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, June 07, 2006

The "Powers" of One....

When I was in grade school, I used to hear stories about missionaries going to Africa helping needy people and dream about doing it. When I was in my 20’s, I thought it was a great idea to see how many different jobs I could have. It seems like Pearlington has provided both!

In my 2 trips there so far (Nov-Dec, May-June), I have helped with shed building, water pump assembly, brick wall removal, vinyl siding installation, mucking out houses, sheetrock mudding, data entry, community needs survey, pulling nails, library moving, listening, helping people with paperwork, yard clean-up, follow-up on requests, matching needs to volunteer skills. Who knows what the next trip will bring?

It’s been a mix: blood, sweat and tears, hugs and laughter, bad smells (who can forget the 3 month old shrimp?) and magnolia perfume, despair and hope, frustration and moving forward, total destruction and signs of healing and growth, witnessing struggles and unbelievable dedication of volunteers from far and wide, seeing neighbours help each other.

When I drove alone from Midland, Ontario to Pearlington in November ‘05, I had no idea what I would be doing, only that I had to go and do something to help. I was soon busy working with the Dog Soldiers MDI from Atlanta building sheds. They were an inspiration in the respectful teamwork among themselves and the other individuals who had joined their project. The reaction of the 6’x8’ shed recipients was as if they had won the lottery, astounding in our world of excess.

In working on a door-to-door needs survey, I met many people, saw their bewilderment and shock, and heard their stories, gave hugs and shared tears, and started handing out my "Pearlington chicks", pincushions that I was sewing in the evenings. These brought smiles to even the most troubled faces.

Learning how to assemble water pumps with Water Missions International was my next activity. These were so desperately needed in order to get a FEMA trailer. Professional installers from Atlanta made sure that the hook-up was done and worked long hours to do so. One of them asked for a chick pincushion and the fundraising idea was born - pincushions for donations!

So when I’m not in Pearlington, I do fundraising through my "Pearlington Chicks", and send the money to Parkway Presbyterian. It is 100% used for rebuild material through the Dog Soldiers for needy people in Pearlington. If you would like to donate, write a cheque in your country’s currency to:

Parkway Presbyterian, with "MDI" in the memo line.
Mail it to: Don Dollar, 43 Sycamore Station Decatur, GA 30030 USA. Receipts are provided.

Let’s keep the recovery moving ahead. Every bit helps. We can do it!

Eileen Powers,
Midland, Ontario, Canada

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Pearlingtonian Speaks

Mr. White,

Thank you for adding my name to your list. I am a Pearlington native. My parents have lived in Pearlington for over 50 years. My parents, along with my brother and younger sister, all lost their homes in Pearlington. My aunt lost her life in Bay St. Louis the day of Katrina, another Uncle died soon thereafter from an infection, and another Aunt died on New Year's Day from a broken heart.

I don't know....this just keeps getting harder somehow.

I do know people like you and Jennifer Johnson have been lifesavers. I hope you truly understand that. Without hope, we die. Both of you (and many others) have offered the gift of hope to so many people. And what have you asked for in return for your hard work and extreme sacrifice? NOTHING as far as I can tell!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Although I married and moved from Pearlington many, many years ago, it was and will always be "home." I have made many trips down there since the storm, yet I am still so very homesick. Thank you for being there for this community. Thank you for being there for all of us. Thank you for refusing to give up and for erasing "forget" from your vocabulary. You, and those like you, are unsung heroes and will have a special place in our hearts forever.

You, Jennifer, and countless others, who are nameless to me, have given so much of's a debt that will never, ever be paid in full...cannot be paid in full...but then, you've not asked that.

Thank you from the depths of my soul....and may God bless you.

Claudia Ladner Park

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Volunteer's Tale - Nancy Semple, Paying it Forward

I was very fortunate to be invited along with Jon White (Canada Jon) during his October/November visit to Pearlington, Mississippi. Fact is, if he didn't invite me, I would have stowed away and come along anyway! I suspect he knew this.

I have never for a moment regretted that decision to go. In fact, it changed my life. I have struggled most days since my return between making a living and carrying on with my tidy little life here in small town Ontario and chucking it all and going and staying as a volunteer in Pearlington. I’d do this until I can't take it any more or they send me on my way. My sense is that I would never regret that monumental decision. For reasons out of my control currently, (an ailing mother), I cannot make such a big decision to move.

How do I put into words the strong sense of community, morality and humanity that coincides with doing selfless work, to improve a stranger's life with no desire for gratitude or remuneration. It brings such joy to my life to be able to do anything for these people. They have lost so much and they are more spiritual and grateful for the little they have left and the help that comes to them in dribs and drabs, than I can fathom having if I was in their situation.

There was a movie some time ago, "Pay It Forward," that impacted me greatly. I am a self-confessed bleeding heart and proud of it. Please rent it and watch it. Without giving too much away about this movie, the premise is to do a favour for a complete stranger, out of the blue, when a situation presents itself. No second thoughts. Just do it. The request for the recipient of the "good deed" is that they do the same for someone else when put into a position that they can make a difference. And so on, and so on, so that people are helping people selflessly. This is what is really going on in Pearlington, and I suspect many other Gulf Coast communities. The electricity of spirit, joy and love is profound. This energy is from the volunteers working there and the residents alike.

It is palpable.

After experiencing such a thing, how could I ever accept anything less? Can you spare a week out of your life?

Just do it!

