I started this blog to keep my church, friends and family updated on my year volunteering in Katrina recovery with the Presbyterian Church (USA). I've now signed on for a second year working in disaster recovery and another year living in Mississippi. It's getting good....

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hot off the presses....or my email, at least....

This is being sent on behalf of Donna Gambrell, Regional Director for the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding…

Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding

THURSDAY, APRIL 26, 2007—11:15AM
GCR/Susan Aspey, (202) 572-8994 or (202) 577-9359
HUD/Donna White, (202) 708-0685
FEMA News Desk, (202) 646-4600

Housing assistance extended for GULF COAST hurricane victims
FOR ANOTHER 18 months

WASHINGTON – Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding Donald E. Powell, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson and FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison announced today that the temporary housing assistance programs for Gulf Coast hurricane victims have been extended by 18 months until March 1, 2009. The current FEMA extension ends on August 31, 2007.

HUD and FEMA are also working on a plan whereby HUD would take over management of the rental housing program on behalf of FEMA beginning on September 1, 2007. GCR, HUD and FEMA are working on the mechanics of the new arrangement and will consult with Congress on the most appropriate structure for transferring management responsibilities.

Beginning in March 2008, individuals in both the rental housing and travel trailer and mobile home programs will pay a portion of the cost, which will begin at $50 per month and incrementally increase each month thereafter until the program concludes on March 1, 2009. In addition, beginning immediately, FEMA will allow residents of its mobile homes and travel trailers to purchase their dwellings at a fair and equitable price. Seniors and the disabled whose primary source of income is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or other fixed income that make them eligible to receive assistance under existing HUD programs will be protected. HUD will actively work to transition these individuals into its properties or programs for seniors and the disabled.

“We understand the importance of minimizing uncertainty for Gulf Coast residents who have endured this unprecedented tragedy,” Powell said. “This coordinated, 18-month extension will provide stability to residents while providing effective incentives and assistance to help them transition into long-term housing solutions.”

“The overwhelming scale of this human tragedy has meant that families have been displaced for an unprecedented period of time. Such a reality calls for an unprecedented, compassionate response,” said Secretary Jackson. “As disaster housing needs continue and move into a longer-term program, HUD is working to ensure the affected families will continue to get the housing assistance they need as well as the individual services that will help them rebuild their lives.”

“This extension allows FEMA and our partners to be responsive in developing innovative, flexible and compassionate solutions to help disaster victims get back on their feet,” said Administrator Paulison. “While we are proud of the tremendous progress we’ve made, we won’t be satisfied until every disaster victim has successfully navigated the road to recovery.”

Under the proposed parameters of the FEMA-HUD Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP), local public housing agencies (PHAs) would administer the program under Stafford Act authority. FEMA would provide resources to HUD to extend rental assistance to up to 40,000 hurricane-affected families who are already living in rental units paid for by FEMA. Families are expected to experience a seamless transition under the new program.

DHAP would provide much-needed stability to individuals and families affected by the storms, and would lengthen the potential for some to receive housing assistance for up to three-and-a-half years following the 2005 storm season. In addition to housing assistance being made available, under the proposed program, PHAs would also work with individuals and families under this new program to provide access to job training, housing counseling and other forms of support that would better enable disaster victims to regain independence and self-sufficiency.
Between now and September 1, 2007, FEMA plans to provide HUD with a list of its current renters so that HUD can assume their rental assistance. Under the proposed program, beginning on March 1, 2008, HUD would use a transitional approach to help families continue along the path to self-sufficiency. For example, starting on that date, the level of assistance would be reduced by $50 per month successively, with the goal of leading the family closer to complete housing independence at the end of the 18-month extension. For example, if a family has an $850 rental apartment, they would be required to contribute $50 toward their rent starting in March 2008, which would rise to $100 in April 2008; $150 in May 2008, etc. In addition, beginning on March 1, 2008, families in FEMA travel trailers and mobile homes would begin to pay a share of the monthly costs, which will also incrementally increase until the program reaches its conclusion on March 1, 2009.
To the extent allowable by law, seniors and the disabled who qualify would continue to receive the full subsidy required to pay their rent (either in an apartment or in travel trailers and mobile homes) throughout the duration of the extended 18-month program.

