(Gulfport, Mississippi, August 30, 2006) When I visited Waveland,
Mississippi in November 2005, three months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the
Gulf Coast, the streets were still overflowing with debris. Twisted and broken
trees lay smashed into houses, on top of cars, and across roadways. In the
relentless piles of rubble that lined the streets, drywall, insulation, and
other building materials were plentiful. But it was the clothes, books,
furniture, knick-knacks, and other personal items that left Gulf Coast residents
feeling violated and exposed. It was as if someone had entered their homes and
exhibited the contents of every drawer, every cupboard, every secret box of
memories for the entire world to see.
Nine months later, a full year after Katrina struck, the personal belongings
are all gone. In fact, everything is gone. Entire beachfront neighborhoods have
been bulldozed so that all that is left is a sea of concrete foundations, a few
gnarled and scraggly trees, and an occasional FEMA trailer. Even though it is a
hot August day in Mississippi, miles and miles of sandy beaches are deserted.
Signs along the beachfront warn people to stay out of the water because of the
debris that still covers the ocean floor.
Waveland is just one of the many Mississippi communities devastated by
Katrina. Members of the Gulf Coast UU Fellowship (GCUUF), based in Gulfport, MS,
know this devastation first hand. Although only one member lost her entire
house, everyone in the congregation has been seriously impacted, so much so that
some members chose to not to return to the region and, even a year later, others
are moving to communities that are less prone to natural disasters. GCUUF
anticipates losing four of its key members in the coming months, a significant
number in a congregation that is struggling to survive.
However, there is hope for GCUUF. According to congregational president,
Keitha Whittaker, two new families have joined the congregation recently and
brought with them two toddlers and two other school-aged children—the foundation
of a religious education program. Additionally, the fellowship has acquired a
newly-rented worship space that allows them to keep everything set up from week
to week, a big improvement from their pre-Katrina space. They are close to
finalizing a deal to sell the low-lying property they purchased last year, and
they hope to use the proceeds to acquire a more visible property on higher
The brightest ray of hope, though, comes from UU seminarian Jinnie Trabulsi,
who is working with GCUUF as a community minister. Funded by the UUA/UUSC Gulf
Coast Relief fund, Trabulsi is actively working with our community partners and
coordinating UU volunteers in Mississippi. In doing so, she is making Unitarian
Universalism better known in the region, vital work that GCUUF members are
unable to do on their own during these troubled times. In direct aid to GCUUF, Trabulsi offers one worship service a
month and helps them become more visible in the community.
How You Can Help
Trabulsi says that the need for volunteers in Mississippi will continue to be
strong for a long time to come. Many UUs have the misperception that they must
be able to gut houses to be useful volunteers. According to Trabulsi, nothing
could be further from the truth. Although people with construction skills are
still desperately needed, other abilities are also in short supply. Trabulsi
says it's important to recognize that the needs change on a regular basis as
projects are completed and new projects begin. However, just this month,
Trabulsi knows of community partners seeking people who can:
If you have any of these skills and would like to volunteer in Mississippi,
contact uukatrina @ bellsouth.net or
call Volunteer Coordinator Cheré Coen at the Hurricane Relief Project at the UU
Church of Baton Rouge (225) 223-2876. All volunteer requests are handled by this
And if you can't go yourself, you can help by encouraging your congregation
to sponsor an individual or team to make the trip. No matter what you have to
offer, whether it's professional expertise, skilled labor, or a good heart, the
people of Mississippi need you.
Annette Marquis, District Executive Thomas Jefferson District of the UUA
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Thursday, August 2, 2012.
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