as a central rallying point.

As a volunteer, Larry admits that when he took over as Manager, he had "no earthly clue" what he was getting into. Like all of us, he just knew that "a whole lotta stuff had to get done in a hurry." Those of us who have taken our turn at the job understand the constant stress under which Larry works daily and agree when Larry says, "but it can be very rewarding when we’re able to get something done."

Back home, when asked what’s going on in Pearlington at this point, I usually tell people that it is like "constructing a large subdivision - with no skilled labor, no resources or materials, and no time." Larry, Herb and Laurie Spaschak get to be the site managers of a nearly impossible job. I admit that I was deeply concerned about the EOC’s decision to put local residents in charge of the Pearl*Mart and the Recovery Center, only because I had just completed my own tenure there and I knew the pressure that could be applied on a daily basis.

In many ways, life is as much about perception as it is about reality. Larry has had to deal with perceptions - almost all of which are erroneous - while trying to apportion a handful of material and resources in a town where everybody needs something. I have watched Larry over the months since December do this Solomonic task wisely and cooperatively, while shouldering the inevitable criticisms and judgements made of him almost daily.

It’s never easy and it can hurt deeply. It changes you and requires you to be your very best every single day - especially on the days when your own loss and pain surface and you return to your "home" feeling beaten and bowed by the responsibility of it all.

But, Larry Randall persists. For him it’s simple:

"This is my town

Friday, July 07, 2006

Live from Pearlington - July 6, 2006

Please keep an eye on this blog. Information is coming fast and furiously with me in town and I want to share it all. Look later today for a new posting in our "Focus On...." series, this time on Mr. Larry Randall himself. There will also be a posting today on the Sharing Pearlington blog. I will inform those on the mailing list by email.

Don’t worry. I’ll sleep when I get home. Also a reminder to share the information about the Volunteer Reunion with all you know who have served here. The easiest way is to send them to the blog, so they can download the file that is now posted to the right.

I am now accepting reservations FOR THE REUNION: email me here!


A meeting of some of the C.O.D.R.A. members was held in Pearlington last night and some very interesting developments ensued, in response to a proposal I created:

1. As a result of invitations to the community, several trusted residents have stepped forward to serve as Resource Managers. These men and women, representative of the WHOLE community, have agreed to serve as "point-people" on jobs in the community assigned by the Recovery Center, or any other volunteer organization wishing to avail themselves of this opportunity. All are connected to the Internet and all are well-respected by their neighbors.
Resource Managers will funnel needs lists, information and requirements FROM residents to the respective group working on their homes, as well as funnel information back TO residents, from those groups. They can be our eyes and ears on the ground, to facilitate communication, to feed this blog information and to work for YOU in the speedy resolution of our projects. This will eliminate frustration in trying to track down people and information from a distance and help make things flow MORE smoothly. It also serves to invite more residents to become directly involved in the recovery of their town If you are interested in having a Resource Manager assigned to your group for a specific project, please contact me.

So far, I can confirm the acceptance for this duty by Ms. Susie Sharp. As other confirmations are received, I will inform you. Please do not contact them directly. Please allow me to assign them, in concert with you, so I might monitor the process. Everyone involved will be kept in the communications loop at all times.

2. This blog is getting to be a VERY busy place. Thank you all for your support of it. You will be informed soon of two new links on the right-side panel: one will take you to a NEW blog I am creating, called "Adopt-a-Home." Therein will be projects listed we are encouraging groups to take on. There will be pictures of the family and their story, what is required to be done, etc. The second link will be to a downloadable .pdf file and will be entitled: "The Pearlington Panel: Expert Advice and Sourcing of Materials." We are developing resources for materials, for instance, that will maximize your dollars when purchasing. There are skilled experts in the construction, engineering and other fields who may not always be available to come to Pearlington, but have agreed to serve as advisors, if professional advice or information is required for a project. I will inform you of the inauguration of these sources of information very soon.


