The Aftermath of Katrina
In August 2006, four associates from Legacy arrived in Bay St. Louis, MS, and immediately recognized the destruction of the hurricane. Along the coast, in place of beautiful waterfront home, were stilts that once supported foundations of houses. Clothes hung in trees, mattresses lay fallen in the grass, and trash and debris were scattered as far as the eye could see. Many houses off the coast still stood intact, but the rising water during the storm had rendered them uninhabitable. Now, next to these empty houses sit small FEMA trailers. Read on to learn more about Kelly Thomas and her mother Pat Jenkins, Mary Lou Spittle and Tram Chau's trip to help rebuild Bay St. Louis.
Rebuilding Homes, Rebuilding Lives
The small, dedicated CityTeam staff set up headquarters in a local baseball field to coordinate and house volunteers like us. Large tents were used for serving meals, prayer meetings, and community gatherings. Sheds complete with fans and air conditioners were being used as sleeping quarters. The kitchen/pantry — also once a shed — now served as a food storage and preparation area. They had even built four fully-functional outdoor showers, which, Mary Lou noted, provided the volunteers much needed relief from the sweltering heat. This was where we would spend the next seven days.
We soon learned we would be working to restore damaged houses so families could move back into the homes they had been forced out of almost a year ago. A group of construction volunteers from Hatboro, PA drove over 20 hours in their work trucks so they would have the necessary supplies to make a real difference. Kelly recalls that not being construction workers ourselves, we were unsure how much we could help, but everyone played a crucial role — whether it was making eggs in the morning, filling the Gatorade jug before a long, hot day or installing kitchen cabinets. Our days started at 5:00AM and didn't stop until 10:00PM. But with the Hatboro remodeling crew's skills and our man power and determination, we were able to turn three ruined houses back into homes.
A Family's Breakthrough
Partway through our trip, we were fortunate enough to meet Geri, one of the homeowners whose house we rebuilt. A year after Katrina, Geri and her family were still living in trailers — she, her wheelchair bound husband, her son and his fiancée, and her autistic daughter all together. Geri was still amazingly optimistic and tearfully appreciative of all the work done on her house. And when the time came for us to leave, Geri's daughter serenaded the crew with a song — amazingly, it was the first time she had communicated since Katrina.
Reflecting On Our Experience
It was an emotional week full of countless memories, extraordinary experiences, and amazing people. We all came away with a greater appreciation for the gifts in our lives we may take for granted. We were inspired by the volunteers, CityTeam Ministries, and all the people affected by Hurricane Katrina, and will be forever grateful for the opportunity to help make a difference in the lives of those who really need it.
As Tram pointed out, a year and a half after Katrina hit, media coverage of the Gulf Coast restoration project is almost non-existent. But the areas most affected by Katrina still have a long road to recovery. CityTeam and similar organizations are slowly helping families return to their homes, but volunteers and donations are still needed. We hope our experience will inspire others to donate their time and energy to rebuild an area in need.
Even though the week came to a quick end for us, those still living in Bay St. Louis have a beginning — a chance to return to their homes and families to start a new life.
New Textbooks, New Hope
St. Malachy's opened in 1860 and provides quality Catholic education to low income, minority students in Philadelphia. The school was given a grant to purchase new English, Math, and Social Studies books for all grade levels, allowing St. Malachy to better serve its total student population, from those who have special needs to those who are more academically advanced. Each grade at the St. Malachy School saw an improvement in its Terra Nova test scores, a standardized test given to all parochial schools, as a direct result of the Legacy Foundation's investment in textbooks. For more information please contact Monica Steigerwald, Development Coordinator at St. Malachy School, 215-975-7660.
Helping Children Heal
The Pre-School Intervention Program, as part of the Central Montgomery County Mental Health System, is a therapeutic, center-based program to assist children with behavioral, social, and emotional difficulties often as a result of physical or sexual abuse. PIP offers specialized services and activities designed to meet the needs of each of the 50 children, ranging from ages three to five years old. The grant from The Legacy Foundation was used to purchase educational and therapeutic materials to help each of the children with their mental health diagnosis. Previously, therapists shared materials among six rooms, but now each has their own materials so the children can receive the individualized support they need. For more information visit their website at www.centralmhmr.org.
From Convent to Classroom
LaSalle Academy is an independent Catholic grade school, located in Philadelphia and owned by a Board of Trustees. The school provides an education to children who face significant social, academic, and financial challenges. The grant from The Legacy Foundation was used to convert a former convent into a school for the children. Specifically, the grant helped to restore and rebuild the third floor of the convent into brand new, functional classrooms for grades 6-8, as well as a library for the children. For more information please visit their website at www.lasalleacademy.net.
Every Child Deserves a Quality Education
The Children's Scholarship Fund is a non-profit organization started in 1998 that offers scholarships to underprivileged children in the Philadelphia area. With over 205 participating private and parochial schools, the Fund serves children in kindergarten through eighth grade. The Legacy Foundation's grant to CSF provided a full four-year scholarship for a deserving child. The scholarship money goes directly to the school the family has selected, but families are responsible for paying a small portion of tuition costs as well — reflecting CSF's requirement for parental involvement. All administrative costs are covered by the CSF Board of Directors, and the CSF National matches all donations 50 cents to the dollar for new scholarship dollars raised. As funding permits, their goal is to give out an additional 500 scholarships each year. Over the last 5 years a total of 3750 scholarships were awarded. For more information visit their website at www.csfphiladelphia.org.
The Ronald McDonald House - built on a father's love for his daughter
Founded in 1974, the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House — the first in the world — was created for Kim Hill, the three-year-old daughter of Philadelphia Eagles player Fred Hill. As Kim battled leukemia, Fred and his wife spent many nights sleeping in her hospital room, vowing to find a better way to stay by her side. With the support of the Philadelphia Eagles, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and McDonald's Restaurants, a “home away from home” was created. Today, the Ronald McDonald House provides supportive services for families of children with life-threatening illnesses who are receiving treatment at local hospitals. The House provides everything from shelter, meals and transportation, to TV lounges and computers with Internet access. The Legacy Foundation's grant helped support the meal program that is run by volunteers for all families staying in the House. For more information visit their website at www.philarmh.org.
Ending Poverty for Kids in Bucks County
The Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services Agency provides protective services to approximately 5,000 children a year in Bucks County. The majority of the children served come from very poor families. They are housed, fed, clothed and brought up in an atmosphere that is supportive and free of abuse. As a county agency, the organization is not able to raise private funds to provide financial support to all the families they serve — Bucks for Kids provides what the agency cannot. Bucks for Kids helps disadvantaged youth have the same experiences as their more advantaged peers. The Legacy Foundation's grant helped Bucks for Kids provide four siblings with brand new bunk beds and mattresses. For more information visit their website at www.bucksforkids.org.
Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence
A Woman's Place is the only domestic violence agency serving the Bucks County area. It is a community organization dedicated to ending domestic violence, and community effort and support is required to successfully eradicate this problem. The organization provides a full range of assistance and support services for domestic violence survivors and their children. These services include a 24-hour hotline, a residential shelter, counseling, legal and medical advocacy and children's programs. A grant was given by The Legacy Foundation to support “Project Know,” a campaign to share information with the community about ending domestic violence through the many services and programs run by A Woman's Place. If you or someone you know needs help, a 24-hour hotline is available at 1-800-220-8116, or visit their website at www.awomansplace.org.