Center trades pews for beds

6/7/2006

By Daniel R. Gangler
United Methodist News Service

Waves of volunteers started arriving in D’Iberville March 6 with the goal of constructing a place for kind-hearted souls to lay their heads when they come to help rebuild Mississippi.

More than 50 church leaders and volunteers gathered May 15 to dedicate the Seashore District Volunteer Center, which was completed April 27.

Some 256 volunteers from seven states and from more than 70 churches worked on the eight-week project, built on the grounds of Heritage United Methodist Church.

The building is a 50-by-75-foot hurricane-proof steel structure. It has a furnished kitchen, washer and dryer and nine sleeping rooms containing 46 bunk beds built by Indiana crews.

From the day Hurricane Katrina ravaged the area around Heritage Church last August, the congregation has opened its doors to those in need and has served more than 100 volunteers a week who have come to the region.

Instead of sleeping on floors in Sunday school rooms and pews, relief workers now are sleeping in the volunteer center.

A Cajun dinner followed the dedication. Several Heritage members shared their stories and thanks for this gift. 

“One said, ‘I thought it would be just a place to sleep, but this is a beautiful building,’” recalled Kay Walla, chair of the World Missions Commission at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis.

A D’Iberville woman, who had helped throughout the project, expressed her gratitude by telling church leaders that working on the center helped her “out of her slump and back to living a meaningful life helping others.”

Her home, badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina, was repaired by January, but the death and destruction around her kept her in distress. 

“Another 11 members of their church family were killed and over half of the congregation had their homes damaged or totally destroyed,” Walla said. “Then she got involved in our project and began to see help bringing hope, and it got her.”

Those leading the dedication included the Rev. David Cumbest, pastor of Heritage, and Seashore District Superintendent Jerry Beam.

Keys were presented to Cumbest, whose congregation will manage the volunteer center.

Al Dalton of Indianapolis, one of the volunteer construction managers representing Hoosier volunteers, also participated in the service. Other volunteer construction managers from Indiana included Ken Hollis of Whitestown and John Street of Carmel.

Gary Walla, a member of the project task force who also attended the dedication, said volunteer contractors reported that the center came in around $50,000 under budget due to efficiency, cost breaks and contributions by contractors in Mississippi. At its conception, the project was expected to cost $200,000.

To date, the Indiana Area United Methodist Foundation, which manages the project’s finances, has received $119,651. The foundation continues to receive funds daily, and Executive Director Jim Gentry said it hopes to meet all the expenses of the project before summer.

Helping Out

Send donations to Seashore District Volunteer Center Project, Indiana Area United Methodist Foundation, 1100 West 42nd St., Suite 210, Indianapolis, IN 46208. Note on the check “Seashore District Volunteer Center.” One hundred percent of all proceeds will go to this project.