Brethren Disaster Ministries Marks Fifth Anniversary of Katrina

Church of the Brethren Newsline
Aug. 27, 2010

Above, a Children’s Disaster Services volunteer cares for an infant following Hurricane Katrina. Five years later, the Church of the Brethren is still working to mitigate the suffering caused by the hurricane, with an ongoing Brethren Disaster Ministries rebuilding project in St. Bernard Parish near New Orleans. Below, a volunteer helps rebuild a house in the Parish.

Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Louisiana coast on Aug. 29, 2005. Five years later, the Brethren Disaster Ministries rebuilding project in St. Bernard Parish, La., is still working on rebuilding homes destroyed by Katrina.

It is the sixth Brethren Disaster Ministries-run project to rebuild homes for families affected by the hurricane. Current project leaders are John and Mary Mueller and Brethren Volunteer Service worker Steve Schellenberg.

Over the five years since the devastation of New Orleans and surrounding Gulf coastline, volunteers working through Brethren Disaster Ministries have given thousands of hours to rebuild hundreds of homes. The church’s Children’s Disaster Services also has helped care for thousands of children affected by the disaster.

“We are accomplishing what is typical of most Brethren disaster sites: helping families get back into their homes,” said Mary Mueller in a telephone interview this week. In St. Bernard Parish, Brethren Disaster Ministries is representing the church at its best by “serving the people who would have fallen through the cracks,” she added.

The Muellers have worked for more than three years in St. Bernard Parish, an area of Lousiana just east of New Orleans. During that time they have helped host and lead thousands of volunteers–and they have seen the community turn around.

It was a “ghost town”–in Mary Mueller’s words–when they arrived in early 2007, a place where debris lined the side walks and strip malls were deserted. Now the area is becoming revitalized, businesses have reopened, schools are being rebuilt.

“It’s wonderful to see the comeback…it is a community transformed,” she said, remembering her emotional response one day when she saw someone planting flowers in a front yard. “My heart just leaped,” she said, because it was a sign the community was moving beyond survival mode.

Brethren Disaster Ministries is partnering with the St. Bernard Project to rebuild homes in the parish. In total the project has put 290 families back in their homes. And the Brethren have helped with the majority of those houses, Mueller reported.

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of the hurricane, the St. Bernard Project is holding a 50-hour rebuild to show how much can be done on a house in that short period of time. The work for this week’s Brethren Disaster Ministries volunteers–14 Brethren from Virlina District, and two hospice nurses who came along–has included preparing a house for an influx of volunteers taking part in the special project. The Virlina group also has worked on several other homes, installing flooring and exterior siding, putting up drywall and storm shutters, repairing a leaky chimney and a rotted out soffit–in fact, a “pretty typical week” according to Mueller.

Mueller encourages people to consider volunteering with Brethren Disaster Ministries. “Whether they volunteer at this site or any other site, it’s a very good thing, and it is so encouraging for survivors,” she said.

And then she added a helpful reminder to new disaster volunteers, perhaps learned from years of serving Katrina survivors: “You never know when you’ll be on the receiving end of something like this.”

Hurricane Katrina statistics as reported by Brethren Disaster Ministries:
— Brethren Disaster Ministries volunteers have rebuilt homes in six communities: Citronelle, Ala.; Lucedale, Miss.; McComb, Miss.,; Pearl River, La.; East New Orleans, La.; and Chalmette and Arabi in St. Bernard Parish, La. The program also contributed to a New Orleans Ecumenical Build in cooperation with Church World Service and a number of other Christian organizations.
— The ministry has served 454 families affected by the hurricane.
— A total of 4,929 volunteers have worked at Katrina rebuilding, giving 38,691 work days or 309,528 work hours representing a value of donated labor of $6,453,659 (at $20.85 per hour).

Hurricane Katrina statistics as reported by Children’s Disaster Services:
— The program cared for children in the Gulf region directly affected by the storm, in places that received families displaced by the hurricane, and in New Orleans when displaced families began to return. The 12 communities where Katrina-related child support has been provided are Los Angeles and San Bernardino, Calif.; Denver, Colo.; Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach, Fla.; Lafayette, La.; Norfolk and Blackstone, Va.; Kingwood, W.Va.; Mobile, Ala.; Gulf Port, Miss.; and the Welcome Home Center in New Orleans.
— Children’s Disaster Services has made a total of 4,856 child contacts related to Hurricane Katrina.
— A total of 173 volunteers with the program have served 2,055 days doing Katrina relief work, or 16,440 volunteer hours valued at $342,774 in donated labor.

A short video clip about the fifth anniversary of Katrina is featured at www.youtube.com/user/brethrendisastermin . Worship resources for remembering Hurricane Katrina this Sunday are offered by the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice program at www.nccecojustice.org/resources/Katrina5Anniversary.php .

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