Friday, February 23, 2007

February 23 - The Team Worked Hard

I caught them all at breakfast sitting down together eating. Every other day some members of the team seemed to be involved in activities that precluded everyone gathering at the table at the same time.Today was different and was nice to see them together.

After devotions in the Prayer Garden, Linda, Joel, Abby and Frieder went directly to Beach Street and began moving the waterlogged and putrid remnants thrown from a house now being renovated and placed them in a dumpster. It was very emotional for them as there were personal papers, school progress reports, photographs and other belongings that were evidence of the life this family led "before the storm". Now here they sat, rotting along side the street and being thrown into the dumpster. It was hard work, as the dumpster as across the road and it required that you step up on a chair to dump your bundle of garbage into the dumpster. Piece after piece, arm load by armload they cleared the mountainous pile of rubble.

They finished the pile and by 2:00 PM were on their way to the beach.

Kyle, Greg, Frank, Ben, Casey and Mark went to Eddie Jones' house to begin laying tile, replacing a window, setting a counter top and kitchen sink, and hanging a utility closet door. Kyle and Greg got Frank, Ben and Casey started on the tile, while Mark wrestled with the window. After the tile looked to be going in well, Kyle and Greg moved over to Gretchen's house on 15th Ave to lay a tile floor in her dinning room.

They later returned to help the crew at Eddie's.

It was a good deal of work for the day, the bag lunches were welcomed at noon time and the team at Eddie Jones' house was still trying to stop a pesky leak in the sink drain at 5:30 PM. It was almost 6:00PM before they arrived back at the armory to turn in their tools and unused materials.

The plan was to eat dinner then a 7:00 PM Frank was going to hold communion for the team.

After unloading the van at the Armory I left the team and went out to dinner at a place I had noticed while on my bike ride the day before. It was Darwell's at 120 1st Street in Long Beach. What drew my attention yesterday was the smoker and I had stopped to get a drink of iced tea. At that time I met Dale Darwell and spent a couple minutes learning of his smoking process and he promised if I came back for dinner it would be the best barbecued pork sandwich I had ever tasted. He used only the pork tenderloin and smoked it to perfection.

Well he was right about the sandwich and there was another surprise, the pork n' beans were home made with chunks of smoked pork. Out of this world.

Tonight I asked Dale how long he had been open, he replied, "six weeks before the storm" and sarcastically added "we timed it just right".

"Before the Storm" or "Since the Storm" or "After the Storm", it has become a way to reference time down here on the Gulf Coast.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

February 22 - The Team Went On

We all met up for breakfast at the Armory and afterwards Frank led us to a little garden outside the building that has been named the Prayer Garden and there the team met for devotions.

Immediately following that, Frank, Ben and Casey went back to Barb's house with some last touch up kitchen counter work, finishing HVAC vents and installation of a range hood. Greg and Kyle went to a home not far from the Armory to lay a tile floor. Mark, Linda, Abby, Frieder and Joel went to a house in Biloxi to accomplish some interior painting.

I gave the van to Mark and they dropped me off at the Days Inn where I finished some pictures from the morning and then hit the road on my bicycle. I rode down to the beach area and then west to Pass Christian. It was near a record hot day for this date (74 degrees), there was little wind and what wind there was turned out to be a returning wind so was at my back on the return trip. The sun was bright in a cloudless sky. It was perfect bike riding weather. The roads here have no shoulders so cyclists are in the traffic. The drivers were very courteous and it made my ride easier.

I took a number of pictures, some of which are at...

The beach area was the very hardest hit and the most drastically affected area and the storm is still so obvious. There are rows of empty foundation slabs strewn , still, with debris. I came to a slab upon which a house once stood that had marble floors throughout. I knew this as the marble floors were still there, actually polished by the weather, but a reminder that once a lovely home stood there, where now only sand and some remnants of the storm's destruction remain. The good news was, scattered among these empty slabs were new constructions. Folks rebuilding their homes, starting over.

There are new building codes, and much of the new construction is raised on block pillars about 12 feet off the ground.

I stopped to take a picture and a man passed by. I was standing in what obviously was, at one time, a parking lot. He said a municipal building had stood there, but had been completely destroyed. He mentioned that where I was standing, the water was approximately 8 feet deep the day after the storm.

