I travelled with 10 other people from my church to do some rebuilding in the Biloxi area. This was my third trip to assist and I noticed a lot of changes. The first year there was a huge amount of debris everywhere and we spent most of the week helping people clear it. We also helped with 2 roofs and one drywalling project. Last year we had two crews, one that painted and the other helped repair the outside of Reggie and Darlene's house (which was a major job).
This year I noticed that the debris was all gone and the rebuilding effort is making a big difference, although there is still a lot to be done. The first change we noticed was the airport, which is finally finished and looks great. (all shiny and new) We then took a ride along the coast to see the progress. The casinos are, of course up and running. It was kind of sad to see the number of empty lots that formerly had businesses or beautiful mansions on them that will probably never be rebuilt. A few blocks back from the beach there is plenty of activity getting the neighborhoods back to normal. We noticed that almost everyone has a new roof.
We stayed (for the second year) at the Salvation Army's Volunteer Village. The village is an old football stadium that has been turned into housing for the volunteers. We sleep in an area that most likely was the locker room . I really enjoyed coming back here and seeing Edwin and his family who run the village. We worked with Ken again as our project leader. His passion and faith are truly inspirational. We enjoyed getting the chance to renew our relationship with him and his family. (although not necessarily his jokes!)
We were again divide into teams. Kyle and Bre went to help Reggie and Darlene with some inside renovations they are doing to their house. It was great to see them again and I was so happy to see them well (Darlene had a bout with cancer) and excited about their home. Glenn and Gabrielle went to work with a family mudding and priming walls to help the 5 person family out of sleeping in one bedroom. They also built a playhouse for the 6 year old daughter, which was above and beyond what their original task included. You guys rock!
The rest of the team, Mark, Ryan, Sue, Tadd, George and I spent our time at Charlie's house mudding, sanding, mudding and more sanding. This is not the most glamorous job or the most fun, but everyone was very dedicated and I never heard anyone complain. I give special kudos to Ryan who spent most of his time sanding the ceilings, definitely a tough job and he ended up covered in white dust every day.
One of the most fun parts for me was that Charlie is a really big tennis fan. Marlaena and I enjoyed talking with him about our mutual passion. On Thursday morning we went to a local park and played doubles with Charlie and his son Charlie. It was decided that the Elder Charlie (74) and I would play together. We won 6-2. Young Charlie was obviously a talented player who was very rusty. He said that he hadn't played in several years. He was having trouble getting his serve in with regularity. The most memorable part of our play was when he served the ball right into Marlaena's back. Charlie was so so so apologetic, hugged Marlaena from the back and then when we were leaving made her a card out of notebook paper saying again how sorry he was. It was really sweet. Sue came to watch and to take pictures, none of which are very flattering of me. If I had known I was going to play tennis I would have brought more appropriate attire. Oh well, it was really fun to get outside in nice 70 degree weather, the sun felt so good. At the end elder Charlie gave some money to his son. I thought it was funny and wondered if I should be offended that he had to be payed to play with us. What do you think?
Thursday afternoon I painted the men's bathroom at the church where Ken's family lives and is turning into another place where volunteer's can stay. Friday morning I put on a second coat and painted a door. In the afternoon I helped Gabrielle decorate our post in the Village. They decided last year that they wanted all the volunteers to leave behind a hand print to show how many people came to help out. We choose a post near where we had evening devotionals and Gabrielle came up with the idea of putting the Biloxi lighthouse on it and the the words to 'God of the City', which was our theme song for the trip. It turned out really well.
One thing about a trip like this is that you leave with work still to be done. Every year we have left mid-project, which leaves me with the great desire to come back again and see how everything came out. When we left Charlie's the drywall was done, but it will look so different painted and with flooring in. I didn't mention before that Charlie's wife is suffering from cancer and they are anxious to get back into their home which is closer to where she is getting treatment. I pray for both of them and their family in this difficult time.
The only not so smooth part of the trip was that our flight from Gulfport/Biloxi to Atlanta was delayed and then our flight to Pittsburgh was cancelled. So we managed to get a on another flight to Pittsburgh which was to leave at 10:59 pm. That flight was delayed also and we ended up pulling out of the gate at 1:00 am. With the time change Mark and I got into bed at 5:00 am. We both are still recovering . Mark was to leave for Texas on Monday but changed his trip to next week instead.
All-in-all this was again a really great experience. I know I didn't mention half of what happened, maybe I'll add more in the future. Unfortunately my memory is like trying to hold water in my hands.