Facility dedicated to Hope

4/17/2007

First of 3 disaster recovery centers complete

By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor 

VANCLEAVE – Neither Lowe’s nor Home Depot has located a franchise behind a United Methodist church, but it sure looks that way. 

Surrounded by stacks of lumber, Sheetrock, plywood and dry wall compound, more than 100 people gathered April 15 for the dedication of Camp Hope, the first of three multi-purpose centers to be completed by the Mississippi United Methodist Disaster Recovery to help rebuild following Hurricane Katrina. 

The 10,500-square-foot building combines warehouse space with dormitory space for volunteers. The building has a large kitchen, four rooms for bunk beds, two large bathrooms with three showers each and office space. The building is divided about 50-50 between living space and warehouse space. 

Located on the grounds of Vancleave United Methodist Church, the building will provide substantial financial savings, said Robert Sharp, recovery coordinator,

“We’re saving over 50 percent on materials in the long run,” Sharp said. “We can buy in bulk and at wholesale prices. That will pay for the building in the long run.” 

Construction on the building began in June, and much of it was done by volunteers. Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery was particularly involved in the project, including providing volunteer labor and funding. “We donated around $60,000 and a lot of volunteers,” said Fred Mark of Frazer, who attended the dedication. 

Frazer has been an active participant in the recovery effort in several areas along the Gulf Coast. 

“This neighborhood is God’s workshop,” Bishop Hope Morgan Ward said during the dedication service. “We are not doing all the work perfectly, but we are doing it persistently. We are continuing as this work moves forward to move and change in direction so the work will be done more effectively and more efficiently and more people will be helped. This building is a sign of hope.” 

Completion of the building means 86 volunteer workers will have more living space during their time working on the coast. Vancleave UMC has been providing living space and food to volunteers almost since the winds died after the Aug. 29, 2006, storm. The church has turned its Sunday school rooms into dorm rooms cramped with bunk beds. However, the church, whose pastor Larry Maugh owned a construction business before entering the full-time ministry, won’t change much in its effort to aid the community and volunteers. 

“This is something we feel called to do,” said Jeri McBroom, coordinator of Katrina’s Kitchen, the Vancleave UMC group that provides meals to volunteers. “There’s no other recourse but to do it. I could not go to my home at night with a roof knowing there are people who didn’t have one. 

“As long as God gives us the strength and health, we will continue. Our pastor had a vision for us, and we see it with him.” 

Two additional recovery facilities are planned. Camp Love, located in north Gulfport at Nugent UMC, has its outer walls up, and work is starting on the interior. A third camp will be built on the western end of the coast once a location and funding are secured. Sharp said construction cost increased 38 percent from the time the project was hatched, reflecting the rise in building costs in the region. 

Other camps in the Mississippi United Methodist Katrina Recovery network are located at Gulfside Assembly in Waveland, St. Paul UMC in Ocean Springs, Seashore Assembly in Biloxi and the newest at Picayune First UMC. 

Camp Hope and other such facilities still under construction are in high demand. Chris Bowers, who directs the Mississippi United Methodist Disaster Response Center in Meridian, said 8,000 volunteers are scheduled to work on the coast between March and July. 

“We have had a wonderful response through the end of July,” Bowers said. “We have a lot of need for groups for August through the end of the year.  

“We thought we would be (at this point) and nobody would be coming any more. It’s been amazing how many have continued to come.” 

However, Bowers did say that more skilled volunteers are needed.  

“The clean-up phase is pretty much over,” Bowers said. “Volunteers need to be prepared to do all sorts of construction and rehabilitation, such as hanging Sheetrock and roofing.” 

Bowers said he is now asking groups that work on the Mississippi coast to have one skilled person for every four helpers. 

“It doesn’t mean everybody on the team has to be expert,” he said. “‘Skilled’ does not mean licensed and bonded. It simply means experienced in a particular skill set. Someone who has worked with Habitat for Humanity or been on mission trips before and can direct others is experienced, and for our purposes, skilled.” 

Bowers said teams that are more comfortable with clean-up work are needed in Louisiana. The Louisiana Storm Center can be contacted at 877-345-5193.

“They still have a lot of muck-out work to do. They were not able to get into neighborhoods for a long time,” Bowers said. 

In addition to needing volunteers for the August-December period (only 1,700 are scheduled), Bowers said Mississippi needs long-term volunteers, workers who can stay as long as a month or more. 

“They are vital to what we do because they support our coordinators,” said Bowers. “Without them, it’s difficult to host 8,000 volunteers.”