Nancy Semple,
Collingwood, Ontario, Canada

Friday, June 02, 2006

A Teacher's Tale: Saying a Sad Goodbye to Charles B. Murphy Elementary School

Charles B. Murphy E.S., Sept. 2005 - Photo by Canada Jon

The Gym - now the Pearl*Mart

Inside a ruined classroom

I am the lead teacher and librarian at Charles B. Murphy. After 22 years of teaching in Louisiana schools, I retired and moved to the north shore of Lake Ponchantrain. I had visions of volunteering in my son's school, chaperoning field trips, and watching Oprah in the afternoon. God had other plans. In 1997 I found myself facing one of the most difficult times of my life. For reasons that made no sense to me, my husband of many years simply didn't want to be married any longer. I was frightened, hurt beyond words, and facing life with no job, not enough resources and a 12 year-old son who was just as hurt and confused as I.

Each day was a struggle to pull myself together and make decisions about the day. My world had come crashing in on top of me and yet, I knew that I still had the most precious part of my life with me, my son, who now needed me more than ever before. One night the phone rang and on the other end was a teacher who had worked with me years before. As she related her story, I began to tell mine. She told me of a little school in Pearlington, just across the state line, who needed me to be their librarian and parent coordinator.

"Parent coordinator?" I sobbed. "How in the world can I work with parents and help them when I can't even help myself?"

"Just come take a look," she said, "and then give me an answer."

That was Friday night. Saturday I was in Pearlington and Monday I began the first of the nine years in which I've given my heart to this community.

So much has changed in the nine years I've been there. My husband returned and we daily work on the process of rebuilding our relationship and our family. Professionally there has been just as much work. All of us have worked hard and the results showed that work. Grants were written, programs begun, artists, storytellers, illustrators, and musicians brought their talents to share with us. A joint-use library, the only one in the state, brought in intra-library loans, summer reading programs, and opened the world through the Internet. Parent volunteers spent countless hours painting, weeding, cooking, and caring for the teachers and the children. A working branch of Hancock bank was established with real accounts for the students.

We partnered with local businesses like Boeing, Calgon, and GE and our children learned lessons of school and careers. Programs such as ReadingisFUNdamental and First Book put beloved books in the hands and homes of our children. We received the Governor's Award for Education, RIF's Community Reading Challenge award, many Presidential physical education awards, state awards, and national awards. Test scores soared. We had children who wanted to learn and parents who supported our efforts. One of the most touching photographs that came to me after Katrina was one of my students rifling through a box of books in the shelter. Books! She wanted a book when she didn't even have a home! It was humbling!

August 29th brought all our dreams and plans to an abrupt end. Like the movie, it was the day the earth stood still. We had started the school year August 1st and had celebrated our perfect attendance with a skating party for all the kids that Friday, August 26th. We begged and borrowed skates and limbo poles and that afternoon turned the gym, now Pearl Mart, into a skating rink, complete with a sound system and concessions. I had a book distribution with Rotary that day and reminded the kids to take their books home since our weather forecast was for rain....a good time to read a good book. All that changed as Hurricane Katrina twisted, turned and unleashed her fury on the Gulf Coast.

I evacuated Sunday only to return less than a week later to find utter destruction. Though my home was damaged, it was liveable. If only I had found that in Pearlington! As soon as I was able, I began to try to find my students, my teachers, my friends and bring help in whatever form I could find to this tiny community that was in such need. The rest of the story is one of long hours, countless tears, and working with people all over this country. The generosity and concern of ordinary people, rich and poor, black and white has been what keeps me going. On October 14th we came back together as a only 54 of our original 126 children. We began the first week with two grades to an empty classroom in three rooms in the Middle School's 7th grade hall almost 20 miles from Pearlington. We were then moved to 4 portable classrooms. The school district provided children’s desks, children’s chairs, textbooks (though not at first),and some teacher desks.

The rest came from across this land as people responded to our pleas. With each donation came a story. From homemade suckers sold for us in Montana, to Christmas stockings made with each child's name and filled with treats from Maine, to boxes of books and clothing. Sweatshirts with our school name to help the kids retain some sense of identity came from schools in Hawaii and the Indian reservation in northern Mississippi. Computers and software were built just for us and provided through another wonderful business in Virginia. Notes, letters, pictures, and presents came daily. Christmas was like none other in the lives of my children as people sent box after box of brightly wrapped presents! As others cleaned debris and trees so residents could return, our student population rose. We ended the school year with 82. Who knows what would have happened if we had been allowed to remain?

So what is our status now? It certainly seems that things must be good! Things were coming together in spite of all that had happened. Yet, things are not good. Not at least for us....not in the eyes of those of us who understood what we had and what we've lost.
The school district has chosen not to rebuild Charles B. Murphy. There are lots of reasons: FEMA elevations, flood maps, insurance, loss of tax revenues, dwindling populations. Our children will remain in the portables where we are, but we will be combined with the other school that had been destroyed in Lakeshore. My teachers spent the last days of school packing once more to move to different classrooms and different grades; some to different schools or even to different lives outside of teaching. Our name, or at least what we'll be known as, is GV/CBM. Not exactly easy for a kindergartener to remember or catchy for a school cheer!

As we moved, we cried! Not just tears of frustration and despair but tears of grief and loss! Loss of a school, loss of a community, loss of friends! I will remain, though in a different capacity. I will pledge to do my best, though I feel my best wasn't good enough to keep us together.

I will miss you, Charles B. Murphy! You will forever remain in my heart!

Jeanne Brooks