One thing that is very different on this spring break trip than on last year’s spring break trip is the length of time a job takes. In the early months after the storm the jobs by their very nature often were short. For instance, gutting a house in Biloxi (where there was little or no mud to content with) might only take a few hours to a day for a crew. The downside of this was that for short term volunteers it was difficult to really get to know who they were helping.
That has changed dramatically this year. Jobs have grown longer (what takes only minutes to pull down can take days to cut, hang, mud, and paint). The bad side of this is that it takes longer to get jobs done. The good side of this is that volunteers get to know those who they are helping.
A perfect example is the Neral family with whom the BonaResponders staying at the Bible Fellowship camp worked with for the entire week. The Nerals (Gabe, Jillian, Alex (age 11), Anne (age 10), and Ashley (age 8)) live about 50 miles N of Gulfport. Living that far from the coast the Nerals and their neighbors felt they had nothing to worry about from a hurricane, but that changed when Katrina ed when Katrina spun off a tornado that touched down and damaged many homes in the area. The Nerals were one of the worst hit families as their trailer was damaged and their property lost many trees. The family, which was never monetarily well-to do, was pushed to the breaking point. But relying on friends and extended family members, the family began to rebuild in May 2005.
Then the real bad news hit. It all started harmlessly enough. Gabe offered to donate blood. The regular screening practices determined that he was HIV +. Within three weeks we was diagnosed as having AIDS. This pushed the family past the breaking point. However, unlike most in such a horrible situation, the Nerals did not break. They maintained their positive attitude and good nature.
In an effort to help, County health officials notified volunteer agencies of the Neral’s plight.
Which takes us to this week. Faced with finding work for a largely unskilled work force, Bob, at the Bible Fellowship Church in Pass Christian accepted the job. And lucky for BonaResponds he did! The Nerals and the BonaRespond volunteers were a great match and each side make fast friends.
In the course of a week tiles were laid in five rooms, ceilings were placed and mudded in three bed rooms and a long hall way. But more importantly each side became true friends with the other.
So much so that every day Jillian made food for all of the volunteers and the children came to know us all and the children and grandfather gave wild life tours of their property to see the Goats, Pigs, Horses, and chicken residing in various corners of the yard. As the week wore on, these tours and impromptu lessons (for instance today the grandfather told us how to determine if certain color bees could sting or where to fish locally) became more and more common.
Today as the work came to an end and it became apparent that we had to leave, the family gave us an outpouring of appreciation unrivaled in both duration and intensity. They cried. They hugged us. They asked us to write our names on their shirts and their walls. They wrote down our addresses and phone numbers. They invited us back (and even arranged transportation and lodging) and they cried. Both because they were happy with how much better their house looked and because they were truly sad to see us leave.
The Nerals have a long and difficult road ahead of them. Not only do they have to finish rebuilding their homes, but they have to do so without good jobs and with the pallor of Aids hanging heavy over their every decision. We did not solve their problems, but we helped the family and for a few hours every day we helped them have hope. You can do the same. Volunteer.
[all names are fictional but the story is 100% true]
At tonight’s dinner meeting we decided that we would like to continue to help the Nerals. Gabe told one of the volunteers that the family can not afford a dryer. We’d like to donate one to him. If you want to help organize (or pay for this) please contact us at BonaResponds@sbu.edu.