- There is nothing actually IN a Disaster Recovery Zone unless and until it has already been eaten, drank, spent, nailed to the side of a house or driven to the store. Prior to that, it’s just a rumor and doesn’t exist. That’s my theory.
The school was NOT torn down today. Apparently, it will be NEXT Thursday.
Remember what I said. It isn’t over ‘til it’s over. Bob Putnam and I attended the School Board meeting last night and were told by Board President Morgan Ladner, that "nothing has been decided about that."

- This morning some local residents panicked, after receiving phone calls from FEMA concerning their trailers. They were told they must "re-certify" their trailers to August 31. Of course, we ALL work for FEMA and know exactly what "re-certifying" means. The residents took from it that they stood a chance of being evicted on August 31. If you encounter this, please assure residents that FEMA is checking to see who is back in their home and no longer requires their trailer. To be re-certified means that FEMA is blessing their continued stay until August 31, at which time they will call again and, if nothing has changed, re-certify them again month by month until they move into their house, God willing. Thanks, Bob Putnam, for getting right on top of this one right away.

More to come....

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Live from Pearlington - July 5, 2006

It's raining in Pearlington. Hard. And that makes mud. And Mississippi Mud is like brownies, with straw in them. We could probably build houses out of it.


Today you will find two new .pdf format files listed to the right. The first is a Current Needs List for the Pearl*Mart, as at July 5, 2006. The second is a Material Needs List, current to the same date.

Tomorrow is the day part of the school is to be demolished. Like all good volunteers, I'll truly believe it when a wall comes down. However, I did happen to find out tonight that the School Board has approved a payout to a demolition company, so it is inevitable, as I indicated earlier in the week. My heart goes out to Frank Nadell and others from Carbondale, along with young people from the Seventh Day Adventists, who slaved in November to gut and clean out the very rooms that are coming down. Please know Frank, that those little bench chairs are still being used (recently, in the new air-conditioned Pearlington Cafe) and the storage area you made for us was used right up until today.

Thank you Frank, for your dedication, vision and hard work. It's not over until it's over and certain things are afoot....

Three cheers to David and Patty Baldwin, the group working out of the Southern Baptist Church. They continue to rock and currently have 17 volunteers from Fayetteville, GA and 20 from Memphis, TN. Next week, a group of 100 come into town from Jasper, GA. The Baldwins recently attracted Larry and Marilyn Daggett from Vicksburg, MS. Larry stayed long enough to shoot 80+ free elevations for residents, so they could get their permits before July 1.

Tomorrow, I hope to post all the information about the Volunteer Reunion on August 26th here in Pearlington. Stay tuned and start warming up your wings....or engines....or whatever.

That is, if I don't get carried off by the mosquitos, that will surely be the consequence of this rain.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Live from Pearlington - July 4, 2006

Please notice today that there is a new .pdf format file posted to the right of this message. It is entitled: "SupPort-a-Pottie Program" and I would ask that you all open it and read it. It is critical that we provide for our volunteers in a way that the County cannot - or will not - do any longer. Please consider this request carefully and be in touch with me if you or your group is in a position to help.

Thank you.

Some quick notes from Pearlington:

We need, in anticipation of materials flowing into Pearlington for the rebuilding, to make ready the storage space pictured below, as soon as possible. It needs sides and some finishing and I am requesting that a group takes this project on and completes it. I believe that what one focuses on, expands. We will not attract large quantities of donated materials if we do not have safe storage to house them. We also have safe storage out on Hwy. 90, but it will not be enough.

Let me know if you are willing to take on this project.

The E-Z Save gas bar and variety store is now open in Pearlington. Mr. Mau Ho, the proprietor, invites all volunteers to visit and get the smaller things they may need, rather than taking the time to drive all the way to Bay St. Louis or Slidell. He has cigarettes, soda, beer, ice and some dry goods and the EPA should clear him to begin selling gasoline in the next few weeks. He promises the store will be fully stocked within the next 10 days.

