Neighbors help neighbors after Katrina

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MDS provides volunteer, Rotary Club the funds to rebuild homes

By Susan Kim

In “The Pass,” when someone needs help, you help them. For Roseta Daniels, that means caring for her parents, working from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. as a baker at a nearby casino and opening her home to her brother, sister-in-law and son.

Daniels is a mother, daughter, sister, Hurricane Katrina survivor. Volunteers from Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) who worked in Pass Christian, Mississippi — they called this town “The Pass,” like its residents do — will remember Daniels as the lady who cooked jambalaya for them long after they finished building her house.

Her father has just been diagnosed with Alzheimers. Her mother got a pacemaker. Her brother underwent surgery for colon cancer this week. She hasn’t gotten a raise in nine years at the same job. What does “recover” mean? When does life get, well, easier?

“I feel like, some good, it’s going to come,” says Daniels. “I believe in God. He wouldn’t send me through this for nothing.”

For Daniels, the island that holds her family together is her house, built by MDS volunteers in 2006 after hers was destroyed by Katrina. Sitting on the front porch, Daniels looks across the street at her parents' house: “My mom is sitting over there crocheting right now.”

Her 21-year-old son, a graduate of the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, NC, got several job offers in North Carolina but returned to The Pass, where he works for a local car repair shop. He moved back into the house. When Daniels’ brother and sister-in-law had some hard times and needed a place to live, they moved in, too.

“I wouldn’t have a home if it hadn’t been for the Mennonites,” said Daniels, a home that has its door open to her family. “You have to be nice,” she said. “Because you never know when you’ll need somebody. I can’t forget the people that helped me.”

 

MDS builds with funds raised by Illinois Rotary Club

Daniels’ home was one of 20 homes MDS built with funds from the Rotary Club of Naperville, Ill., one of 34,000 Rotary clubs worldwide. Dr. Dwight Herschell Short — known as “D.H.” Short in The Pass — was president of the Pass Christian Rotary Club at the time Katrina struck. In the storm’s wake, he visited 150 Rotary clubs in 15 states and two countries at his own expense on behalf of the unmet needs of his community.

In the process he gathered one million dollars for building homes in The Pass, particularly homes for the African-American community.

He passed away in 2008, but Daniels and other residents still remember his spirit of caring — because in The Pass, that’s how people are.

A few streets over, Arthur “Billie” Morgan is working in his yard. His house was also built with Naperville Rotary funds and the labor of MDS volunteers. It’s a 90-degree, humid day in soupy southern Mississippi, and Morgan stops, sweating through his MDS T-shirt, to watch the hummingbirds in his yard.

“Ten years ago, somebody donated that tree right there,” he said, standing in its shade. In another tree, pieces of a life jacket are hanging, left over from Katrina like so many reminders — wanted or not — in The Pass.

Morgan is the president of the Gulf Coast District of the Missionary Baptist Church Laymen. He is dedicated to the work of his church, but he also regards the Mennonites as his adopted “church family.” His house is full of MDS newsletters, as well as cards and letters from the volunteers who helped him and stayed in touch. He is invited to weddings, hosts former volunteers for visits, and answers phone calls from people who just want to hear how he’s doing.

He is standing in his kitchen, talking about what he managed to salvage from Katrina, when there’s a knock at the door. It’s a neighbor, soaked with sweat, who has walked a long way because his car is broken down and he needs a tow. He knows Morgan can help him, and Morgan heads down the front steps.

But before he can go, another neighbor rushes across the street, also asking for his help. She thinks there is a nest of bees at her house. He says a quick goodbye and off he goes. Because in The Pass, that’s what you do.

 

Photos by Mark Beach for MDS        

The MDS volunteers who rebuilt Roseta Daniels’ home remember her home-cooked jambalaya. Daniels stands on the porch of her home that MDS built.

Jerry Klassen, MDS disaster recover coordinator, and homeowner Arthur “Billie” Morgan says Mennonites are his adopted church family.

 

 

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