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Bolton Congregational
    Church UCC
228 Bolton Center Road
Bolton, CT  06043
860.649.7077 (Phone)
860.649.5419 (Fax)

Biloxi Mission Trip 2014

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 home.

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 you, family."

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.