We are, of course, always needing qualified tradespeople in many fields. Please consider coming down to at least supervise volunteers working in the areas of carpentry, house building, plumbing, electrical, dry wall and floating, siding etc. We can get the people power; we NEED experts.

The new building codes and FEMA Flood Plain requirements are now in effect, as of July 1st. We are unclear, at this point, as to how all this will affect us on the ground, but we will keep you all in the loop as it unfolds.

Laurie Spaschak is working on an updated Needs List for the Pearl*Mart and I will post it as soon as it is available to me.

There has been no bulldozing of the school property yet but it is scheduled for Thursday, July 6th. Our understanding is that it will not affect the operation of the Recovery Center or of Pearl*Mart. It is very clear that - in the end - it is completely out of our hands.

Some FEMA Facts:

48,000 people lived in Hancock County before the storm. The current estimated population is 35,129.

9,104 FEMA trailers are occupied at this time in the County. 1,267 have been "deactivated" as people get back in their homes and most of these have been returned to the staging area of Purvis, MS. What will be done with them next is anyone’s guess. Because of the rush to construct them and families living in them this long, I personally think they would make marginally acceptable storage sheds. But, I’m not in charge of FEMA. Too bad....

FEMA reports that they currently have no plan to extend the term of occupation, past the 18 months to which they have previously committed.

Work here continues unabated, despite the national holiday, and we would like to thank all those who gave up their time off to come and help. It is deeply appreciated.

The sun is shining, it’s humid and muggy and the cicadas make a racket you wouldn’t believe. God is in his Heaven and the volunteers and residents of Pearlington, Mississippi continue their toil.

Happy Fourth of July!

Because I am a Canadian, I have a unique perspective of America and of Americans.

As a Canadian in Pearlington, I can tell you this: the people I have met and the hundreds of friends I have made, have taught me that America IS beautiful and I see it every day reflected in the faces of those who live here and of those who came to help.

This is a great nation that deserves the very best leadership; men and women who can represent the nature of a people who forged an amazing nation, with an equally amazing potential, out of the wilderness that is this great continent. Canada and America share the longest undefended border in the world and have never taken up arms against each other in nearly 200 years.

Let it always be so. God bless America and Americans. I am proud to stand beside my brothers and sisters as we restore Pearlington to a better life. You have my respect and admiration.

God promised that not one of us will be lost. We are the same and we will not get where we’re going until all and each of us bends a knee to reach out a hand to those who struggle. As Americans and Canadians stand together, arms and hearts linked in a common purpose, may God bless our task and may each of us remember that Faith is the bird that sings when the dawn is still dark.

"Canada Jon" White

Monday, July 03, 2006

1st Annual Pearlington Volunteer Reunion

And some things remain the same....July 3, 2006

It was like riding a wild stallion.

We hung on for dear life, bobbing and weaving, punch-drunk fighters resting on the ropes when the constant assault allowed. We didn’t know we were traumatized, as the trauma unfolded around us and tears fell from our eyes. Paper towels, water bottles and hand sanitizer were our only defenses, and the sweat poured freely as we labored in the stultifying heat.

We were crazy to be there and crazier still for staying. There was not enough of anything and too much pain to go around. We slept on the ground or in the ovens of our vehicles, waiting for the dawn and enough light to start again. We never knew a last name; only first names and nicknames and swear words and oaths and promises and stories that broke our hearts, that opened our eyes, that changed our lives. We held each other in the embrace only soldiers and survivors know, with little time for artifice, or pretension or even proper manners.

We juggled and jumped, jiggled and jived, ran and panted in the awesome heat to do our tasks and to bring relief as fast as we could. We kidded and laughed; that exhausted kind that sounds maniacal and hyper to the uninitiated ear. We made snap judgements, sometimes wrong, but seldom of the people we came to help and never of each other. We shared a common peril and broke our own hearts on purpose.

It was early September, 2005 in Pearlington, Mississippi and we were dancing with Katrina.

