Back Bay Mission 2014 Reflections
Left Portland on a 7am flight via Delta, right on time to Atlanta with layover for connecting flight to Biloxi/Gulfport- actually arriving a little early. Rental car and 15 minute drive over to the mission center just before 12 noon, change of clothes and off the worksite and unite with work crew including meeting Kaylin and Wade of Church of the Palms UCC (Rev. Linda Harper's church) and the No Hampton NH UCC-good to see and be with them again. ( It was this group with whom we joined up with last year as a South Church group.) Home belongs to Dawn, nine years out of her home after Hurricane Katrina. Early contractors took her money early on and did mediocre work , leaving her with a home that would not pass inspection (ie. the entire house was re-wired and hooked up to only three circuit breakers! It was raised up upon cement blocks but supported underneath with 2x4 and 4x4's only-grossly inadequate). Mudding, sheetrock, drilling screws throughout the house; working along with Keith and Sandy- snowbirds working their way back home to MN; their first time at BBM. (They also brought greetings from Joanne Stoughton and Herb Henry now retired in FL but formerly served the Wells UCC congregation.)
Dinner was spaghetti, salad, garlic bread …. And an evening showing of the movie FROZEN with popcorn-what fun! Sleep was a bit restless getting settled. Loud trains.
Took a crew of four others to a US Air Force Veteran's home in Ocean Springs five miles away, fully gutted on the interior but outside envelope fairly good shape. Our task was a second coat of exterior paint and much caulking. Weather was mid 70's and nice to be outside, but a challenge putting green on green or white on white trim. Electrician team working on the inside. I think we all started to drag a bit in the afternoon. Stopped for ice cream on the way back to Mission, unloaded the trailer with staff member Bob of extra supplies. Supper was a great ~stir fry ~and some quiet time. Did see part of the Bruins game but only after we all went out to Dairy Queen- all 23 of us! Half the group came straight back and others to Winn Dixie grocery store. We do our own breakfast, make up lunches to take in a cooler then ready to roll at 8am to the work site.
Work at Dawn's home, sanding-sheetrock-sanding-mudding. Grunt work. But great folks and chance to talk with the home-owner with Chicago roots who worked along side us. Out of her home for nine years since Katrina. Tacos for dinner which was great, (saving money on healthy meals is not wise) some porch sitting getting tax advice from Bill and retirement info from Keith. Evening was quiet, actually dosed off in a rocker on the porch. And a quick trip down to the beach as a number of kids wished to 'jump in the Gulf'. Ah, to be young again !
Volunteered at Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen at the area Episcopal Church; met Bobby from last year, a Viet Vet and listening to more of his story. Had an NBA basketball contract of 1.5 million +, rolled an ankle three days before signing a contract and never could play at that level again. Also Miss Debra who was running the program, again from last year. Served breakfast and lunch, a break in the middle-Kaylin and I made a trip to the local bakery for some treats for the Kuhn Street crew at Miss Dawn's house-they were thrilled. We finished up with serving lunch, heading back to the Mission for our own lunch--- then our afternoon free---- booked a kayak bayou outing for two hours for all the youth. A few adults worked on siding at a home, and others of us shuttled the group in two vans for their outing with 'Capn Jeff' which they enjoyed (though arms will be tired, I'm sure, later tonight). Dinner is burgers/hotdogs on the grill - everyone signs up to do at least one meal, one cleanup, one preparation--- again, never a problem of help or cooperation. This evening, two folks of the area host us for a beach bonfire. Gerald is our site supervisor and long-term volunteer from KY who recently relocated to the area here (he has come to BBM for several years) and Harry who lost his home in Kartrina (seven feet of water in his house), BBM electricians and volunteers worked his house and he now has a home!
The beach is perhaps 2/3 mile from here and apparently there are fire pits for groups to 'reserve' for use. A new event for us. End of day was a bonfire thanks to Gerald and Harry, music by the girls, s'mores as well. Alex's cousin Brad and Amanda joined us along with their children William and Lucy who joined in singing songs from "Frozen"-Nicki gave young Lucy her sweatshirt as the air was chilly; an act of kindness and grace- no surprise there.
Off to Kuhn Street one more time, Miss Dawn working along side of us. Sanding, mudding and taping- not glamorous but steps closer for her to have a real home again. We ended early as the NH group would be on the road by 2pm, so it was pictures and hugs with Dawn in bidding her farewell. Back to the Mission building for lunch and wrap-up with session with Craig. Also the chance to sit down with Kenny Washington to learn more of possible future possibilities post retirement as a long term volunteer here. We'll see if truly for me and if so, in what capacity.
Good-byes to NH folks was hugs around- such tremendous group; such respect and affection I Have for them. End of day, Keith and Sandy, wade and Kaylin and I took up an invitation to Brad's company crawfish cookout (with burgers and hotdogs!), LIVE DJ entertainment and such hospitality. Back to BBM to pack up for the others.
Keith and Sandy were off in the car for MN by 8am….took Wade and Kaylin to airport to return to FL. I then went to Krispy Kreme for WARM donuts, to the beach for walking and reading. Explored Earth Day on the village green though not too interesting- mostly a yard sale by groups. Treated myself to The Shed for BBQ dinner, so good-and watched the end of Bruins game.
