Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Tear From Me To You

Tonight, it's been a year,
We met each other here;
Here I am, all alone,
While thoughts of you go on.
Hear me crying out to you,
We said: "Never, never will we leave."
Here's a tear from me to you,
and maybe it will make you hear me....

May the people of Pearlington and their extended families and friends move forward with Courage and Faith. May God continue to bless the people of the coast and may they rest in our arms and in our hearts for as long as they need.

God bless,
Canada Jon

Sunday, August 27, 2006

First Annual Volunteer Reunion

About 80 volunteers and a few local residents gathered yesterday at the home of Susie Sharp, on Hwy. 90, to commemorate the first anniversary of Katrina and to celebrate a year of cooperative and productive volunteerism in Pearlington.

It was a great night, punctuated by outstanding southern cooking, great music and song, as well as an opportunity for renewed friendships and the networking that has marked our year together. Volunteers from all over returned to Pearlington to share our common experiences and to thank the people of Pearlington for the opportunity to serve.

Susie and Pam Kirkland produced, as usual, an amazing meal of jambalaya, Swedish meatballs and BBQ smokies; salads galore and desserts to die for - including one called Death by Chocolate. Randy Turpin manned the grill and the boil pots and expertly delivered a good ole-fashioned Mississippi shrimp and crab boil, filled with whole vegetables and Mississippi’s famous Double-D Sausage. Miss Anne, the Karaoke Queen of Pearlington, was on hand to spin disks and to provide us with a sound system, enabling many of the volunteers to emotionally address the crowd about their personal and group experiences over the past year.

Laughter and tears abounded as some of the original volunteers from early September attended, some making surprise appearances. Dr. Chris and his wife Stephanie, who provided some of the key medical care just after the storm, showed up in their new mobile medical vehicle. They reunited with me and Paula Buhr, as shown in the picture below.

Glen Leavins from Walton County attended and we were blessed with the appearance of Jeff McVay, the Walton County Public Works Manager, who spearheaded Pearlington’s recovery in early September. Also in attendance was Michael Whitehead and Peter Newman. Michael was sent to organize the recovery, at the request of Governor Barbour to Governor Bush of Florida, and managed resources for all six southern counties just after the storm.

Larry Randall and his wife Beth - and of course Laurie Spaschak - were present and spoke of what volunteering in Pearlington has done for them, as this labor of love continues.

Many volunteers spoke eloquently about their experiences and of the common bond of love, friendship and cooperation that has grown between us in the past 12 months. The highlight for me was the induction of Canadian Alexander Yamich, 16, by Tim Goodnow, into the Dog Soldiers as a honorary member. Alex follows in the footsteps of his mother Eileen Powers, who was making her third trip to Pearlington. Alexander represented for us the outstanding work of all the youth volunteers who gave so much of themselves to this recovery effort. The recognition given Alex by the Dog Soldiers was a symbol of a boy coming to Pearlington and returning home a man. I know Alex well and we spent some time last night in quiet reflection together of our experiences here and I hope to share that story soon, with Alex’s permission.

You may read more about the Reunion in today’s Sun Herald, at this link.

Below (when Blogger lets me load them) also find the final tally of "Where Y’All From?" It’s an amazing story and I am deeply humbled and very proud of the small part I have played in the company of such remarkable people. I was thrilled with how the Reunion turned out and already making plans for next year. I think I will let Susie and Pam rest for a while before I spring THAT news on them, however.

It was also wonderful to have my dear wife Marian here for this Reunion. She finally has faces and personalities to go with names and she understands fully now why this has been so important to me and what her unflagging support has meant to me and to Pearlington. She represented all those we leave behind as we do God’s work and how crucial their own contributions have been to this recovery.

Thank you all for this day. May God bless you and the people of Pearlington, as we stand arm in arm and co-create a new and better tomorrow for the people of Pearlington, Mississippi.

"Canada Jon" White

These are the Moments....

There are moments in life that define your reason for being, that help you understand why God put you here in the first place. They help you breathe and to keep going in the face of even the greatest of challenge and adversity.
I’ve had several such moments this weekend.

