Monday, April 14
After a slight delay in our flight from Newark to
New Orleans, our 25 "workcampers" from the Bolton Congregational Church UCC
arrived at Back Bay Mission (BBM) just after
midnight Sunday night. After a quick breakfast, we met with BBM Housing
Director Craig Steenkamp at 7:30 Monday morning, and learned about the history
of BBM, the importance of the workcamping experience, and the projects that we
would soon be undertaking.
A short time later, we
broke into two groups. One group began
installing flooring and kitchen countertops for a family of seven, while the
second group began insulating ceilings in a house belonging to our new friend
Dawn, who has been waiting for seven years to return to her home,
which was severely damaged in 2007 by Hurricane Katrina. The accompanying
photos show some of us working at Dawn's home.
Thanks for your support, prayers and
generous contributions to this amazing mission experience!
Tuesday, April 15
Written and experienced by Samantha Ann Mainville
There are so many types of people in this world. We are molded and
influenced by our communities, cultures, experiences, parents,
teachers. Each person develops their own unique personality and
demeanor that defines them and either makes them an individual, or
someone who is completely forgettable.
Some people become comfortingly pleasant, some smile a lot, some
people have permanent frowns, some talk behind your back but are
nice to your face and can fake both smiles and frowns.There are the
perpetually angry, sad, anxious, confused.There are charismatic
people, inspiring people, intense, violent and terrifying people.
There are people who keep to themselves and people who seek
attention. Personalities span across a gigantic almost infinite
spectrum. I've met so many kinds of people, most have seemed pretty
ordinary to me...
But then I met Dawn.
Monday morning the 25 work camp volunteers rose, dressed and
gathered in the dining area to be briefed on what to expect at each
of the worksites. The construction program directors discussed
safety, the history of the Back Bay Mission program, budgets, and
then some more safety. At the conclusion, excitement welled up in
Craig as he started to introduce our highest priority project:
Project New Dawn.
Dawn was a homeowner who hadn't been able to live in her house for
nearly ten years. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Dawn and her
husband were without a house. Their adorable abode on the end of a
quiet dead end street had been washed away by the vicious 18 feet of
water that destroyed and washed away their neighborhood, their
community, their town and most of the civilization and wildlife on
the Gulf Coast.
After Katrina, Dawn and her husband had their home quickly rebuilt
by one of the many pop up volunteer organizations that no longer
exist. Right before they were about to move in, the city came along
and told Dawn that her home was uninhabitable until it was raised up
onto 13-foot stilts, a new law the city had implemented for homes
in severe flood zones. Dawn and her husband had no money to pay for
this project so they applied for a grant. While they were waiting
for the grant money to arrive, the two stayed in friend's homes.
Since Katrina, it has been exceedingly common for multiple unrelated
families to live together.
Luckily, the grant money arrived. The couple hired a contractor who
raised the house. Unfortunately, the now extinct team who initially
rebuilt the home, did so in a completely wrong, illegal way that
went against all building codes. The house could not withstand the
stress of being put on stilts and started to fall apart from the
roof joists. Just as things were finally coming together for the
family, they found themselves back at square one: without their own
Dawn and her husband moved back in with friends and relatives and
contacted Back Bay Mission which at this point in time was the only
volunteer organization left doing post-Katrina rehabilitation work
on people's homes. They were put on an extensive waiting list with
many other low income or disabled families and individuals.
Shortly after, Dawn's husband fell terribly ill and soon God decided
that he needed him back in heaven. Dawn was now alone and without a
house. She owned a decrepit lot with a crumbling, condemned house,
if you could even call it that.
When the Mission finally got to Dawn and heard her story, they made
her a priority. When they realized how beautiful and strong her soul
was and that she had the power to warm your heart with a simple
smile, they made her a town celebrity. Project New Dawn is featured
on the Mission's website. They even produced a short video about her
which has infatuated every viewer since its initial posting. Dawn is
naturally magnetic. She draws you in with her sweet smile, and you
stay because she fills you with pure bliss. Dawn is a treasure to
the human race.
What is so special about Dawn is her unique personality. Despite
all that she has been through she's infallibly positive, endlessly
cheerful, radiantly passionate and strikingly kind. Although
multiple contractors and volunteers have destroyed her home and kept
her from moving back in the past nine years, she had nothing bad to
say about them, only praise. Dawn is the epitome of grace,
integrity, kindness and every other compliment that I can possibly
think of. Dawn is an angel.
In a world where no one can trust anyone, where we aren't even safe
in malls or movie theaters, where negativity and cynicism is
normal, Dawn is the brightest ray of sunshine and the freshest
breath of air. This woman openly invited 25 more strangers into her
home, again, hugged each of us, kissed our cheeks and as we left on
the first day she smiled the most brilliant smile and said, "I love
Thursday, April 17
Our week in Biloxi, MS, continues to bring forth inspiring
experiences and surprising blessings.
On Wednesday evening, through a series of unexpected circumstances,
we attended a prayer and Bible Study service at the New Bethel
Missionary Baptist Church. We were most warmly and enthusiastically
received by our hosts, and enjoyed a lively interchange about the
resurrection including contributions from the members of New Bethel
as well as some of our own group.
Tom Mainville spontaneously rose to lead us all in a gospel hymn,
and we shared wonderful fellowship with our sisters and brothers in
Christ who were strangers up until 7:00 that evening, but who now we
count as dear friends.
On Thursday, we worked in three groups and concluded our afternoon
with a joyous dinner of local gulf shrimp, coleslaw, and a huge loaf
of French bread in the shape of an alligator baked by a nearby
Vietnamese family bakery. The highlight of the meal was the addition
of our dear friend Dawn and her niece Tiki at our dinner table.
After a trip to the beach, we gathered in the Mission House for our
final group evening meeting, where we reflected on the countless
blessings and holy moments that have shared together.