It is with a deep sense of humility that I announce my intention to host the First Annual Pearlington Volunteer Reunion, to be held on Saturday, August 26, 2006.

ALL volunteers who have worked in Pearlington since the Storm are invited to return and to help us to commemorate the anniversary of an event unparalleled in our lifetimes. We will celebrate and reminisce, remembering those who were lost in the storm and those who have perished since. We will eat and sing, dance and renew - our friendships and our determination to stay the course and finish the task.

Ms. Susie Sharp has generously offered her acres on Hwy. 90 for our use and you are invited to come a few days before and stay a few days after - if you can - and to add your loving labor to a still-uncompleted job. We will make a Mississippi crab and shrimp boil of biblical proportions and recall the days we flocked from all over the continent to answer the call of our conscience and to offer a helping hand up to the people of Pearlington we have come to love.
Watch this blog for details in the coming days. Book your time now and get here however you can. Bring your open hearts and kind intentions and let us mark this anniversary in a calm and loving way.

Please allow a few days for me to post more details and then I will ask for your reservations and invite your questions and offers to help. Please be prepared to make a modest donation to the food and festivities. Those who can offer transportation from the Biloxi and New Orleans Airports may contact me immediately. Arrangements will be made to provide sleeping spaces on the field and in the Volunteer Shelter and Laurie Spaschak will coordinate this part. Camping may also be done on Susie’s property and we volunteers will bear all costs so that Susie, nor any Pearlington resident, is out of pocket in the least. There will be, of course, Karaoke and I reserve the right to make a brief opening speech and to sing a special song.

I extend a special invitation to all the September "Renegaides" far and wide to return at this time and to join me in anchoring the event for all who came after us.

My wife Marian will be joining me and sharing in the history and friendships I have made over the many months. I invite you all to share this event with your partners, but will ask that you carefully consider the appropriateness of bringing small children. It will be very hot, conditions will be camp-style and you need to be prepared to be fully self-sufficient.

This Reunion is a private event and will be secure and carefully controlled.
Let’s show Pearlington that we’re still here, that we still care and that their recovery and rebuilding is our utmost priority.

Kind regards,
"Canada Jon" White

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Signs of Progress, Signs of Hope

Charlie Holmes at the Palode rebuild

There are signs of progress everywhere in Pearlington. Houses that were abandoned and have been sitting in mute testimony to Katrina's wrath, have been cleared off their lots by the Corps. The sound of hammers and saws competes with the piercing call of cicadas and the smell of fresh cut pine and spruce is in the air. The Pearl*Mart is chalk full of canned goods and necessities and Pearlington now has perhaps the only air-conditioned cook tent on the coast, thanks to Larry Charbonneau's Texas Team of a few good men - John Eppright, Charles Dudley and Kelly Green. Suddenly young volunteers are lining up to serve therein....

Warren Tidwell and his pretty wife Jennifer call me on their way to the Ladner home, to deliver materials for their rebuild. This earnest and dedicated young man has been deeply moved by his experiences in Pearlington and works hard from home in Alabama, assisting Jennifer Johnson's BRICK Layers in any way he can. Friday night, fresh off the plane from Toronto, I am met by Susie Sharp - a pillar of the Pearlington community - and we are summoned to Turtle Landing to meet old friends and sing a Karaoke tune or two.

It's good to be back.

As I sing, I think of John "Johnny Rae" Watts and I aim my voice at his widow Liz, standing ten feet away. John passed away from a heart attack in June and singing was his passion as much as it is mine. Johnny Rae was the first to line up, back at my original Karaoke therapy nights in the fall, and had a wonderful country voice. He and Woody cooked our original crab boils and made a valuable contribution to the spiritual and mental health of this community, as we raised our voices amid the ruins of this small town.

I miss you John, but I know that Heaven has a Mississippi Man now to anchor its choir.

