Sunday, February 22, 2009

a busy week

Hello to all our friends from the comfortable climate.

We were able to take off one day last week and go to the Nuclear Power Plant in Bay City, TX.
with the TI Retiree Club.We ate at the Hotel Blessing Coffee Shop in Blessing, TX. Everyone went to the ‘stove’ to get your meal. There were 3 choices of meat, about six veggies, fresh fruit, real mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, salad and peach cobbler or strawberry shortcake. What a feast and a very informative tour. Bay City is about 90 miles South of Houston. We went on a bus which looked like the local prison bus. It was quite funny to see a group of senior citizens on a prison bus.

Then we returned back to work the next day. I am Pastor Billy’s assistant project manager, and have now seen the other side of the devastation…the massive paperwork, the not trusting of anyone, the tears because they have no money and cannot seem to get anywhere…no one to help them rebuild.

Julie working on many spreadsheets on left.
On right she is giving assignments.

One morning Ken was watching the local tv stations down here and saw that one of the FEMA representatives was taking questions on his blog about money matters for these people. Well, that is all Ken had to do was tell me and I started typing about one of the elderly women that we have encountered. Not mentioning any names, I received a response (was I excited, because I did not think they would respond) and acted upon it immediately. I sent Tim and Jenn (the young couple that is staying here) to pick up Hazel and take her to the office that he referred us to. Hazel, who is 80+ years old, was so excited and it cheered her up knowing that there were people out there that were caring enough to help her out. She did not even know, or understand, the process and no one in the offices would take the time to help her.
Hazel is a church member, and African American, and lives a couple of blocks from the church. She lives with her 4 mixed breed dogs that she keeps chained in front of her house. She is handicapped and walks with a walker. Her house is two blocks from the Seawall and during the storm it was protected by the Sea Wall on the island. The house did sustain major damage as winds destroyed the roof and rain and water got into the house through those holes. It was a struggle to convince Hazel that everything had to come out of the house. Supervised by Ken, a team of youths were here this past weekend taking all of her things to the curb and gutting the rest of the house and removing nails down to the bare studs. This weekend, Ken and a group from another church laid down the new sub-floor. Hazel was so excited!

The church that helped Ken lay the floor at Hazel's had a BBQ lunch on the vacant lot next to Hazel's home.

Here is Hazel enjoying both the food and the company.

Hazel's floor.
On the left is before (note the termite infested floor) and the floor on the right is after.

This is another example of the same type of houses we ran into in MS where the house should be torn down, but sentimentality takes over. Hazel has packed away ‘stuff’ since 1954 when she moved into the house. There were a pile of 50 garbage bags in front of her house (as you can see by the picture of Ken on the front page of the Galveston News.) Her house and land is only worth $4,000 and it will cost at least $80,000 to rebuilt it back to a livable state. We are working on getting her more money, if only for the materials…volunteers will do most of the work. Currently, Hazel is staying at the Comfort Inn. Today Ken is over at Hazel’s house drawing up a plan on how to finish off her house for future teams.

Hazel received $6000 from FEMA to repair her roof that was ripped apart in the storm. She did not receive any insurance money because she had flood insurance and her home wasn’t damaged by a flood, it was damaged as a result of wind. This is just one of the many stories of those that were affected by Hurricane Ike.

There is much devastation on Bolivar Peninsula. They say it looks like a war zone. The only thing left is one gas station and a couple of houses over a nine mile area. This peninsula took the full impact of the hurricane. I’m told it had one of the nicest beaches in Galveston. You must take a ferry over which could take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours because only two are currently running. We were getting in line to go over today, but we were afraid we wouldn’t be able to get over and back within a reasonable amount of time. We are hoping to get over later in the week by leaving very early in the morning.

Another tragic story is Shirley. She has been sharing meals with us the last couple of days. She is currently staying in Houston (anywhere from one to two hours to get down here) with one of her children. Her floors buckled and were about a foot above where they should be. Prior to the hurricane (that seems to be the beginning of each sentence down here)…before the hurricane she lived in the house with her nephew and her not so healthy husband. She raised four children in the house and her husband died a month after the storm. She has so much ‘stuff’ that she has held on to – her life – that she just cannot bear to part with, even though it cannot be salvaged. But she has not given up her faith. She will part with these ‘things’ but she must reminisce before discarding them.