HUD plans to continue to work closely with local PHAs nationwide to administer the new DHAP vouchers. These PHAs also administer HUD’s regular Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8), which gives them the business knowledge required to manage this new program, and will allow for a smooth transition for families. PHAs also have the necessary expertise in working directly with families with sensitive needs, which puts them in a better position to coordinate extensive case management to address each family’s specific goals—be it job training, financial education and other valuable services that help lead these families to self-sufficiency.

FEMA will continue to manage its mobile home and travel trailer operations throughout the Gulf, and also will continue to engage HUD, as well as state and local officials, on a collaborative effort to identify alternative housing solutions for those in mobile home and travel trailer residents. As with the HUD program, beginning on March 1, 2008, individuals in the trailers and mobile homes will pay a small portion of the cost, beginning at $50 per month; FEMA will increase the amount of rent charged incrementally on the travel trailers and mobile homes until the family reaches its ability to pay, according to a FEMA formula based on income.

Beginning immediately, FEMA is setting up a process to allow victims of Katrina and Rita who have been living in travel trailers and mobile homes to purchase those units at a reduced cost. The adjusted fair market cost will take into account FEMA’s monthly expenses for maintaining the units and its standard cost for deactivating the units. This initiative will allow those residents who have been unable to move on to purchase their own units, thus facilitating their return to self-sufficiency.


The Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding coordinates the Federal rebuilding efforts by working with state and local officials to focus on a set of prioritized, integrated and long-term initiatives to rebuild the region.

FEMA coordinates the federal government’s role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.

HUD is the nation's housing agency committed to increasing homeownership, particularly among minorities; creating affordable housing opportunities for low-income Americans; and supporting the homeless, elderly, people with disabilities and people living with AIDS. The Department also promotes economic and community development, and enforces the nation’s fair housing laws. More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet at http://www.hud.gov/ and espanol.hud.gov.

My Lucky Day

How lucky am I that I get to see some of my favorite people at their best, all in one day?

Today I had the joy of spending some quality work time with one of my housemates who really cares a whole lot about this community and the work we're trying to do here. He's been having a hard time at work recently (to state it lightly) and today I saw hope and love and ideas and even some fun spinning again in that busy mind of his.

Then I checked email and found congress starting to take some action and FEMA starting to take some action and got excited that our dear elected officials might be starting to do their jobs in Washington.

Next, I was lucky enough to be invited to a showcase of sorts at another housemate's job- her after-school program. The kids were so proud of themselves and were all having so much fun. And I could see how much hard work and love my housemate had put in to the afternoon. She's really given them such a gift, and for me it was a gift just to witness that.

Next, I snuck off to dinner and I got to see a friend do something she does very well- play hostest to her favorite church folks. Everyone was welcome at that table...especially that cheese dip!

I ended my great day with a visit to a special four legged friend who excels at leaning in for me to pet and love on him.

One more day at work for me and then Jazz Fest.....may the luck continue......

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Today my thoughts are on.....

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
-Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)

He who forgiveth, and is reconciled unto his enemy, shall receive his reward from God; for he loveth not the unjust doers.

Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.
-Martin Luther King, Jr

Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
-Malachy McCourt

She intended to forgive. Not to do so would be un-Christian; but she did not intend to do so soon, nor forget how much she had to forgive.
—Jessamyn West, "The Buried Leaf," The Friendly Persuasion (1945)

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime,
Therefore, we are saved by hope.
Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;
Therefore, we are saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone.
Therefore, we are saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite a virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own;
Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

-Reinhold Niebuhr

Monday, April 23, 2007

Photos Up!

Photos from my trip to New Mexico for a conference held by the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (www.nvoad.org) and our GCM retreat to Pensacola, FL for some fun and fellowship in the sun.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Mom left tonight.

She's already called in from my sister's house in South Carolina. We had a great week: Easter, meals with friends, volunteering together, driving all over the gulf coast, meeting all my friends and co-workers, playing board games, chatting and eating Big Boppers. I'm spent.

I have one day to recover. By recover, I mean, up and at work by 7:30am finding casework jobs for volunteers, attending two meetings and two homevisits and setting everything up for me to miss a week of work. Plus, helping with our now weekly Monday night BBQ at the apartment.

Then I leave for a conference in Albuquerque, NM and return for a retreat in Pensacola with the entire GCM gang this weekend.

The next weekend is JazzFest in New Orleans. So is the next weekend after that.

It's just terrible how much fun there is to be had.....