It was Canada Day back home yesterday and what better a way to celebrate than to reunite with Mary and Wilf Wityshyn, my countrymen from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Pearlington says goodbye to them both, for now, as Mary relinquishes her post as Camp Manager and moves on to Biloxi, where she and Wilf will serve in Logistics. Like all of us, their commitment and determination to see this through has changed and enhanced their lives and Mary and Wilf have done an outstanding job in Pearlington. We will miss them both and we wish them Godspeed.

Mary is succeeded by David Robinson, an Oregonian who helped erect the first 25 pods at the Camp, back at the beginning of the year. He fought long and hard to be posted back to Pearlington, affected as we all were by the needs of the town and the strength and good nature of its people.

Welcome, David, to the volunteer community of Pearlington.

David Robinson, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

My reunion with Charlie Holmes of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi is warm and touching. Charlie and I are professional colleagues and close friends, who share a mutual respect and love of Pearlington that has inspired our lives and empowered our work back home. I am once again amazed by CBF's commitment to this town and all the money and hard work they have dedicated to its recovery. I take a tour with Charlie, as he proudly shows me CBF at work in the community, rebuilding the homes of Pam Kirkland and Mike Aultman, Glen and Karen Bazor, the Palode clan and Vicki Netto.

Glen and Karen have been living in a small FEMA trailer with their three young children and can't wait to have a home for their children. Ada Palode is a wonderful woman with eight children who I met back in November. Cheerful and optimistic always, I discovered she was washing clothes for her husband and her kids, hours every day, in the tiny tub in their FEMA trailer. I made some calls from the Pearl*Mart and Moe Grez, of Loving Neighbors, pulled some strings and got me a brand new washer for her - at that point, perhaps the first one in Pearlington. Ada was thrilled and Charlie Holmes personally delivered it and set her up. On my last day as Facility Manager back in November, Ada showed up at the Pearl*Mart with a big pan of Jambalaya for me and later sent me an awesome picture of her family, which I treasure. I am so happy they will have a home again - all thanks to CBF and that very same Charlie Holmes.

Pam and Mike are salt of the earth Mississippi folk who are among my best riends in Pearlington. Like most, they lost everything in the storm and have been adopted by Jim and Susie Merritt of Beaufort, SC. Their small and cosy home is going up in record time, thanks in part to their own enormous hard work and determination. I was dining with them one night, in the shed that served as the kitchen out at Susie Sharp's place, and Mike was sharing with me how he was growing peppers and tomatoes in pots beside their FEMA trailer. As he spoke, we all looked over, only to witness the dog visiting each pot in turn and marking his "turf" with a good long pee in each and every one. I promptly named them "Piss Peppers" and told Mike that if I were ever going to eat one, they had better be scrubbed with Lysol first.

Upon my arrival at Susie's beautiful rebuilt house, the first thing I noticed was a small bowl of Jalapeno Piss Peppers on the kitchen table, looking green and pink and curiously clean....

Tim Goodnow - of the Dog Soldiers - and his wife Leslie are also here and I am meeting with him later today, concerning the Diaz home. Tim is a very good man and another close friend and partner in Pearlington.

Then there is Laurie Spaschak. As usual, she is everywhere, keeping things organized and running smoothly. Her remarkable daughter Maureen is here for the summer and she, and Mike Aultman's daughter Dominique pulled off a very cute and well-organized Karaoke Night here at Susie's, where some of C.O.D.R.A.'s members enjoyed an awesome steak BBQ.

There are currently some challenges with volunteer amenities and later today, after I meet quietly with her and Bob Putnam, I will post an appeal and a Call to Action. She is working on a new Needs List and I will have a major announcement this week - so watch for it - concerning the First Annual Pearlington Volunteer Reunion in late August, that I am planning with Laurie and Susie Sharp. We will commemorate the anniversary of the Storm and catch up with each other. I am really hoping that some of the original "Renegaides" from September return to help us celebrate the progress and indomitable spirit of the good folks of Pearlington.

Signs of progress.

Signs of Hope are measured in human terms and I will share those with you, as well, as my time here unfolds.

Canada Jon