We had a referral from the United Methodist Council On Relief about an older couple, not trusting anyone, even frightened to even start the process of rebuilding or talking with anyone. They were not even able to get them to return their calls. Ken and I took a ride out to their house to ‘assess the damage’. They have ten acres, are living in a small two-bedroom FEMA trailer with their daughter and her two children. When we approached, the kids were playing in the yard and were quite hesitate to talk to me…a stranger. I won their confidence and talked with their grandmother, the owner of the home. She had had a stroke and was a sickly woman and said her husband was not here and didn’t want to talk to anyone. Many of you that know me, knew that when I am determined, I keep on trudging. I explained to her we were not contractors or any fly by night company…I explained we were a faith-based organization here to help and we were not asking for money. She let Ken and I into her house to ‘assess’ and what a terrible sight. The same story again. No insurance money. They had received some money from insurance ($20,000) but that would not cover any rebuilding. The roof was damaged and the inside needed to be torn down to the studs. So many of these people think that if you just cut out the dry wall where the water had gotten to that that would do it. But, they cannot understand that the mold has settled up into the rest of the house and ceiling and is causing more respiratory problems. We got a crew out to their home to clean up the debris and the man came to the church one evening while we were having supper and filled out the paperwork for us to help him. I felt so good, knowing that he was going to trust someone to help him. The process begins with trying to get him a grant and some additional FEMA money.

A few people don’t want help…they have a hard time trusting anyone…some are annoyed about the lengthy process it is to receive help..some are even angry about where they’re at, and they project those emotions at those who call. I just have to shake it off and move on down the list. It is so tragic that there are people out there that take advantage of the poor people who have nothing and rob them of what little they do get. Some have taken half of their money with the promise to fix it up and then they are never seen by the homeowner again. How sad…but this is the story down here.
Ken standing at the exterior of the pantry he framed, sheet-rocked and floated for Eugene Scott.
(Note to Vickie: Does the shirt look familiar?)

Spring Break is fast approaching and we will be having close to 2000 students down here to help clean up Bolivar Peninsula. We are working on a rally/revival and have rented two ballrooms to have many volunteers come to be more energized. It is going to be a great rally…musicians, worship leaders, drama, stompers, etc. We were blessed to have an anonymous giver donate the money for the rental of the ballrooms.

The students will be housed all over Galveston at various church locations and there will be two tractor trailer cookhouses to feed all these students. We will have ‘go-fors’ that will take them to various locations…three meals a day for seven days.

I had one of those sleepless nights a couple of days ago and as I watched the sun come up, all the vibrant colors, so quiet, so lovely, like the heavens opening up to a new promise…turning darkness to brightness I am reminded that there is hope for everyone here.

I must start my day again …the stress is there, but I feel so energized talking with these people and knowing that I am just doing a small part to help them, while Ken is out there doing his rebuilding, one nail at a time, one 2 x 4 at a time, one piece of sheetrock at a time…the day goes on.

Devastation: a boat in the yard
of a house.


Ken & Julie on the sight of one of the jobs here in Galveston.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ken made the front page of the Galveston News!

Hi all,

Ken made the front page of the Galveston News...of course, they did not print what he had said, but here is proof he is working (as always).

I thought I would tell you a little about our little ‘family’ we have here at University Baptist. We share our evening meals and work side-by-side.

Bing & Punay: displaced by the Hurricane and have been living in one of the church offices. Their house had four feet of water in it, and it also lost the roof. However, the city of Galveston did not let anyone back onto the island for 12 days after the storm because there was no electricity or water. By that time Bing and his family returned home, mold had overtaken the entire house, and everything had to come out and was lost. This is the story of everyone here. Bing and his family have been staying in one of the church offices ever since and are hoping to be back in their home by March. Through all this adversity, the interesting thing is that he feels blessed to be living at the church for the last four months. He talked about how not having anything, not even a space to call their own, had forced them to rely on God even more.

Lee, their son, also lives at the church in one of the Sunday School rooms. He is the worship leader, plays the guitar and works on the Sunday program. The service is a contemporary service and about 50% of the church membership has yet to return.

Jesse, a stone mason by trade is here from Ft. Worth, TX. His business is slow at the moment, so he has volunteered his time down here. He goes home on weekends to visit his family and then returns the following Tuesday. He will be here only another month.

Tim & Jenn are a young couple that gave up everything and followed their calling to Galveston and have been thrown into the work force with the rest of us. They have been promised an RV for a year and are still waiting…hopefully this weekend.