So much has happened in a few short days. So much to share: the Gospel Concert, the Reunion, the quiet meetings discussing the future of volunteerism in Pearlington, Ernesto on the move. There was also many gentle moments: sharing Pearlington with my wife Marian, singing songs from the heart, a boy becoming a man under the kind mentoring of the Dog Soldiers.

But, first things first.

Friday night a couple of hundred volunteers and members of the Pearlington black community jammed into New Hope Baptist Church for an evening of gospel music and fellowship in honor of the volunteers. Organized by Joseph Keys and others, it was a night of showcasing the talents and worship of the Pearlington Community Choir and visiting musicians from Mississippi and Louisiana. In short, it was awesome!

Joe had asked me to be the Guest Speaker and to share some thoughts of behalf of all the Pearlington volunteers. I was deeply honored to be asked to do so and I hope I represented you all well. I’ve decided that since I was speaking on behalf of all of you, that I should publish my remarks. I have spoken a thousand times and almost often do it without notes or a prepared speech, but this time I thought it was important to record it all so that I might share it with you.
I have attached it here as a .pdf file you may read or download and, if you think it worthy, I will post it as a permanent addition to this site.

It is available for you to read HERE.

Warren Tidwell, that remarkable young man who is also an amateur meteorologist, will now get his own blog when I return to Canada, to keep us posted on potential storm threats to the Gulf coast area. I trust Warren’s reports; he is neither alarmist nor sensationalistic in his evaluations and will provide all who are interested with up-to-date reports as he creates them - especially if he considers a threat to be looming.

I will create this blog when I return to Canada and let you know when it is available for viewing.

Folks began showing up for the Reunion and there is an expectant tinge in the Pearlington air. Susie Sharp, Pam Kirkland and Mike Aultman; Randy Turpin, Susie’s Texas niece Celia and her husband Ed Boyle were working like Trojans to get the venue ready and the food prepared. Susie and Randy even restored her huge truck shed to pre-Katrina conditions to prepare for the festivities and to ensure we all had a dry place to be. Good thing, too....as I will share in the next posting.

After the Concert, we all repaired to Rev. Rawls’ First Missionary Church for food and, as usual, it was outstanding, welcoming and filled with the sound of joyful people.

Thank you Pearlington for loving us and giving us the gift of your voices and music. It was a night few of us will ever forget and we are touched by your willingness to honor us.

More later....

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Once-Forgotten Town of Pearlington, MS

It is impossible to comprehend, in the comfort of our own homes, what it must be like to lose everything in a single day.

On Monday, August 29th, just after 10:00 a.m. local time, Hurricane Katrina made landfall, with the eastern eye wall directly over Pearlington, MS - sparing New Orleans the direct hit. Every home, building and vehicle in this town of 1600 was destroyed. If that wasn’t enough, a storm surge travelled 4.5 miles inland and drowned what little was left under 12-20 feet of the most toxic stew imaginable.

Since that day, a hardy coalition of volunteers - representing almost every faith, state, Canadian province, two European nations and an eastern Asian country - have travelled regularly to Pearlington to rebuild this forgotten bayou town. It has been a year of triumph and failure, celebration and frustration, as nearly every governmental group responsible for such things has disappointed the people of Pearlington and, in some cases, made our job harder.

I depart in the morning for Pearlington, there to host the First Annual Pearlington Volunteer Reunion. It will be a gathering of like-minded volunteers, whose only mission is to work together to help Pearlington back to it’s feet.

We need materials and skilled labor desperately; there is still so much to be done.

We will not give up until the task is complete. That is our commitment to Pearlington and we will not fail them. When I created this blog on November 1, 2005, during my second trip to Pearlington, little did I know what a gift it would be to me and what a remarkable tool for communication, information and inspiration it would turn out to be.

I am honored to be a part of this recovery and honored to focus the combined might of C.O.D.R.A. - the Coalition of Disaster Relief Agencies in Pearlington - on this monumental task.
God bless you all. I will report next from Pearlington.

