Sharing Pearlington

A subsidiary Blog of our Main Blog, located at and presenting words and images of Pearlington. Sharing the series: "Focus On..." * "Back Home Again" * "A Volunteer's Tale" and other human interest stories.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Focus On....Tom Dalessandri - Carbondale, CO

Tom (center) and friends preparing one of their
deliveries to Pearlington, December 2005
(and they say CANADA is snowy!)

When I first met Tom Dalessandri from the town of Carbondale, CO, I had already been apprised of his dedication and wisdom by the men in Pearlington who had worked with him. He was reputed to be sensible and honest and I immediately found that to be true.

Carbondale’s Pearlington Project is legendary. There almost from the beginning, they have donated over $100,000 of materials and goods to the recovery effort. Darrell Nelson and his brother Keith were instrumental in clearing hundreds of lots to allow for the FEMA trailers - a task that was critical and desperately needed. The County had no plan for such work. In the fall, I worked with Will Handeville, Frank Nadell and a young man Matt, whose last name escapes me (I’m sorry, Matt) who were instrumental with the first teams of Americorps volunteers, cleaning out the school and co-managing the Pearl*Mart. Each are firefighters and professional men who did a great job. There was the ambulance stocked with thousands of dollars of medications, donated vehicles; building materials, labor, work with Jeanne Brooks and the school - the list is endless.

Then there is Patti Clapper, a woman whose exuberance in helping Pearlington is infective, refreshing and deeply rooted in a spiritual understanding of the issues. Patti’s organizational skills and enthusiasm has provided the children and adults of Pearlington with many memorable moments. Behind it all is Ron Leach, the Fire Chief of Carbondale, whose vision and determination is the stuff that rebuilds hope.

Tom Dalessandri is a "man’s man" - that is to say, he embodies the qualities of leadership, personal integrity, openness and honesty that serves as a model for other men. In fact, if all the men of the world were like Tom - and others with whom I’ve served, like Tim Goodnow, Warren Tidwell and many others - the world would indeed be a very much healthier place in which to raise our children.

Yesterday, upon the conviction of the Enron Thieves, whistle-blower Sherron Walker wrote:

"Humility is an critically important trait in leaders. [It is] one of Jesus’ leadership lessons, found in Mark 9:35:If anyone desires to be first, he must be last of all, and servant of all.’

Tom epitomizes this concept of servant-leader, that the needs of those he directs are first, not last. It is his innate humility that distinguishes him, and those who he represents, as a leader in the recovery of Pearlington and a good friend.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Volunteer's Tale - The Faith of Megan Springer

I, too, have had hundreds of experiences of God helping resource meet need. It seemed some days back in the fall in the Pearl*Mart that I could merely NEED something and the wherewithal to provide it showed up immediately. Sometimes they were in the room at the same time and I merely had to introduce them....

- Canada Jon

A week of Faith, as captured by Megan Springer, volunteer for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance:

"God showed up everyday last week both spiritually and physically. Every group was divinely paired with the right work orders.

The houses we worked on were Jeff Johnson, Willie Santiago, Rhiannon Kelly, Linda Shaw, William Holden, Sam Bailey, Kat Hosty, Tim Blackwell and Pearl*Mart (Pearlington Recovery Center) and of course PDA Village Six.

Where there is the greatest need God is most physically evident. I truly believe that we can not out give God. The bank of God is always open and so it was this week.

Our warehouse has been sadly low on supplies and I had discussed this with some of the campers. We closed devotions in prayer and one of the ladies asked God to fill the warehouse. I had goose bumps, a personal sign of God in action. The next morning I called the warehouse manager to tell him what happened; no answer, left message. A couple hours later he called me back yelling excitedly to say that an 18 wheeler had pulled up full with appliances.

The next day at Willie Santiago’s house the group fell short on insulation. They called to ask if there was any here. I told them they could check; whatever is on site is fair game. The minute they pulled up so did a man with a pick up truck full of insulation. He drove it to Willie’s house and then brought back more.

The next day Willie was going to purchase sheet rock. His church called and asked if he needed some because they had extra he could use.

The next day they needed mud and electrical supplies. When the group came back to the site a man in a mini van pulled up with mud, electrical supplies and other materials.

I needed to see this myself as much as Willie did. I think that I can say that for the volunteers as well. I believe that God lives in the spaces between people. If bridging that gap fulfills the Great Commandment then God is truly at work here. I can’t describe the feeling of an old man weeping in gratitude. It is completely spiritual, as many of you know yourselves. Doesn’t it make you feel alive? Doesn’t it make you burn with love for our humanity?

This is the real world."

Megan Springer
PDA Jane of all Trades

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Volunteer's Tale - Corrie Ayers

"Let the Children Come. . . ."

