Search PNC News for stories of people and churches in our UCC Conference:

Work camps help transform New Orleans, participants

Need for rebuilding
continues but funds
are running out.

By Mary Stamp

While the need for post-Hurricane-Katrina-rebuilding continues in New Orleans, the UCC is running out of money to do more, said Randy Crowe, PNC work camp coordinator since 2005, on returning from a Feb. 27 to March 5 camp with 14 from PNC.  “There’s an incredible amount of work done and the spirit has returned to New Orleans,” he said. 

On each trip, Crowe has taken teams to the lower 9th Ward to see destruction next to progress in rebuilding homes.  This time, there were 100 new houses, in contrast to 15 last year.  He met a member of Beecher Memorial UCC, the oldest UCC black church, who told of moving into her new house.

Mary Charles Home
Mary Charles, the Rev. Linda Crowe of Veradale, the Rev. Esther Pfifer of Eltopia, Amy Demaree of Helena, Mont., and the Rev. Dee Eisenhauer of Bainbridge Island.

She had lived in Northern Louisiana, Tennessee and Georgia before returning to the neighborhood where she had lived all her life.  Her mother, whose house was nearby, died before returning.  This woman, as many others, had been victimized by a contractor she paid.  He did part of the job and skipped with her money.

Most new homes in her neighborhood were part of Brad Pitt’s Make It Right program, built five to eight feet off the ground on raised foundations using LEED building standards for energy conservation.  All had solar panels.

Jim Spraker of Plymouth Congregational UCC in Seattle met a man who was selling energy back into the grid, giving  him income.

The house Crowe worked on had had two contractors.  One did a poor job, and the other did not finish it after a torch he used to put in air conditioning burned off the roof.  The homeowner had been out of town and returned to find the plumbing pipes and electrical wiring stripped for copper. His crew helped lay flooring.

“She had run out of money,” Crowe said.  “Stories of such people touch our team members.

In debriefing every year, people express their gratitude for the opportunity to share their abundance with those who do not have much.  It’s important for adults to have the opportunity to serve and to give out of their faith.  Every trip I’m surprised at the depth of feelings stirred in the people,” he said.

In the debriefing this year, several expressed interest in going again.  Crowe, managing director of N-Sid-Sen, will look into options for next year.  One may be to help rebuild Beecher Memorial UCC.

After Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, Crowe first went in January 2006, before the UCC Disaster Recovery Office was set up.  The first team helped Little Farms UCC repair their roof, Sunday school and sanctuary siding and sheet rock from wind damage and rains.  They also helped with homes of four Little Farms and Central UCC members.

The second trip in October 2006 involved 40 people.  Other trips were in February 2008, 2009 and 2010 with 14 to 20 people.  The Rev. Bobbi Virta of Ferndale UCC is taking her fourth group April 2 to 9.  She first went with the group of 40.

The first two trips, the ecumenical disaster recovery oversight committee was starting to bring together nonprofits.  People applied for assistance through member groups like the UCC.  The committee screened based on need and cost of materials.

The Red Cross and the Salvation Army have provided much of the funding.  Volunteer groups have come in weekly.  When Crowe has brought a group, he has told the UCC Disaster Recovery Office the number of people and their skills, so they are matched with projects.

This year, they worked on a UCC project.  Last year, they worked on a Seventh Day Adventist project.

UCC funding ends in 2012 and the Disaster Relief Office at Little Farms UCC will close, as will other offices.

“It’s phenomenal how the faiths have worked together," Crowe said.

He estimates that the UCC has helped rebuild 50 houses. 

About 15 faith groups and Habitat for Humanity have been helping.

The four UCC churches in New Orleans modified their buildings to house the work camps.  They added showers in restrooms and set up  bunk beds in Sunday school rooms.

Crowe's team included his wife, the Rev. Linda Crowe, pastor at Veradale UCC; their daughter and grandson, Amy Clark and Randy Hummel; Ed and Jen Philiyaw of St. Paul’s UCC; Jim Spraker of Plymouth UCC in Seattle; Dee Eisenhauer, Don and Madelyn Fox, and Joan Platt of Bainbridge Island; Esther Pfeifer of Eltopia, and Amy Demaree and Dick Weaver of Helena, Mont.


Of Veradale UCC’s 100 members 13 have participated work camps over the years.

Commenting that there is still much to be done, Spraker said New Orleans is about 70 percent recovered.

“It’s still a tough go,” he said.  "I worked with a woman who was barely making it.  We made a difference in her life by helping make three rooms livable.  We also made a difference for Little Farms UCC, which has survived and has new life.”

The work this year was primarily cleaning up and painting.

The people are resilient, leaving their homes and living in chaos for six years.  They have an ability to stay with it and survive in the midst of chaos.  They see the recovery.  It’s difficult to lose one’s home and things, and try to put things back together," he said.

“I learned how repressive poverty is.  People at the bottom of the economic ladder have a hard time, compounded by this kind of tragedy,” Jim said.

Linda Crowe said she worked on the home of Mary Charles, a Southern Baptist in East New Orleans, who was delighted to have pastors helping paint trim and clean up her house.

She was surprised that the UCC has women pastors. 

Telling of the loss of her house, her husband and four of her six children, Mary Charles talked about "what it takes to get through hard times,” Linda said.  “She told me: ‘I don’t ask the Lord for strength or for things.  If I didn’t have strength, I would not have made it through.

“Dealing with so much loss helped her put things back together,” Linda said.  “We put a vase, lace tablecloth and fine classes on the table to make it look nice.

“I enjoy visiting with the people,” she added. “It was special for our family to have three generations participating in the work camp.

Mission trips have brought people together from across the region, strengthening the Conference.”

For information, call 208-689-3489.


Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © April 2011





Share this article on your favorite social media Bookmark and Share