"Canada Jon" White

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Laurie Spaschak reports from Pearlington:

"The huge donation from CertainTeed Insulation arrived tonight. We just got done unloading and sent much of it out to job sites already. It will help over 15 families here get into their homes. The driver, Chuck Waago, helped us for hours in unloading, as so did Glen & Tim, Herb, The Earle family, the Dell Family, Michael Wheat, Larry Randall and others. All helped use their vehicles to deliver to the homes of others as well....even my daughter Maureen pitched in."

Good work, everyone!

This morning I received an email from Michael Whitehead, who was responsible for the very first organized official response from outside Pearlington after Katrina. I plan to read Michael’s email at the Reunion and responded to him and ask his permission to do so.

I won’t share that letter here, now, but I will share his response to my offer to read it at the Reunion. It is important for many reasons and helps us all understand how it is that Pearlington may have been "overlooked" in the early days:

"I was sorely touched by what I saw in Pearlington on Sep 7th and angry at my self that I had taken 5 days to discover that the situation there was so bad. In my defense, I was responsible for 6 counties and I could not afford to focus on cities, much less individuals. All of our resources were being ordered through the State of Florida Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Tallahassee, which was fully activated and supporting our operation in Mississippi. I believe that initially most of the resources that flowed in went to Harrison and Jackson Counties because that is where most of the people were. I realized, belatedly, the Hancock was the hardest hit but was receiving the least help. I tried to make up for that.

A lot of people in Tallahassee at the EOC did some heroic things for Mississippi which are still not widely known. With all the attention that came to Louisiana and New Orleans, not many people realize the incredible feat that Florida accomplished. I am seriously considering writing a book about what Florida did in Mississippi after Katrina so more people will understand the size of the accomplishment.

My narrative focused on my own personal actions in Pearlington, and I would be honored if you would read it, but please emphasize that I was one of 6,000 Floridians who were there. I have attached a copy of an article that I wrote which was published in the Orlando Sentinel last September."

Michael Whitehead
Emergency Management Coordinator
Department of Business & Professional Regulation
Division of Hotels & Restaurants

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Quiet in Pearlington

The anniversary of the storm approaches and things are relatively quiet in Pearlington.

Volunteers are somewhat scarce, I assume because of school starting, but in an ironic twist, there are materials available at the moment, yet not enough labor to use them. I have seen many e-mails across my desk in the past weeks indicating that many groups are coming for the fall and I look forward to seeing a busy hum of rebuilding activity starting again soon.

I’ve been informed that the Mississippi Governor’s Grants are going to be slow in coming. The first of them won’t hit the ground until late September and the balance could be as much as a year after that. If the people of Pearlington and elsewhere seek temporary solutions to get into a house, we are told that the grants may not be used to pay that back and in fact, will disqualify the homeowner. I continually struggle in my heart with the morality of political decisions that affect the very lives of the people, being made by those who have no intention of sharing the misery some of those decisions create.

So, onward Christian soldiers - and others. The task is upon us and we must not falter. There is still great heart and intention to get this job done, and so we will continue.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Thirteen More Sleeps....

The Reunion plans are coming together and it promises to be an AWESOME thing! There will be a lot going on that weekend and I know that those of us who are able to attend can hardly wait....

Just 13 more sleeps!

"Where Y’all From?" Update:

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Short and Sweet

Thank you all for the many great birthday greetings I received!

I had a wonderful day (we're still eating!) but I promised myself I would post the blog today.

And so, I have.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Pot of Gold

Tomorrow is my birthday. In my family, there is a tradition of "seeding" on one’s birthday; that is, doing on that day of your birth a symbol of what you want for the coming year.

So, I will create a sacred space for my wife Marian and I, in which to spend some meaningful time. I will enjoy my daughter and her husband, who are coming for two days to visit and celebrate me. We will make lots of great food, spend time in prayer and fellowship and, of course, sing. I will post the Pearlington blog and I will energize solutions for the people of Pearlington. I will take two days off from my practice and most other things, and rest.