Saturday, April 14, 2007

a simple equation

taco night with mom+parking lot carnival+good friends+a dare on the ferris wheel+a chick flick with linda and george=good times in mississippi

Friday, April 13, 2007

It's all about perspective

My mom has been in town visiting and volunteering this week. I love having her here not only because she's my mom and she's fun, but also because she helps me get a new perspective on what I'm doing here. Living down on the Gulf Coast right now, working in disaster recovery, it's all you do, all you think about, and all you know. When an outsider comes in and reminds you that the rest of the world is still turning, it rocks your understanding of your place, the work, and the progress. The day before Easter, a couple of us went to a department store to find Easter outfits- the weather was set to drop 25 degrees overnight and all our little sundresses were not going to work. I remember feeling complete culture shock walking into that department store- people had heels and purfume on in there. No one was wearing boots or hats or PDA blue shirts and I was uncomfortable. In a freaking department store!

This week, I have been so frustrated by my ineffectiveness, local politics, long meetings with no tangible results, and the ever-present battle between locals and volunteers involved in the recovery effort. I stopped counting the number of times that I considered getting into my car and driving back to one of those places where they only talk about disaster recovery on the next big anniversary of one of these storms, tsunamis, or wild fires.

Last night mom and I chaperoned Brenna's after-school program's field trip to see a stage show. Brenna and I spent most of our time there with the kids frustrated by their refusal to listen, follow directions, and stay in their seats. On the way home, my mom reminded us both about how special a night it was for each of those misbehaving kids and that none of them ever would have had the opportunity to see a show like that if it weren't for Brenna's program. That new perspective changed our whole view on the evening.

This morning, again frustrated with myself and my failures to help access funding and assistance for Gulf Coast homeowners, I was sitting in my car listening to the many voice mail messages on my work cell phone when a man I've been working with tapped on the car. He was wearing his new Pizza Hut uniform and was headed to work. Not a month ago, this man had showed up at the door of the church, drunk, crying and hungry. We worked together to get him cleaned up, eating and eventually started filling out job applications together. Now he's working. And today, he turned my day around!

I'm reminded that it is a blessing that I can be here to help at all. It is a gift to get to see the Gulf Coast, the recovery effort, and my role in all of this, through my mom's eyes. It's also terrifying! There is so much work to do. There is so much dysfunction in the process. But it's also incredible that we've made it this far. It's wonderful that volunteers are still arriving on the coast every day, bringing hammers, nails, donations, help and hope! Perspective, perspective, perspective.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Nothing works today

....not the top to my travel mug.
....not my mind.
....not my computer.
....not my patience.
....not my curse-word-filter.
....not my car ignition.
....not my forgiveness-bone.
....not my back.
....not my compromise skills.
....not my sweatshirt zipper.
....and apparently, not my ability to stop whining.

Good thing tomorrow is another day!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Miss-Sippy Fun

We had a smashingly successful BBQ at our apartment last night! Lots of great friends from all over the coast came to celebrate our new apartment, springtime and just by accident, a friend's birthday.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter!

Sunrise worship (service #1) on the beach with Handsboro Pres, New Life Comm, and Mississippi City Methodist Church. We never did see the sun rise.....too much rain!
Breakfast with the Handsboro and New Life Community Presbyterian congregations at NLC.

Worship #2 with St. Peter's By The Sea Episcopal Church, at Handsboro.

Mom and Linda at St. Peter's worship.

Father Edward helps the St. Peter's children lay flowers in the cross.

Brenna leading the children's sermon at the Handsboro Pres. worship service (worship #3).

Easter at Handsboro Presbyterian Church, Gulfport, MS!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Maundy Thursday/Good Friday

Matthew 26: 20-30
20When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21And while they were eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me."
22They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, "Surely not I, Lord?"
23Jesus replied, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."
25Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you."

26While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body."
27Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. 28This is my blood of the
covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."
30When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Mark 14: 17-26
17When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me."
19They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?"
20"It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."
22While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body."
23Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.
24"This is my blood of the
covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. 25"I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God."
26When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
"Meanwhile," said Mr. Tumnus, "it is winter in Narnia, and has been for ever so long, and we shall both catch cold if we stand here talking in the snow. Daughter of Eve from the land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?"

"Thank you very much, Mr. Tumnus," said Lucy. "But I was wondering whether I ought to be getting back."

"It's only just around the corner," said the Faun, "and there'll be a roaring fire-and toast-and sardines-and cake."

"Well, it's very kind of you," said Lucy.

