Photos by Kris Dreessen
Garrett Burger '11 lifts rotten roof shingles off Mary Jackson's home in Biloxi. On the last day of the volunteer trip, she shared photos of her life before Hurricane Katrina, including her extensive gardens.
"It really hit me that with all of our roofing, nailing and sawing, we had helped give Mary the opportunity to start fresh and live in a lovely home where she can once again cultivate her beautiful gardens," says Garrett.
No one in Biloxi ever thought they would live through a storm as powerful as Hurricane Camille, which ripped through town in 1969, destroying 26 miles of coastline.
The community erected a memorial with the names of the 172 people who died in the storm, which included a tower with stained-glass windows that were hand-crafted from pieces of glass retrieved from the area.
Hurricane Katrina wiped out the tower as well as the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer. Now, the bent flagpole is the memorial landmark.
A staff member of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer stands near what is left of the church — a metal frame. It has become a memorial to those who perished responding to others' needs during Hurricane Katrina, each marked by a cross.
Adjunct Lecturer Joanna Kirk, left, AmeriCorps volunteer Ryan Spencer, Trevor Ramsey-Macomber '09 and Jessica Okoniewski '11, paint a door that will be installed on Karen Ibele's historic home. Ibele was one of many Biloxi residents who lived in FEMA trailers such as the one in the back yard, while their houses were rebuilt. Some community members are still in temporary housing.
Samantha Hatz '12 is surprised by the speed of the saw with which she's cutting planks for an access ramp at the home of Willy and Flora Williams. The Geneseo crew helped build the ramp for Willy, who uses a wheelchair. Mike Gurtowski '12 is holding the wood.
Associate Professor of Psychology Kenneth Kallio writes about his experiences in his journal after dinner at Camp Victor, where volunteer crew stay in bunk rooms. Each participant is asked to keep a diary of reflections.
Volunteers from all over the world stay at Camp Victor during their work efforts. Outside, a mural depicts the helplessness residents felt during and after Hurricane Katrina.
More than seven feet of water flooded many homes in Biloxi, washing away belongings as the surge receded hours later. Many homes are boarded and abandoned.
President Christopher C. Dahl, center, laughs with Tom Matthews, Geneseo director of leadership education, development and training, and the leader of the Back Bay Mission.
Forty years ago, President Dahl volunteered with the mission doing similar repair work on residents' homes; the mission continues recovery and outreach efforts.
William Stallworth, founder and executive director of HOPE Community Development Agency
"How do you deal with a major problem? How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time," says William, also a Biloxi city councilman.
In one of the hardest-hit areas of Biloxi, 7,000 homes were destroyed. The devastation can be overwhelming, says William, so he makes it simple. Build one house on one street. Then another. Soon, you transform blocks.
As of January 2010, H.O.P.E. has rehabilitated 700 homes and built 65 new homes utilizing grants and volunteers. Efforts of Geneseo and Livingston County CARES change the mindset of residents, he says, "from helplessness to hopefulness."
Kai Huff documented the aftermath of the storm with her camera, but it's difficult for her to look at photos of her home and all of her possessions, which were finally pushed to the street and hauled away.
Kai Huff, homeowner, and her dog, Jayne T. Cobb Huff'n Puff
Volunteers were Kai's hope when she had none. With help from crews like Livingston County CARES, she was able to rebuild her family home — which had been her great grandmother's house — and move in March 3, 2009.
Loved ones and residents were there to celebrate.
"We had about 50 people in the house. I told everyone, 'Stomp your feet!' Everybody started stomping their feet. I said, 'That's solid faith you're stomping on. Solid faith.'"
Daisy Guyton, homeowner
George Sullivan '07 and other volunteers from Geneseo were the first to help rehabilitate her house in 2006, tearing down the rotted walls and erecting a sturdy beam in the roof. Soon, Daisy was installing a new bathtub and finally hung a shiny new No. 334 above her front door.