I will thank God for the Love, Abundance, Service and Joy that fill my days and remind me how hopeful is the human race. I will celebrate the many new American friends I have made and measure the deep respect and admiration I hold for the ones I have drawn particularly close: Laurie Spaschak, Tom Dalessandri, Jennifer Johnson, Charlie Holmes, Tim Goodnow, David Robinson, Bob Putnam, Glenn Locklin and so many others. I will celebrate my friendship with my fellow Canadians from Pearlington: Mary and Wilf Wityshyn, Nancy Semple and Eileen Powers.

I will pray for and send my love to the wonderful people of Pearlington who, in their humanness, have reminded me to look beneath personality and presentation to find the spark, the spirit, that piece of each of us that is eternal and a reflection of our Creator. I will think particularly fondly of Susie Sharp, Mike and Pam - who, while often not understanding my twists and turns - trust me, rely on me and honor me in all things. They have taken this crazy Canadian into their hearts and into their homes and try to follow the moving line as I write the story of my time in Pearlington.

God has led me many places; to the ravages of war, the sobs of a mother as her child dies helplessly before her; to great concert halls and to the pillars of "power" in Washington, Ottawa, Moscow and many faraway places. He has asked me to look deep within myself and to face that which was written for me, yet is not me, and to overcome the narrative of my life that was the legacy of my hurting parents and to find that which is truly me. He has asked me to lead many times and to accept the target that this makes me, but to do it anyway. He has asked me to find love in a faithless world, only to discover it was my own faith I lacked. He has called me to make gestures as small as the hug of a hurting child and as large and sweeping as to change the world, and to trust that both matter and make a difference.

All this and more I will hold in my heart tomorrow, as I enter my 55th year on this great globe. I will sit quietly among the Black-eyed Susans, the Lilies and the Purple Coneflowers that bloom in our gardens from my dear wife’s loving touch, and reflect on this great journey and adventure that is my life.

And on Friday, I will rise early and create the day as He asks. I will be humbly aware that I am just one man and powerfully aware of what He has taught me: that each of us can change this world.

"Desire is a breeze that blows softly through your hair.
Passion is a whirlwind that tears at the very moorings of your soul."
- from the Portal of Passion, Dream School International

Monday, August 07, 2006

What Love Would Do

There are some tasks in this world that just feel impossible. There are Dreams that we often find impossible to create for ourselves. Some situations just seem impossible to find a way out to the other side.

Then there are those who don’t know the meaning of that word.

I invite you to visit a new set of blogs. These are the so-called "impossible" people of Pearlington. People who have nothing, save their faith in God and in a small band of volunteers who are answering the call of their own spirit and who hear God’s voice on the Mississippi wind.

These ‘impossible" Dreamers are passengers on a new ark, after a new flood, who are depending on God to show them dry land and a new tomorrow.

Please go to:

Click on the file entitled: "What Does This Mean" and read what David Robinson of PDA and my own life’s work has inspired.

Then visit each blog and see the truth of the task before us. There are more to come; this is just the beginning. Thanks to the courageous work of Nancy Semple and the leadership of Joseph Keys, we now know more of what must be done.

As you read each case, ask yourself one simple question:

What would Love do?

God bless,
Jon White

Friday, August 04, 2006

Pieces of Pearlington

The group who yesterday began the task of cleaning Lois Kelly’s lot deserve some recognition, even though they have not asked for it. I do this to inspire all the residents of Pearlington - our brothers and sisters - to reach out to your neighbors in any way you are able, as they reach out to you.

This effort was spearheaded by Susie Sharp (of course!) and Nancy Semple. Susie reports:

"We got five rooms gutted out today and have three more tomorrow. It was a very hot day. We will start on the sheet rock after we finish with the debris. Nancy took pictures of before and after. Randy Turpin, Tommy Dawson, Gary Bell, Nancy and Miss Pat Wilson helped today. We did not have any trouble with anything [not even the spiders!]. We had the backhoe [Susie’s] and Tommy's truck to haul trash.

Nancy and I put up a tent first thing this morning to clean the carport off with plastic tubs full of what knots that the Kelly's had taken out of the house. Frank Cloud fogged the house early this morning."