Today I pray that we remember always- that of which we are capable, and also that of which He is capable.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Remember when I was whining about my long Wednesdays stuck in the church?

My day: hit snooze, hit snooze, hit snooze, stumble out of bed and into my PDA blue shirt and the same pants I've worn every day this week, pick up two teens and a big truck, drive to the warehouse, pick out tons of donated furniture, drive to Waveland, drop off furniture, quick prayer, run by Long Term Recovery office to sign grant applications, eat lunch with two (now I've discovered them to be awesome) teens, drop off more furniture in Biloxi, receive random phone calls from homeowners/caseworkers/staff, drop amazing teens off at the warehouse to help out over there for the rest of the day, drive to church, meet with a homeowner in tears because she received a demo order from the city today, pray, unload trash from the truck while visiting with PDA friend, deal with rough surprise visit from a homeless family, get them food, talk with other staff and pastor, help homeless family try to find some resources, freak out, pray, cry, tell family that I have to call child protective services, cry, pray, run back up to the office, stall, buy a plane ticket, wait for my last appointment of the day, stall, receive mail- package from my dad (hurray), appointment is a no show, get back in the truck, call cps from the truck while driving to the warehouse for the third time today, cry, cry, cry, pray, arrive at warehouse and find two awesome teens helping a lady load her car full of free furniture, notice that the car is too full and she still needs more stuff, offer to take some stuff in the big truck, load a fridge and the heaviest couch ever into the truck, drive to lady's house, step in red-ant hill the size of Mt. Everest, unload fridge and couch, drive back to church, drop off the two coolest teens ever, go to meeting with boss, drive home to sit on porch with PDA friend, eat dinner that awesome housemate cooked, run to prayer meeting at church, cry, pray, cry, pray, drive to pick up roommate at the airport, back to the apartment, enjoy spontaneous party at apartment with program coordinators/roommates/roommate's family, grilled by roommate's sister about roommate's new boyfriend, work on crossword puzzle, give in to the day, pray for the Thomases and all the struggling families on the Gulf Coast, hit the bed. Whew.

2 days until mom arrives on the coast! (And just in time.....)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Case of the Mundays....

7:15am Off to Church and then to Pascagoula (25 miles east of Gulfport) for the Rebuild Jackson County meeting.
10:00am Two meetings down, hit Gautier to stop in on a friend who works for PDA over there. 10:03am Friend has the day off. Darn.
10:35am Back at church, but just for 15 minutes then I HAVE to go. Frantically check email and try to figure out what is going on with this odd grant application that is due today. Receive call from lovely youth leader in NY who is working with a team of first and second graders to raise money to buy furniture for a little girl for who's family we're currently building a house. Receive a surprise drop-in visit from a man with whom I've been working through Handsboro's homeless ministry. He just popped in to volunteer today and is looking for a rake. Receive a call from downstairs that one of our homeowners has stopped in to see me. Go downstairs to speak with homeowner and end up in theological discussion over forgiveness, anger and love. Hum...(see yesterday's post).
12:45pm What happened to 15minutes?! Ah. Got to get to Diamondhead. Take the mini-van because my car is out of gas again. First, must run home for quick food intake.
1:00pm Eat lunch with lovely housemate. Have funny conversation. Yay for the day.
1:20pm Out the door for Diamondhead (20 miles west of Gulfport) to visit a homeowner. Discuss his very complicated rebuilding problems. Stress. Pray. Drive to the church in Diamondhead to visit housemate/coworker. Sitting in a tent outside the church, annoyed that someone has interrupted our conversation, I randomly check my email. Get angry that I can check my email in a freaking tent in Diamondhead but not in my freaking office. Am struggling to move past that when I read that I was given bad information or misunderstood information earlier and that I really can apply for that odd grant for some homeowners. Frantically work with housemate/coworker to complete grant application. Conveniently forget that I am supposed to be back early to put a casserole in the oven for the last night of my women's bible study.
4:30 pm Remember that I am supposed to be back early to put a casserole in the oven for the last night of my women's bible study. Crap. Oh, and never mind about those two other home visits I had planned for today.
4:32pm Blow out of Diamondhead.
5:00pm Arrive at Handsboro, run up to the church to turn in the van keys. Find a bunch of phone messages on my desk- Erin call this homeowner, Erin call this homeowner, Erin call this homeowner, Erin call dear Gautier friend, he misses you. Chuckle over sweet note. Ask boss if I can hang on to the keys to the mini-van in case I don't have time to gas up my car in the morning. Boss says okay.
5:15pm Go to load up the little green car and spot ANOTHER FLAT TIRE. (The 4th this year for anyone counting.) Fight off the urge to give in to the full temper-tantrum I deserve. Grab my stuff and start walking home.
5:23pm Arrive home. No time to reheat casserole. Pull out sandwich tray left-over from Episcopal not-so-young-adult party. Finish bible study. Frost Brenna's cake.