Church at First Missionary Baptist Church with Pastor Sonny Adolf including two baptisms, laymen's choir and speaker-Pastor remembered me once again with warm greeting- and he also spoke of BBM group (NH) who came to worship last week. Amazing worship in the deep south, Afro-American Baptist tradition. Afternoon was reading the paper at the beach, watching a bit of the power boat races in the bay, and back to BBM and met folks coming in from Spring Hill FL and informally coming to know them. Marilyn T. gave us the orientation which every time I learn a little more- never too old.
Orientation with Craig and Bob to begin the day, then a stop at the Veterans duplex just up the road which is now occupied; and adjacent will be a new 6 unit site for more homeless Veterans. Then onto Lee Street where the five of us worked on baseboard caulking and painting most the day, taking breaks and lunch on site. Home is of a family of 7, Vietnamese family all in a very modest 2-3 bedroom home. Don't think we'll meet the owners. Dave worked on baseboard installation in the kitchen area. Had a chance to talk at length with Craig of healthcare system - his and mine experiences- and what is covered in his/my UCC plan. Also about possible long term volunteer options here at BBM along with Bob part of the conversation which they strongly encouraged me to consider upon retirement.
Back to Lee Street location, more interior trim painting and caulking with our crew of six. Very satisfactory but realize I have to pace myself. Up/down on the floor and on my knees-not as young as I used to be! 4:00pm meeting with Kenny Washington, Director of Client services-Charles Brown, interim Exec Director - and Craig--- the importance of BBM is the value of 'immersion experience' , living it here 24/7 as opposed to a soup kitchen or Habitat project at home for a few hours then back to own residence - meal-bed- etc. Can't buy the experience with dollars…. it is community and fellowship. Good folks from FL though I am an outsider- quickly they take me in. Two of the eight have been here before. The other group from FL scheduled this week cancelled earlier. Approx 800 folks will come to BBM and volunteer this year. They are seeing some 'Katrina Fatigue' in terms of funding becoming thinner… yet serving the poor and marginalized has not and will not go away.
Back over to Lee Street - more caulking around baseboard and closest kickboards (oh, my knees and Back), then painting some interior doors and putting back on door knobs and latches- nice to be standing up. Lots done including final caulking around the kitchen counter with Dave doing the followup behind me as the day ended at 3:30pm. Back to Mission and a shower, dinner was burgers on the grill; then to 7pm Wed prayer service at local Baptist Church. The Pastor there had me sit up on chancel area and insisted I give the word/the message that evening--- humbling and exciting to simply speak from the heart and from spirit as it came. Perhaps six others in addition to our group of five that attended. That is the second Church down here I have been invited to speak. Afterwards, a quick trip to the Katrina Memorial, and back to the Mission building for card game of Euchre--- lots of fun.
Today would be our ½ day of work. BBM encourages such for all their groups. Partly to pace ourselves as none of us are accustomed to doing such labor, as well as to further explore/experience the Gulf Coast area/community/culture as part of knowing the people. We continued work at Lee Street, the owner dropping by briefly to pick up mail. Two guys worked on making screens for the windows, others of us worked on caulking and painting still. Beginning to look nicer and nicer. For the afternoon, I did some reading and walking down at the beach; did see some porpoises out along one of the piers. Several of the FL group explored the casinos and one (a retired minister!) played the penny slot machine and came out $ 270 richer !! Since it was her husband's birthday and we were all going to The Shed for fine bbq together, she treated us !
We wrapped up at Lee Street more touch up paint, screens to do, caulking around the kitchen counter and discovering the edge on some doors we missed altogether ! We had a wrap-up session with Craig during lunch time. (my plane was at 2:30pm and another couple was heading out for NC in the afternoon.) I learned that BBM does put a lien on properties with which they are involved. For example, if they put $20,000 into a house, they'll have a decreasing lien of perhaps $2000/year for ten years as protection of their investment. I had hoped to go out with Bob or Craig to experience an intake interview, but couldn't happen. Craig did encourage me to consider being a long term volunteer as a site supervisor (despite my lack of construction knowledge, I said?!) in considering future possibilities. Also spoke with another gentleman on staff as to similar option as part of their long term volunteer program, all of which is handled by the UCC in Cleveland. I flew home via Atlanta end of afternoon and evening, arriving safe and sound about 10pm.
BackBay Mission has an amazing history and impact upon the community. From first rounding up children for church school in the 1920's to the Civil Right's movement in the '60s to allow Blacks to share the beaches with Whites, to calling attention to the lack of any homeless shelters in Biloxi or Gulfport, to the plight of Veterans without housing or other services-BBM has played a vital role in these and other areas often being collaborative player in meeting needs. A unique ministry of our United Church of Christ from what I read and know far beyond housing recovery which allows all kinds of volunteers to 'find their place of service'. BBM is constantly seeking grant money for their budget of $1.7 million and a staff of 14, the other major support comes from churches of the UCC. The city of Biloxi funding will decrease from $110,000 to $ 55,000 for this year; a significant drop. Yet they are clear about persevering. As I observe Dawn working with us , eight years after Katrina still out of her house…… watch teen-ages offer manicure and doing the nails of homeless women during sessions at the Micah Center….. meet Bobby once again at Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen and he remembers us….. to the T.S.A. officer who said 'thank you for coming down'……to fellow Christians at Baptist churches rich in their own traditions…..the beat goes on of service and care--- we can do no less for those who are our sisters and brothers in Christ.