It is also my understanding that Randy Turpin has rented a bush hog from his own funds, to facilitate today’s work. Thanks to all of you, for a wonderful job well done! Pictures to come....

Tidwell Storm Center Update:
"Storm taking a beating in very unfavorable conditions. Looks like most models have it going across Cuba so hopefully it will be weakened significantly by the time it reaches the gulf. Most models have it travelling well to the west of Pearlington at this point. The storm keeps fighting tooth and nail to stay alive so we still need to keep an eye on it. I'll be watching."

Laurie Spaschak at the Recovery Center reports:
"Thought you might like to have these numbers, based on volunteer registration forms:

  • 2,105 volunteers have come here to help since January 1st, 2006
  • The total estimated hours for these 2,105 volunteers since January is 75,604 hours

These numbers are for the Pearlington Recovery Center, Pearlington Mississippi. They do not include the PDA volunteers or those staying at Southern Baptist Church.

I am enclosing a picture of the revival that was at the Southern Baptist Church, sponsored by Dennis Flom's Hope Force group and including the Pearlington Churches as well.

Also a picture of Steve Burnsed putting the final nails into the hall bannister board at the top of his stairway. It was autographed on the underside by John Chickering's team, who had spent the week working on the house beforehand.

Here, too, is a picture of me and Victor Cimino - an 82 year old veteran and retired policeman who only just weeks ago finally got a trailer to live in. We had a team there cleaning up the lot and building him a shed. He and some neighbors cooked a fabulous shrimp boil for the group for lunch!
I also plan to get pictures of progress on some other houses that are near completion. Susie Necaise and family will be in their home very shortly; just flooring to put in and cabinets to hang and they are home! Steve Burnsed's and Pam White’s houses are also almost there. I am going to get windows for Michael Wheat’s place tomorrow. All are happy to share photos and thanks with us...."

"Where Y’all From" Update:

"If the states that have sent volunteers are the ones in bright orange than you definitely missed us! The Presbytery of Detroit, Michigan sent 45 people down to Pearlington in March. We are planning a return trip of 65 people in November. Many of us are addicted to keeping track of Pearlington and are regular readers of your blogs."
- Julie Smith

"Ollie Niemi from NH was in Pearlington from Feb 12 to Feb 23 working with One House At A Time. I know cause he came with me. So color NH in."
- John Livingston, Red Hook, NY

"You can add Wisconsin as I sent a group down after we returned. You could also add Switzerland as one who came with us was actually from there, and is back there now."
- Tom Eickhoff, MN

"Hi Jon! We were down in early June from Medina UMC. We loved it there, worked hard, want to go back.... "
- Doug Herr, OH

Come on, Kansas! Where you at?

Have a great day. Things are happenin’!
"Canada Jon"

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Hits....and Near Misses

The pace is quickening in Pearlington - I can feel it and so can others. More is getting done and ideas are surfacing, solutions are being found and help is coming from unexpected quarters. Good work, everyone. I would like to think this journal had a little something to do with that....

Let’s not let up - there is still much to do and folks are counting on our support.

Joseph Keys and Nancy Semple:
Yesterday, Joe Keys - a respected member of the black community in Pearlington - took my Canadian friend Nancy around to meet and do casework on many of the black families still struggling in Pearlington. Many of us have spoken privately of our anguish in seeming to be somewhat unable to reach this segment of the local population. Keep your eye on Adopt-a-Home. I now have valuable information provided by Joe and Nancy that will enable us to reach out here in a way we have not been able to before. Good work, Joesph.

I know how hard this has been for Nancy and I applaud her courage. Yesterday, as I was talking to her on the phone in Pearlington, one of the worst summer thunderstorms in recent memory swept across Ontario. I had to hang up, as I watched an enormous limb of one of my elder Black Walnut trees come crashing down....on her car!

Below is a picture taken during that storm. As it turns out, it narrowly missed her car (and one of ours) and left only debris and a small surface smudge or two on her finish. Someone is clearly looking out for you, girlfriend!

And speaking of storms....