As I pedaled west I happened to see a woman coming out of a FEMA trailer on to a vacant lot. Her house had stood there. A shipping container had broken loose from the dock (I would estimate a good half mile or more from her house) and had been deposited into her kitchen. The insurance company initially refused significant settlement as damage was due to flood. She is deciding whether to rebuild. She said if this were to repeat itself she just could not take losing everything again.

I continued on toward Pass Christian and with each mile there were even more examples of the destruction and rebuilding. I rode 32 miles, round trip, and never did I leave evidence of this storm that hit a year and a half ago. There is no way I could ever imagine what it must have been like to have weathered Katrina. I would think it would be similar to war.

Anyway, on the return trip I stopped at Grover's All Season Produce stand. Grover, Carl and Guy were there boiling peanuts. They offered me some coke a cola and let me try boiled peanuts; very good, actually. Grover has become quite a celebrity with my wife's students back in Buffalo. He's sending some boiled peanuts back to Buffalo with me for her students.

I finished the bike ride, Ben called and said they were heading back to the "compound".
The whole team met for dinner at a Mexican restaurant near the Days Inn. It was an enjoyable evening.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

February 21 - The Team Finished One

We woke to a pretty steady rain this morning. But as it turned out the day finished in bright sunshine streaming down from a clear blue sky.

At breakfast in the Armory I learned everyone on the team was going back to Barbara's house on McClandlees Drive. They had to install a kitchen counter, set the kitchen sink, lay the living room carpet, install a vanity and lights in the bathroom and finish various other tasks to complete the house for Barb. And you know what? They did it all. I was impressed. Really, everyone on this team contributes and they get it done.

After a brief morning devotional at the same table they ate breakfast, Frank, Mark, Kyle, Casey, Ben, Linda, Greg, Abby, Frieder and Joel gathered everything together and headed for the job site. I decided to stay back at the kitchen. I am not sure what fascinates me about the logistics and the effort necessary to prepare the meals for all these workers everyday, but I really wanted to learn more about how the food service people brought it all together. With that objective in mind I made my way to the kitchen and there introduced myself to Tom Kimball, the head of Food Service for the NC Baptist Men Disaster Relief in Gulfport. I spent nearly a half an hour talking with Tom and learned he has fed as many as 6000 people at a time. They refer to that as mass feeding, what he is doing in Gulfport is "food service".

Tom is a volunteer, as are all the members of the NC Baptist Men Disaster Relief (NCBMDR)program, and he/they receive no pay. Tom said he was called by God to do this. I learned the NCBMDR program was not initiated with Katrina, but has been around for years responding to disasters across the country and some internationally. They were in Buffalo during our October Surprise snow storm. They have been involved in Katrina relief and then recovery since the day after Katrina hit.

About feeding the folks here in Gulfport; probably the biggest challenge for Tom is that he gets a completely new staff every Saturday afternoon. That staff typically consists of 16-18 volunteers who spend a week here in Gulfport working from 4:00AM until 9:00PM every day preparing meals for the volunteer recovery teams (like Pathway's). Most of the time those food service teams know very little about "food service" when they get to Gulfport. He trains them and by Sunday evening they are pretty much ready to go for the next week.

After my talk with Tom I had an opportunity to meet a few of the food service team, and for this week's team nearly all of them came from North Carolina. I took some pictures and have them posted at . Go take a look.

After my time in the kitchen I headed to the job site to see how the Pathways team was coming along. It was still raining a tad. Kyle and Greg were getting ready to lay the carpet in the living room, Linda, Abby, Frieder and Joel were painting, Frank and Mark were caulking and Casey and Ben were installing the kitchen sink. They actually installed it several times, once with the faucets backwards, but when it was finally completed, I must say it really looked good. In fact the whole house was looking good.

The first day, Monday, I believe, that we met Barbara, I remember her son George making the comment that when these folks are done "we'll have a house that looks like rich folks live here." I'm not sure about that, but the house looks good and it will be a real pleasure, I am sure, for Barb and her family to move out of the FEMA trailer and into the renovated house. Can you imagine yourself in that situation; Katrine hit in August of 2005 and you are just getting back into your house now, in February 2007.

The water supply lines to the kitchen sink Casey and Ben were installing were discovered to be too short so I was told to put down my camera and make a plumbing run. I did so, successfully, and after returning from that run I left the site and returned to my room to work on some pictures and the blog.