6:15pm Off to bible study. Show up frazzled and frustrated. It shows. Receive big hug from bible study host, and local resident. Immediately put back in my place. I have no reason to be this frazzled when I chose to come down here and help out. Decide to get over myself. Enjoy two and a half hours of conversation, fellowship and food with 5 lovely women.
9:00pm Run off to meet up with friends to watch the NCAA Final at Orange Grove PDA camp. Saddened by the lack of Big Boppers (my favorite PDA ice cream treat) but enjoying the company of friends. Also read a little while watching the game- come on- I came in at the second half when it was really already over.
10-something pm Put a toolbox on my lap when I get into a big red truck for the ride home with three boys to my double-wide by the bayou. I would write about the conversation, but it simply isn't appropriate for blogging. I will say that it was appropriate for the situation (read: truck, tool box, three boys, double-wide= my Mississippi Life).
11-something pm Home at last. Ready for blog, book, Gilmore Girls and bed. Tell the Bobs to analyze that!
PS- Where is my stapler?

Palm Sunday at Handsboro

Anger vs. Love......a random ranting to follow:

Warning: this is not one of my usual posts about the goings ons of life in Gulfport, Mississippi, but rather a little insight to what's heavy on my mind and heart tonight. As this year is spent in service and spiritual development, I add it here most just to get it off my own mind, but also to let you (those who support and love me) know that there is more going on in my life down here than drywall, shingles, and insulation.

Tonight my housemate Brenna led our little Mississippi family in a bible study on the emotion of anger. A discussion ensued over how God calls us to treat those with whom we are angry: whether we should be patient and wait for God to take vengeance or if we should proceed with kindness, love and forgiveness. That is, when we’re angry do we just give that anger up to God knowing that She’ll get those nasty suckers back for us, or should we treat those nasty suckers with kindness anyway because God’s really above all that punishment stuff?

I don’t know. None of us did. I’d guess that no one really knows. That’s one of the reasons why we’re constantly over analyzing the bible like a bunch of women gossiping over coffee. There are too many stories to suggest that either approach is appropriate and holy and all that jazz.

God’s given us brains, conversations, stories, examples, experiences and many, many lessons, but still so many of us find ourselves drowning in anger and confusion over what to do with those with whom we're angry.

For most of my life I’ve felt nearly consumed by anger. I've been angry at myself, my parents, my teachers, my friends, my church, my community, my co-workers, my government, my sister, and even at God herself for all of the pain and suffering and senselessness She allows among her children.

As I was silently (yes, it happens occasionally) grappling with these thoughts, Brenna wisely pointed out that our anger is so often bound tightly with our love. We’re angry with children who put themselves in danger because we don’t want to see them hurt. We’re angry with politicians who don’t clean up our cities because we want our neighborhoods to thrive. We’re angry with friends who disappoint us because we share so much joy in their successes. We’re angry with organizations who fail us because we are clinging to the hope of what they might accomplish.

I have so many memories of talking with my sisters for hours over the anger that caused the most pain for much of my life- my relationship with my little sister. The thought that all of those conversations about anger, frustration and hurt really coming from a place of love had never entered my mind until my little sister died and I immediately began hating myself for all of the anger. During those first few hours, one of the wisest women I know, who'd talked through the situation with me over the years, shared with me that all of my angry words about my little sister had always struck her with a sense of love.

This now takes me to my present anger, focused on God for allowing the hurt, pain and sorrow that exists in my heart and in God's world. The anger that God removed any chance I’ll ever have of reconciling with my sister. The anger over the idea that God would allow a young child to be raised without knowing the mother who birthed her. The anger towards a God who would allow entire communities to be washed away by storm, war, or famine. What if all that anger also comes from love? From wanting to know, understand, and love God more closely and clearly? Maybe then, all this anger I have stored up is actually exactly the what will bring me closer to fully loving God. Maybe, in my all anger, I already do.


Tonight I am thankful for God's constant love, even when I am angry with her.

Sunday, April 01, 2007