"I could have never done it myself," says Daisy, who is pictured with Tom Matthews, Geneseo's director of leadership education, development and training. "I didn't have the money. I could never repay the people who came here to help me, except to say thank you."
Ruby Farley, homeowner
"Once you start working, it's all about 'Wow, look what we can get done!'" says Trevor Ramsey-Macomber '09, a four-time volunteer.
During his first work trip to Biloxi, Ruby's home was an empty shell. Trevor built a sink and installed two bathrooms. A Navy Seabee mentored Trevor's volunteer crew construction skills. Before they left, they were able to hang the house numbers and a flowering plant.
"We felt very connected to each other and the project," says Trevor. "It was a lot of fun. We were doing something for someone else and giving them their home back."
Gladys Daniels and her son, Ben Daniels, homeowners
"The water just kept coming," remembers Gladys, who stood atop a dining room table with Ben during the flooding. "We survived and I thank God for that."
After the storm, Ben and other residents opened a fire hydrant in her street to access fresh water and wash clothes. Gladys was a cook before the storm; Ben, a welder. He stayed, he said, because the neighborhood is his home. Now, he says, "it's like a ghost town."
"You take things for granted until something like that happens," says Gladys.
Willy and Flora Williams, homeowners
Willy was born and raised in the projects in Biloxi. He and Flora moved to their small Strangi Street home in 1972 as newlyweds, the reward for their savings. He built a career in maintenance and she in housekeeping at the nearby Naval base.
They stayed with relatives in Georgia during the storm and knew everything was gone when they saw aerial pictures of Biloxi. Nothing was on their property but a heap.
The only thing that survived was Flora's beloved rose bush. She pampers it and revels in each bloom.
"I had a beautiful garden. To see the rose bush still there — that was a big part of me," remembers Flora.
Bessie Tanksley, homeowner
Bessie rode the storm out in her attic crawl space with her daughter and grandkids.
"Cars were just swimming out there. There was no way to get away," says Bessie, who yelled to her son Charles in the garage apartment, but could not reach him. They survived; her neighbor drowned in bed.
"It was a pitiful place around here," she says. "That mud and that old black water."
In May 2009, Livingston County CARES crews helped to fix up the garage apartment for her son.
Karen Ibele, right, survived the storm in a ceiling storage space. Her father grew up in the historic home, which was built in 1890 and is a Biloxi landmark. When the water held steady at the ceiling, she knew she was finally safe.
Ibele stopped by several times after work to speak with construction crews and share her story with Adjunct Lecturer Joanna Kirk, left, and Jessica Okoniewski '11.
Crews working on Mary Jackson's home last January hoped to finish rebuilding her home before her birthday Feb. 3. Andrew Kopp '12, left, Geneseo resident Phil Natoli, President Christopher C. Dahl and crew manager John Roberts hammer on new roof boards.
Alanna Klose '10 and Jessica Tornatore '12, bottom, tear rotten shingles off Mary Jackson's home.
Amanda Leonard '11 relaxes after a day's work at the Biloxi Bay. It's hard to imagine that the tranquil coastline was such a destructive force, says volunteer George Sullivan '07, but across the street, all of the regal homes were debris.
"There was nothing left but cement stoops," remembers two-time volunteer Lyle Lehman, professor emeritus and former chair of special education, who also was on the first trip in winter 2006.
Shirley Jackson, homeowner
Pictured outside her home in May 2009, Shirley raises her arms in delight about how great it looks. Geneseo students painted the exterior and bought Shirley and her husband, Tommy, a welcome mat.
The couple now proudly display it at the front door.
"It was unbelievable, just unbelievable," to walk into her home for the first time, says Shirley, a nurse at the veteran's hospital in Biloxi.
The Jacksons moved in four years to the very day that Katrina displaced them. They had lived at the Strangi Street address since 1989. There used to be nine homes on the street; all of them were destroyed. Only four neighbors rebuilt.
"I really appreciate it all," says Shirley, who treated Geneseo crews to submarine sandwiches, soda and dessert to say thanks. "Without the volunteers, I would never have what I have now — a home."