Biloxi, days three and four: Hard at work

As part of Habitat for Humanity, volunteers help build a new house for a family that lost its home in Hurricane Katrina. Katie Roupe | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Ready, set, sleep

Volunteers are staying at four camps, each one miles from the other. Living arrangements vary from tents to a former church dormitory. The luck of the draw has me staying at the latter, which is now known as Camp Seashore. Arguably the most comfortable lodging in Biloxi, it’s complete with air conditioning (that works), an attached bathroom and an oceanfront view.

Bob Christy, a United for Biloxi organizer, said splitting up the large group of volunteers is a good way to handle the crowd. Also, spreading the camps among the cities of Biloxi, Gulfport and Ocean Springs allow the volunteers to have better proximity to the jobs they’ll be working. …

–Steven Bushong

First day of work

It’s about 6:20 a.m. and today is the first real work day with crews and tools and sweat. I am one of 17 crew leaders and have 8 volunteers with me. I will list all their names soon once I make sure I have the spelling correct. My crew is scheduled to finish a roof today. That’s it. I don’t know any more than you – but my crew couldn’t be happier about it. I know they will excel.

–Marc Joslyn

Meeting the residents

I really love the smell of Mississippi. I know that’s a little weird, but I do. Mississippi smells like the ocean and pinecones – just how it smelled when I was a kid. Even three miles into the mainland, where my crew was working, it still smelled like the ocean and pinecones.

Today was our first day on the work site. We are working on a house that had severe damage to its ceilings and walls because of Hurricane Katrina. We got to the site at about 9:30 a.m. and went straight to work, tearing down walls and ripping out installation. While it was exhilarating punching holes into the wall, the best part of the day was talking to the people who owned the home we were working in. …

–Sarah McGrath

Little things

Sometimes it takes just a small event to put things in perspective. I had hopped a ride with Gary Padak, dean of Undergraduate Studies, to go to another work site. While driving, he suddenly put the car in reverse and pulled over to a man and woman. Their arms overflowed with bags and a box. Padak asked the couple if he could give them a ride. I haven’t seen anyone that grateful in a long time.

Padak gave them a simple car ride to their apartment, and they were utterly full of gratitude. We helped bring in their purchases, and then Padak handed them some money and told them to treat themselves to something fun. The woman enveloped us both in a hug. I was so stunned at their appreciation for such a simple deed, I don’t think I uttered more than a “have a good day.” …

–Katie Roupe

A hard-earned meal

Today was amazing – 80 degrees, sunny, the perfect amount of sweet smelling breeze. We managed to roof an entire home in one day with nine volunteers that had never before attemped anything similar. Our teaching crew is part of LATCH (Lutherans Acting To Correct Housing), a group that has been dedicated to construction projects since Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

They spent time teaching each of us the professional methods needed to complete each task. Throughout the day I observed each of my guys and girls jump in and try new things without hesitation. Each team member worked hard and treated each other with respect. Lots of smiles and buckets of laughter – the perfect day. It was the hardest physical day I have known in years. I am nearly bobbing my head in virtual sleep just composing this entry. …

–Marc Joslyn

Where the heart is

This week my group is working with Habitat for Humanity on three different houses that will eventually be three different families’ homes.

Staying at the Disciples of Christ is very much like staying with my family. At least three to four of us all squished together in a room, only a few minutes allowed for every shower and always someone to talk to. That feeling of family carried over to our work site today as we all helped each other learn how to use power tools (fun!), and we reminded each other to reapply sunscreen and to drink plenty of water. …

–Katie Cleary, volunteer

Seeking answers

Some lost everything in Katrina. Olivette Alexander of Nichols Drive was one of the least fortunate. The water level inside her house peaked just above the home’s doorways. When she returned after the hurricane, the house was blackened with mold from floor to ceiling – it was a total loss. She had to gut it, leaving only a skeleton of a home.

Tomorrow, United for Biloxi volunteers will finish returning her home to normal. Many hands have seen work in Alexander’s residence since the hurricane, but the hands of Kent State volunteers will finish the job. And then, finally, Alexander and her two youngest sons, ages 10 and 16, can move up the street from their FEMA trailer to their home. …

–Steven Bushong

Sight seeing

Today after working at the Habitat site, our bus driver, Buddy, decided to take us on a tour of Biloxi and Pass Christian. Pass Christian is where all the volunteers worked last year and helped to clean up part of the city. It was a catch-22 to see all the work that has been done and yet at the same time to see how much more needs to be finished.

At dinner, we talked about our work experiences so far, and those who are on this trip for the second or third time talked about the differences they see in the city. Seeing all the destruction and debris really makes one want to reach out into their community and help others who are less fortunate, however when one sees all that needs to be done, it can make it feel as if there is no point in helping at all. …

–Katie Cleary

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