"Tropical Storm Chris":
Warren Tidwell of Alabama is a friend of Pearlington and an amateur meteorologist. He has been tracking this storm for us and reports this today:

9:45 EST:
"Significant weakening overnight as the storm is now tracking over the islands and towards Cuba. Again I hate it for them but it is the best way of dissipating this storm. Looking much better today but no need for an obituary yet."

11:41 EST:
"Downgraded to a depression. Looks like it's weakened as it has dealt with some cool air. We're not out of the woods yet but it's looking a good bit better. If it tracks across Cuba that will severely weaken the storm and impede any development. The further west it tracks after that will be better for the gulf coast. Right now it's looking pretty good for Mississippi but we still need to keep an eye on it."

Warren will keep me informed over the coming days, until the threat has passed. Thanks, Warren.

Where Y’all From?
Below are maps of Canada and the U.S., outlining the states and provinces that have sent volunteers to Pearlington. Have I missed any? As you can see even thus far, the response has been overwhelming.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Gift of Lois Kelly

In Pearlington, I am known as "Canada Jon." This label wasn’t self-created; in the chaos of the very early days after the storm, it was given to me by a family from Oklahoma, to distinguish me from all the other "Johns" present at that time.

But in some other parts of the world I have a different moniker.

In 1996, when I lived with my daughter in the Soviet Union, I created a children’s program - since used in schools in southern Ontario and elsewhere. It’s called Dream School and it teaches children and adults how to create their life’s Dreams and to rise above the "dream stealers" of the world, who seem to relentlessly call us to much less than that of which we are capable.

The Soviet press once called me "nothing but a big dreamer." They meant it as an insult, but the name stuck and frankly, I revel in it.

Tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m., a group of residents of Pearlington - unbidden, unasked - are banding together to clean the horrible year-long mess that is Lois Kelly’s house. Inspired by Nancy Semple, my on-site Canadian friend who did the casework on this family for Adopt-a-Home, they have asked to remain anonymous, as they reach out selflessly to a hurting fellow resident.

It is a particularly nasty job. Some of the most dangerous spiders in the world live in the mess that was once her back yard and the whole house has shifted 6 inches off its foundation. Herb and Dave Robinson have determined that it is "too risky for his volunteers to be exposed to this stuff. The house is literally being reclaimed by the bayou."

It will take bayou folk to claim it back.

A Dream come true for me. This is how it could be, everywhere in the world, as individuals seize the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others through random acts of kindness. It is what I dreamed could happen, back in the fall when it was necessarily "every man for himself." It’s what many of the volunteers have prayed for - a community involved in new ways with each other as they take the bus of recovery together. It’s what is meant by "not one lamb shall be lost."

Others have been involved: Dave Robinson of PDA and Herb Ritchie of PRC have evaluated the house and helped make some decisions about what can and cannot be done. I am proud of all of them. This is the experiment that is Pearlington’s Recovery. This is how it can be done. This is a model of how a community recovers, without the heavy hand of government, nor the moribund hierarchies of monolithic organizations like the Red Cross. This is citizens in action, doing what has to be done.

This is Unconditional Love in Action.

This is the gift of Dancing with Katrina.

"Big Dreamer"

"Love is the only point of departure for intelligent action."
- Deepak Chopra

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hot News!

Well, it’s 36 degrees Celsius here in southern Ontario today - hotter than in Pearlington. For our American friends (who haven’t yet joined the World Metric Community) that’s 97F. With the Humidex, it feels like 113F. That’s hot enough to fry enchiladas!

So much for the "Frozen North."

A Note from Laurie:

"We need volunteers!!!!!

We are almost empty for the rest of August and first half of September. I know school is starting again and all but I am afraid that folks will feel that we have given up helping if we have 3 weeks of no volunteers.

I have materials to rebuild with if you will come. We still need electricians, roofers and plumbers but we also have drywall to put up and finish. Please put the call out for anyone who can spare a couple days to please come and make a difference here...."

Let’s get on this, please!

After all. it’s cool in Pearlington....relatively speaking....

"Canada Jon"