After a couple hours Ben called and informed me they needed my van to carry tools and materials back to the Armory. When I got to Barb's house, it was all cleaned up. It looked great, the carpeting was down, the bathroom finished and even the kitchen sink was in. We loaded the van and Frank swept the carpets then invited Barb out from her trailer into her new home. It was a touching time and I am sure it was rewarding for each of the members of the team. They had a direct impact on the making this family's lives better.

Well done Pathways Team!

We all returned to the Armory, unloaded the van, the team ate dinner together. The mood was quiet, but very comfortable, almost introspective. I believe each member of the team realized they had accomplished something good, that they are accomplishing good things down here in Gulfport.

And, tomorrow they get to do it some more!

I'm proud of them and the people of the Pathways congregation back in East Aurora who sent this team down here should know they are being represented very well in Gulfport.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

February 20 The Whole Team Together

Ben called me at about 6:20 this morning to ensure I was up and ready to meet the team for breakfast. I guess yesterday left him unsure as to whether I would make it to breakfast or not.

I met the team at the Armory for breakfast, only to discover a whole lot more than breakfast goes on at the Armory. The Armory is the dinning hall, expediting office, tool and supply rooms, lumber yard and chapel.

Think of the logistics of feeding, managing and supplying a construction team of 300 workers, well the North Carolina Baptist Men's Relief program does just that. Now throw in a caveat that entire work force of 300 people turns over every week and imagine dealing with that every seven days.

see more pictures at

While some of the Pathways team is eating, others (usually Ben, Mark, Kyle and Frank) are busily moving from the job board to supply room to tool room to lumber yard gathering the materials and tools to complete the tasks on the job board for the day.

Today the whole team will be working at Barbara's house on McCandlees Drive. The only exception was to be that Ben will first go over Ms Tate's house on 626 28th street to finish installing blinds. Once he's done there he was to rejoin the team.

After the vans were loaded with tools and materials for the jobs, Frank led the caravan to the beach for morning devotions prior to heading out to the job site. That was the picture I selected for the blog today as I learned from this. I liked that Frank and the team took the time to do this. My thought was, "it is 8:00, we better get to the site and get started", but Frank and the team had better priorities and it did not require a lot of extra time plus it contributed to making a much better morning. I then thought, "lesson learned, now to apply it!" Folks who have the distinct pleasure of working with me (tongue in cheek) realise patience is not one of my virtues, and I learned a little from this example set by the team this morning.

Once at the site, everyone jumped right in unloading and setting up the site for the day. There were fascia boards and soffits to replace and paint, scrapping to be done, paneling to be installed and carpet to lay. Abby, Linda and Joel began prepping the soffits for painting, Mark and Frank were installing new fascia and soffits, Casey, Greg, Kyle and Frieder were working inside on the living room walls and floors. Greg was on his knees on the cement slab that is the living room floor, scrapping it clean in preparation for the carpet installation. All the homes in this region are built on a cement slab. No foundation or basement as we in the north usually build. That's why when we drive around Gulfport we see so many lots with just empty cement slabs. It is the only remnant of the the structure that was a home once occupying that spot.

The team was working well together and getting the job done.

I noticed some fellows sitting on the porch of a house across the street and I wandered on toward them. They were neighbors and interested in all the activity going on at the house. Tony and James (James Bond, can you believe that, I thought he was pulling my leg, until he offered to show me his ID) said they remember the day of the storm looking out the window and seeing the roof come off of Barbara's house. They watched as shingles and plywood just began flying into the air. Tony said that coincidentally, during that time the telephone pole with a big transformer on in Barbara's front yard it was swaying back and forth like a shaft of wheat in the wind. And just when they thought that was exciting enough, Tony explained the utility pole in his yard was literally lifted out of the ground and throw on his front lawn. For some reason, probably due to the fact I had my head raised looking at the telephone poles, I noticed the roof of all the houses. All the houses in the neighborhood have what appear to be a brand new roof. Tony and James said, "why all the roofing on every ones house is new. Most houses were, at minimum, completely stripped of shingles." Amazing!

Tony and James said they were fortunate, they had power back after about three weeks. For some, like Arlene described to us last night, it wasn't until the end of December (4 months) before power was connected, that is, if they still had a house to return to and to which to connect power.

The morning slipped by quickly and lunch time drew near. Usually the Armory supplies lunches to the teams. However, to get lunches for the day requires you place an order before 7:30 PM the night before, this allows the kitchen folks time to prepare and pack your lunches and have them ready for you to pick up the next morning. Last night the Pathways team was so rushed they missed the lunch cutoff. Thus, to feed the troops, Frank commissioned me to run to Subway to procure sub sandwiches for 10 folks. They were actually pretty good.