I was thrilled to read the article by Jennifer Johnson regarding the children that have been away from Pearlington for this past year. It helped put some perspective on a recent trip that my family made to Pearlington.

My husband and I took seven kids in March, ranging in age from 6- 14. We had been given counsel and received much information as to why we shouldn’t take kids, especially the two youngest - ages six and seven - to the Gulf Coast. My husband was adamant that we go as a family. I was struggling with taking our youngest child because of her special needs. She was born with bilateral clubfeet, which have now been corrected, and she also has hands and arms that do not function normally. She tires easily and can be difficult to deal with. I could not see any thing that she could do in Pearlington and I did not want to look after her for a week – I could do that at home.

We did go down to help out a family, but they had made much progress on their house and did not need a lot of assistance. Since we were not tied to a particular project, we were "on call" for projects that came up. The folks at Pearl*Mart and the Recovery Center were wonderful. Laurie, Larry and Charlie always come up with projects for us to do. The kids worked hard, tackled every project with gusto and did all their work well. They kids earned a reputation of being good workers, doing work without complaining and doing all with joy!

I got to know folks at the Recovery Center, Project Recovery and others fairly well. The Project Recovery office was right next to where we were sleeping in the school. Every one just smiled at Giovanna, my 6 year old daughter. She did what she does best – walks into a room and lights it up with her smile. She gave lots of hugs and became everyone’s friend.

What did not become evident to me, until the last day that we were there, was the effect that having seven kids in the town did for the spirits of the people of Pearlington. As we were getting ready to leave, I was asked two questions – "How was your time here?" Once they found out we loved it and wanted to come back, the follow up question was always, "Will you bring the kids with you?" The kids brought laughter, joy and fun to a community that has been under stress since Katrina hit. They ministered to the folks by just being there. It took some courage to take kids into this disaster area, but it was well worth it to see the smiles and joy it brought to the residents.

Submitted by Corrie Ayers, MN

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Focus On....David and Patty Baldwin

David and Patty Baldwin, of Vicksburg, MS

After weeks of waking at 4:00 a.m. and hearing God’s voice directing them to volunteer on the coast, David and Patty Baldwin first scouted Pearlington from their home First Baptist Church in Vicksburg, MS. Little did they anticipate that soon they would be one of the volunteer groups at the very center of things in town. They chose Pearlington like many of us did; the town had been forgotten in the surge of activity around New Orleans and David and Patty felt themselves called to make a difference.

After two such trips, they adopted the First Southern Baptist Church on Hwy. 604. They felt they needed a reliable place to base themselves and their expected teams, where those volunteers could be fed and have their work directed from a central location. They knew they had to "focus on the people first" and chose First Southern because it needed restoration and they were willing to trade the use of the building for the reconstruction effort. Since then, donations are paying for three separate contractors to do what has to be done to restore the church.

By mid-January they were in full swing. They invite groups from everywhere and every faith and denomination to come and serve. By April, 700 volunteers had appeared and worked through their mission. They generally house 60 at a time, but have put up almost 100. Supplies to feed them come partly through the Pearl*Mart and also through the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board. They accept voluntary contributions from visiting helpers and suggest $10 per person per day. This money goes completely to purchase building materials for the folks in town.

They have erected a tool shed, pantry, showers and all else needed to be completely self-sufficient. They recently acquired a convection oven and are working on ice-making equipment. Each visiting group is expected to bring one cook and two volunteers to clean up, so that task doesn’t fall to the same people all the time. The day I was there in April, a local woman named Raquel, from the Oak Harbor subdivision, was in helping a volunteer bake muffins for the work crews.

The Baldwins plan to stay in Pearlington until Christmas at least and have done an outstanding job assisting in the rebuilding of Pearlington. They know that any length of stay by volunteers - even a weekend - can make a huge difference in the life of someone who’s lost everything.

A very good thing for Pearlington that when God called, David and Patty Baldwin answered. As David says, "We finally succumbed!"

Raquel and a volunteer, in the kitchen at
the First Southern Baptist Church, Pearlington

Monday, May 22, 2006

Goodbye to LaToya Acker

The church was packed on Saturday for LaToya Acker’s funeral.

It was held at 11:00 a.m. in Picayune at Rev. Langham’s church and seemed somewhat surreal to many who had gathered to say a final goodbye to one so young. It is a beautiful church and it was filled with flowers. All the ministers from Pearlington participated and several sang for LaToya. Later, there was a big feed at Rev. Rawl’s church in Pearlington.

Goodbye LaToya.