Ruth, an older than me woman who lived in a condo that was completely destroyed. Contractors have been repairing her condo and have completed the roof and fixed the outside structural damage. In the next few days, they will be working on the inside of the place, meanwhile, Ruth lives in a FEMA trailer next to the church. Although these people have been displaced, everyone we’ve met has been very friendly and very grateful that we are here.

Jeff, from Florida, here as an electrician helping out in-between jobs. Previously a Baptist minister, ex-communicated because of divorce, is a wonderful piano player who plays by hearing and does not read music. I wish I could.

Glen: Jeff’s side-kick. Have not found out much about him – quiet, stays to himself and away from people.

Pastor Billy: Now here lies the story. His favorite line “Welcome to My World”. If you have a chance you MUST look up his video…it is a touching story! Go to A church (Jesse’s church near Fort Worth) followed Pastor Billy around for a couple of days and took this footage. It tells a lot. Pastor Billy and his wife, Dawn, have also been displaced. They are currently sharing a house with another couple and their four children about 25 miles from the church. Pastor Billy’s salary has been cut more than half because his congergation have not all returned to the church. Billy is trying to also manage the rebuilding of Galveston…just like Pastor David in Moss Point, MS. along with rebuilding his church.

More later.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Update first week of Februaru

Hi all,

We left our friends in Moss Point and visited friends and previous co-workers in Houston and got caught up on things we have missed over the last three years.

We visited our three homes we had in and around Houston and were amazed in the growth of the area!

We arrived for our assignment on Tuesday, February 3 on Galveston Island at lunch time. As soon as we got settled at our campsite at the University Baptist Church, complete with 30A power, water and sewer connection, we met with Pastor Billy Graff. There is one other RV trailer next to us.

(above pictures is some of the devastation - the middle picture is where buildings were)

Pastor Billy Graff is a young pastor and has been here about 5 years. Our first afternoon took us to his house where we meet his wife, Dawn. Their house had about 2 feet of water with the storm surge. All the walls have been gutted, sheetrock work is now complete and the floors are the next project. Cleanup was the next item on the agenda. The kitchen/dining room floor had to be prepared for installation of ceramic tile. After we finished that we put together a cabinet for the bathroom.

This church will host over 100 volunteers during spring break season, while the Island will have a total of 1800 people to help out with relief efforts. This church has converted their education building to dormitories; they have a common kitchen and dining area. The Southern Baptist Conference has installed a trailer outside the church that has 6 showers for use by volunteers.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Ken was assigned to work with Jesse (a stone mason), laying tile on the floor of the Pastor’s house. Ken mainly cut tile on the tile saw while Jesse and Billy (the pastor) laid the tile.

(Ken cutting tile)

I am using my skills from the Katrina relief effort, working in the church office attempting to coordinate the arrival of the many volunteers during March, working with Nehemiah’s Vision group and the Galveston Island officials. I even got a job offer! Note to Judi F: I did not take it – I’m coming back.

On Friday, February 6th, we were joined by 20 volunteers from the Athens, TX Baptist Church. Ken had several women grouting the tile work, picking up trash and carrying it out to street. Another group of men worked with Ken putting cement board around a bath tub and started to lay ceramic tile for the tub surround.

(Ken demonstrating how to measure and cut tile)

On Friday evening, the Athens group sponsored a free fish fry targeted at the low income Hispanic people in town. Even the fire department sent 10 men out. Although we did not get as many as hoped for, it was a great time of socialization with the community.

And as many of you know, ONE of my favorite songs is Alabare a mi Senior. Note to Margo: They sang it soooooooooooo slow! It was even slower than the song “Amazing Grace”. Of course, I sang to my own tune (much faster). Not surprising?

On Sat. we worked ½ day with the volunteers and finished laying ceramic tile for the pastor’s tub surround. The volunteers left to return to Athens, and another group from the same church will come back next Friday. Tomorrow a couple will be coming in from Colorado and plan to stay here for 2 months.

(pictures of some of the bathroom and dining room tile work)

Today (Sunday) we had lunch and visited with one of my very good friends I met when I worked at Texas Children’s Hospital. We have been friends for over thirteen years. I was very protective of her while she was pregnant with her daughter, Heather. It was so good to see her family…we will be seeing each other before we leave here.

My friend Sally on left, her daughter, Heather (13 years old) and Donny. The restaurant we ate at was called "The Spot", overlooking the Seawall into the Gulf.

That is it for this update - will be back on the air in a week or so.
julie & ken