After lunch I left the group and returned to do my thing with the pictures and the web site.

At around 5:00 PM I called Ben, he said they were leaving the site and heading home to take showers in time to be ready for the Mardi Gras parade that was to pass right by their "compound". I packed my camera an headed downtown to join them for the parade.

Float after float passed by pulled by huge semi-tractor trucks. From the floats people threw Mardi Gras beads to the crowd. It was interesting and harmless fun and a big tradition here on the Gulf Coast.

The end of a busy day in Gulfport.

For more pictures from today's activity go to

Monday, February 19, 2007

February 19 The First Real Work Day

The third day of the trip and the first real work day. Ben woke me at 6:48 this morning with a call on my cell phone that the group was heading to breakfast at The Armory. I had 1 hour of sleep the day before, had driven 1200 miles straight through and worked on this blog and pictures until 11:30 last night. I enjoy breakfast, more than the next guy, but I wasn't ready to join the group this morning.

They were through mid morning work before I got to the house at 626 28Th Street. Ben, Casey and Kyle were working there and when I arrived, they were well into it. Walking in the house was like entering a typical construction site. Tool boxes, empty coffee cups, water bottles and Krispy Kreme doughnut bags, with no doughnuts in them...those son of a guns!

I was impressed with how professional everything looked. These guys could work on my house! Kyle was installing trim in the bathroom while Casey and Ben were hanging the utility closet door. They would be at the house all day.

After snapping a few pictures ( see ) I drove across town and north to 12143 McCandlees Drive where Linda, Abby, Joel, Greg and Frieder were working on Barb's house. The drive was a joy as the sun was shinning, it was about 60 degrees, I had the car windows open and a country music station (go figure, country music in Mississippi) jamming on the radio.

As I pulled into the driveway at the McCandlees house Greg and Joel were sitting out front, preparing to eat lunch. Frieder was along side the house talking on his cell phone. I walked around the back of the house and entered the rear entrance, there I found the two women were working laying down the drop cloths to protect the new carpet from any spillage that might happen during the painting session planned for after lunch.

Linda and Abby made short work of the drop cloths and soon joined the boys out front for lunch. What a great day! We northerners, you could just tell, were loving this beautiful southern sun and 60 degree temperatures.

Frank and Mark had just left here so I missed them, but this group had a full afternoon planned with painting and some window sill work, additionally, I believe I overheard Linda explain they would be moving some trash to the street.

Time for me to leave. I had loaded my bike into the van for the trip down here and I was not going to let this day go by without spending some time on my bicycle. So I headed back to the Days Inn. Changed into, get this those of you folks still stuck up there in the wild north, I changed into my cycling shorts and t-shirt, got the bike out of the van, did a little prep work and headed out on a ride that ended up being about 15 miles around town. Probably I spent more time talking to folks I met and snapping pictures than I did riding, but it was great to be on the bike.

I first rode over to the third house off Russell Ave where Frank and Mark were to be repairing a roof. This roof had been installed earlier by another relief team and the new roof leaked. The Pathways team's job was to make it so it doesn't. It must not have been a tough task as by the time I got there Frank and Mark were done and gone.

My afternoon ride was great and I am going to script an entry on my other blog to cover this ride as I would like this space to be predominately about the Pathways efforts here in Gulfport. But, I met some interesting folks and learned more of Katrina.

The team finished work and Ben called me around 5:30 and they were heading over to supper at the Armory. I was working on loading pictures onto the Pbase site and couldn't join them. However, later, around 7:45 Ben again called only now I was at "Chung's Gardens" eating my supper. Ben said the group was going to take time they had set aside for devotions, to visit Arlene Snyder. Arlene owned one of the first houses Mark and Frank worked on last year when they were down here and both had become friends with her.

Arlene lives on the "Southside of the Tracks". This was the portion of Gulfport that was, basically, obliterated by Katrina. Where neighbors once had houses around Arlene's, there are, at best, empty shells and, at worst, empty land. We met with this gentle, sensitive and outgoing woman for an hour and 45 minutes while each in the group were glued to every word of the stories that came from her experiences since August 29, 2005. We will never be able to fully empathize with what these people down here experienced and are still enduring. She served cake, and gave us all big hugs as we left. Before we left she requested Frank pray. We all stood, held hands and prayed as Frank led us.