We’ll do our best to support your mother until you meet again.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Volunteer's Tale - Jennifer Johnson

As we come to the close of the school year, it’s important to take a moment to remember the children who were evacuated from their homes and who have now completed a school year in a new city, in a new school, with new friends. Sometimes we concentrate so hard on helping those that stayed in their rebuilding efforts, we forget that there are still so many who have not been able to return yet. This week, at my daughters’ school, children such as these - children in a new place, a new school - were acknowledged with a very special award.

This award recognizes the struggles they have faced and overcome this year. I had the distinct honor of presenting them with this award. As I wrote down what I was to say, I travelled back in time to August 2005 and the tears flowed. I was forced to think about some things I have chosen to forget about for a while. But when you take a moment to reflect on where we were then and how far we have come, new, happier memories help in the healing process.

I’d like to share the words that I spoke to the kids at the school here in Huntsville, with you....

"I can’t imagine what it was like the moment they decided to evacuate. What would you take with you? Important documents, family pictures, the family pet? What about the things that you did not have room for in your car – your baby scrapbook, your grandmother’s cross-stitch sampler, your child’s artwork from school? Where would you go and would you have enough gas to make it there?

On August 29, 2005, we all watched helplessly as Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. For those who evacuated, it was a nightmare. With only enough clothing to last for three days, they sat in local hotels trying desperately to contact relatives they had left behind. For some, it was days before they knew for sure if their grandparents, their aunts and uncles were alive. Only then were they able to start worrying about their homes. What kind of damage was done? Would their belongings be safe until they could return to check on them?

We continued to watch the national coverage. We watched in disbelief as the levees broke. As the government reported on the damage that had been done, the possibility of evacuees returning diminished.

Then reality hit. What started out as a temporary solution – fleeing to a new city - had just become more permanent. With limited resources, it was time to start looking for jobs and housing. It was time to enroll the children in school.

I don’t know about you, but I have never had to rely on complete strangers to provide me with food, clothing and housing. But if I ever do find myself in that situation, I hope that people like you will be there for me."

Friday, May 19, 2006

Welcome to Pearlington, Mississippi!

Welcome to our new blog, sharing the stories of the residents of Pearlington and the volunteers whose honor it is to support them.

Please note the poem entitled In This Place, by a young man who worked in Pearlington in April, from California. I think he says it all. It is permanently posted to this site, on the right panel.

Twenty-one years old! I wish I had been that wise at Jonathan's age.

The first article is posted below. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Focus On....Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Logistics Manager, Dan "Grump" Grimes

Village Manager Mary Wityshyn and step-son Chris
Photo by Canada Jon, April 2006

PDA (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance) has been in existence for eleven years. Until Katrina struck, PDA was an assessment organization which then provided money for relief. Katrina - which means "pure or cleansing" - changed all that. Presbyterians searched their hearts and knew they needed to do more than merely give; they needed to be involved in the physical rebuilding of peoples’ lives.

After August 24, 2005, PDA became a hands-on mission relief organization. The six Villages along the Gulf Coast are the first of its kind for Presbyterians. It is an on-going adventure. Like any baby, it requires many changes. Be flexible. Be patient. Be loving. The continuing needs of these people are great.

PDA is more than an immediate relief organization. We are here for the people and for the long term. People in need ask for our help; then after the work order is filled out, we pray in the materials and necessary volunteers, both the skilled and/or willing. God is good. Miracles not only are expected but actually happen - and happen on a daily basis.

After a five-minute explanation of what he intended, Dan "Grump" Grimes (Logistics Manager) made the deal in October of 2005 to start PDA Pearlington on the lot next to the West Hancock Fire Station. There is one large, white Community Tent with roll-up sides - the sort of tent used for weddings. Within this tent both breakfast and supper is served and eaten. It is also used in the evening for Group Devotions and sharing stories and miracles from that day.

Originally set up as a Camp with tents, PDA Pearlington is now a Village, with roomy 10’ by 10’ accordion, plastic pods. There are thirty pods, and each pod holds three cots. There is a food storage shed, and a kitchen with an oven-stove, two sinks, two refrigerators and one freezer. The Village Manager has an office as well as the Site Manager and Assessment Officer.

The most important thing for volunteers to remember before coming to a village is to leave behind preconceived ideas of what work needs to be done. Volunteers must be flexible in what they are going to do while at the Village. Jobs come to our attention by locals requesting PDA help. In true Presbyterian fashion, Work Orders are filled out and daily updated each evening as the work progresses. Some jobs are two-people jobs; some are three-people jobs; some jobs can be for six or more people, and continue for several days or more. We are willing to do 75% of the needed work, but expect homeowners to do the rest, including the cosmetic work.

There is still much initial work to be done, and the 2006 Hurricane Season is only two weeks away.

Written by Sandy Carlson