As J.B. Holton and Rev. Lee Adams watched a line of weary Hurricane Katrina survivors waiting for supplies, the two men from Little Rock Missionary Baptist Church realized more had to be done.
Their church in Gaston Point, a community within Gulfport, Miss., had already been turned into a distribution center for water, food, clothing, and other emergency supplies.
But Adams and Holton, a retired executive, dreamed about setting up a local relief organization to help clean up the mess, rebuild homes, and develop a vibrant community.
Located about 75 miles (120 km) northeast of New Orleans, Gaston Point is home to about 20,000 people. Many were already living in deep poverty before Katrina devastated their lives.
Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Ohio, Rev. Emmitt Harrison of East Side Christian Reformed Church had just returned from the Gulf Coast with his parents-in-law. Harrison says he was traumatized by the devastation and wanted his church to respond. He called Bill Adams, director of Disaster Response Services for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC-DRS).
The rest, as the saying goes, is history. But watch out for miracles!
Harrison’s in-laws worship at Little Rock Missionary Baptist Church. Thus began one of the most ambitious disaster response efforts staged by CRWRC in North America.
With help from CRWRC, Adams and Holton set up the West End Disaster Recovery and Development Association. By summer 2008, the organization had supervised the reconstruction of 75 homes.
Ken Geurink, CRWRC project manager, says what happened in Gaston Point is “astronomical.” The reconstruction program ended in spring 2008, but the new community development agency will deliver long-term change.
Gaston Point Community Development Corp. is developing a strategic plan that includes a school to train local people in construction, job skills, life skills, and business development programs. The agency is also building new homes for families whose houses were destroyed by the hurricane.
Christian Reformed congregations are sending volunteers to help build new homes. Churches in Classis Pella kicked off this initiative and Art Opperwall, a volunteer coordinator with Disaster Response Services, is looking for more teams to help build homes this fall and winter.
Adams is determined to make progress. “I’m an eternal optimist and believe things can be better,” he says, adding, “I believe we’re making them better by providing decent housing. A clean, decent environment lifts everybody’s spirits.”
“People have ideas. They just need a little support,” says Adams.
CRWRC has provided nearly $4 million in post-Katrina services involving cleanup, assessments, and construction. An additional $2 million is committed to ongoing reconstruction.