The group had to be back to the "compound", as they are now referring to it, before curfew.

Tomorrow I'll join them for breakfast. "Lord willing and the creek don't rise"

Go to this link to see photographs from today

Sunday, February 18, 2007

February 17-18 They Have Arrived

Ten adventurous folks left East Aurora at 5:05 PM on Friday and my son, Ben "texted" me Saturday morning at 10:52 with the simple message "In Mississippi". The Pathways team, which includes Linda Ramsey, Abby Panza, Frank Cerney, Mark Brindamour, Kyle Casali, Greg Casali, Frieder Hummes, Casey Jones, Joel Murphy and Ben Nieman drove straight through.

Truthfully, the team went right through Mississippi and on into New Orleans, Louisiana for a quick tour before heading to Gulfport.

On the entire trip down they stopped only one time for a meal, and that was breakfast in Birmingham, Alabama at the "Awful Waffle House". They'll have to tell you the story when they get back.
(I had planned to be on the road myself and heading their direction by that time, actually much earlier than that time on Saturday, but was in my office (cubical) finishing some last minute, before the vacation stuff. At 1:05 PM Saturday in Buffalo I left my office and drove until I crossed the state boarder from Alabama into Mississippi at 8:00 AM Buffalo time (7:00 Cental) Sunday. I drove straight through. Snow and icy roads from Cleveland, OH to Louisville, KY slowed me down.)

Today, Sunday, they attended , what was reported to me to be "a lively contemporary service" at the Pass Road Baptist Church in Gulfport. After church it was lunch at the Armory (Barbecue Chicken) and they were then off for an early afternoon at the local Mardi Gras parade.

In the later afternoon, I finally joined the group and we visited the three houses on which work will be accomplished on Monday. These small , humble houses so ravaged by Katrina were being restored with the help of volunteers from all over the country.

At the second house of the the three visited today, Frank and Mark walked up to the FEMA trailer awkwardly situated in the yard behind the house and a diminutive woman in her late 40's or early 50's answered the door. She led the team off the steps of the trailer into the house. And as Frank, Mark and Kyle were evaluating the work required to be accomplished on this house tomorrow, the rest of us engaged Barb in questions about the storm.

Barb said it was not the water coming up from the Gulf, but the water coming down from the sky that ruined her house. She and her daughter and son were in the house on August 29, 2005 when Katrina hit. When the wind blew the roof off her house, the drywall ceilings began to collapse in on them as the torrential rain flooded the structure from above.

After the storm, a friend of Barb's mentioned she should go down to the Pass Road Baptist Church and fill out the necessary forms to apply for a relief program. Obviously her application was accepted as volunteers have been working on her house for 4 months now and Pathways will be doing some finishing touches. So the end of trailer living is nearing for Barb and her family.

From the last house, where small roof repair is required, the team headed to the "Armory" on 17Th Street for the evening meal.

The deepest impression left with me from today is the thought, it has been a year and a half since Katrina came ashore on the Gulf Coast, and no matter where you look, you can still see signs of the tremendous devastation that happened here.

Go to this link to see photographs from today

Friday, February 16, 2007

Feb 16, 2007 - They're Off

Their families came to to help them load the vehicles, to wish them well and to see them off on their departure to Gulfport, MS.. It was a sunny but crisp and breezy winter day. You could certainly feel the chill in air, but it seemed no one was really paying attention to the cold, they were too busy packing the cars and participating in the excitement generated by the anticipation at the start of a new adventure. There was an overflow of luggage for the two vehicles due to the ten people, their clothes and personals for a week, plus tools needed to support their relief work in Gulfport. As I am following them south for the week, traveling in my own car and a day behind them, I took the overflow.

We'll meet up in Mississippi, "Lord willing and the creek don't rise!"

I was amazed as I observed their preparations at how relatively organized and well tempered their efforts together seemed to be. I felt as if these folks could probably get along pretty well traveling and working together for a week.

After everyone had gathered in the Cerney's house and Pastor Todd led in prayer it didn't take long for the final decisions on who's driving and who's riding shotgun to be decided and for the vehicles to be backing out of the driveway on their way.

I thought, as I looked in my rear view mirror and saw them head down Walnut toward Oakwood, good luck and safe trip oh you travelers of the Pathway!
It was 5:05 PM , they had planned to leave by 5:00. Not bad, not bad at all.
For more pictures from today go to