Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pix from Pearlington

Laurie Spaschak, Charlie Holmes

Tom Dalessandri

Paula Buhr, with microphone :)

August 31, 2005

August 31, 2009
Photos Copyright Jon S. White

News from Pearlington

Yesterday, in a packed Community Center, County Supervisor Rocky Pullman officiated as that beautiful new building was dedicated to the good people of Pearlington. Spear-headed by Building Goodness Foundation - the very same people who built 125 large sheds in Pearlington after the storm - it stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit of the people of this coastal community in staying put and rebuilding their town in the wake of the third most damaging hurricane in American history.

Officially named the Pearlington Recovery Center (for funding reasons), Rocky pointed out its real purpose and folks here will call it what they will; that's just their nature [*Jon smiles*]. Regardless, it's a beautiful building, built to last by Martin Horn, Inc., it is the product of a vast amount of volunteer labor and the generosity of many, including the city of Weston, Mass. It is just what Pearlington needs and it has already hosted weddings, family reunions and town hall meetings since it actually opened a few months ago.

It was also an opportunity to honour the volunteers who came to Pearlington to leave their blood, tears and sweat equity on virtually every aspect of the recovery of Pearlington. Paula Buhr reminded all present of the early days after the storm and some volunteer representatives - including yours truly - will be honoured on behalf of the tens of thousands of volunteers who helped in Pearlington, with the locating of a plaque on the side of the new building.

Following the presentation, Paula, Tom Dalessandri of Mountains to Mississippi, myself representing the Coalition of Disaster Relief Agencies (C.O.D.R.A.) and others gathered in the formation of an exciting new initiative in the preparation and first response in the event of another strong hurricane.

There will be more to come on this in the next few days, of particular interest to those volunteer groups who have been members of C.O.D.R.A. and who choose and are able to be a part of this venture, fully blessed and logistically supported by the EOC for Hancock County.

Watch this blog for developing information on MMERT, the Mississippi Medical Emergency Response Team.


Hancock County yesterday announced a $2.5 million Job Regeneration Fund for small business owners who existed at least six months prior to Katrina and who experienced loss due to the storm. It is a one-time forgiveable loan for those who continued after the storm and who meet the criteria.
Meetings concerning this will be held throughout the County. In Pearlington, there will be meetings at the new Community Center on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009 at both 12:00 and 5:30 p.m.

Come on out and see if you qualify!

Canada Jon

P.S. Thanks to all for the remarkable and kind comments left on yesterday's posting.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dancing with Katrina

Four years ago today, like so many others, I arose on a Monday morning and prepared myself for a new work week, completely unaware that my life was about to alter course. That's the thing about life - it turns on a dime sometimes - with little warning or preparation and you become forever changed.

For those of us who have danced with Katrina since that August morning in 2005, we have learned many new steps; we have tripped and stumbled, pirouetted and fallen; soared and sunk, wept with pain, wept with joy and treated those "two imposters" - Triumph and Disaster - just the same.

In the calmness of this Pearlington, Mississippi morning though, in the safety and comfort of Susie Sharp's rebuilt home - rebuilt in part again after Gustav - I sip my coffee, massage my trusty laptop and remember who I became in Katrina's wake. I have seen the unfathomable damage a storm can cause and the equally unfathomable response from tens of thousands of volunteers rushing from all over the world to help a proud people stunned by disaster. This day belongs to the people of the Gulf Coast and they will all mark it in their own unfathomable ways. For me, I have wept alone and remembered those who died that day and who have passed on since, friends and strangers alike, and all the volunteers I've met who returned home to embrace their own children and love their families just that much harder for having been spared. Their voices and faces, the feel of their embraces, whirl in my memory like a kaleidoscope.

But, in truth, none of us were spared. Yesterday I had the pleasure and deep honour to be reunited with nurse Paula Buhr and the amazing Tom Dalessandri, two of Pearlington's most constant friends and helpers. Paula was one of the very first volunteers to hit the ground in Pearlington in the wake of the storm, helicoptered in to deal with immediate medical needs. After our meeting, she quietly turned to me and asked me if I had experienced any Post Traumatic Stress symptoms after our early days in Pearlington. Both of us know we have, and still are, and that today may be the day we begin to close that door and heal.

For me, I know I would not have fared very well at all if it hadn't been for the constant love, support and understanding of my wife Marian Rose. By satellite phone in those early days I called her and cried, raged and processed, letting the calm sound of her voice touch me and bathe me with her peace. I'm very sure I could not have done what I did without her. She was my rock, my touchstone, my link to something real and safe. Her contribution and that of so many other partners and families of so many volunteers has never been fully honoured, so I do that here now with simple humility and gratitude.

In the intervening years, Pearlington has greatly changed and very much stayed the same. Many homes have been rebuilt, some are just gone and some still stand in broken testimony to that day. Life marches on and every hurricane season brings trepidation and preparation against the next inevitable storm. This is their home and they stubbornly cling to the bank of the Pearl River as they have for hundreds of years, nestled like a beautiful marble in the very southwestern corner of the great state of Mississippi.

Later this morning a ceremony is planned and it will be my intention, if given the chance, to remind the world that this job was not done by the relative handful of us being honoured today. It was accomplished by tens of thousands, young and old, here and at home, who sacrificed their time, money and occasionally their very lives and peace of mind to come here trying to make a difference. It can only be fully understood by those who have done it here or somewhere else in the world.

Many of us may never know for sure if we did indeed make that difference, but we are all very clear that if we had stayed home, we didn't. So, as much as this day belongs to the Survivors, it also belongs to the Thrivers; the ones who came to make things better and who stood a turn dancing with Katrina. And to those of us who, in our hearts, still are.

No matter where I travel, no matter how many "dimes" my own life turns on, I will remain in my heart forever:

Canada Jon

Friday, August 28, 2009

Back in Pearlington

Greetings from Pearlington, MS.

Watch this spot tomorrow for news, pix and reports on an exciting new development.

"Canada Jon" White