“It’s More Than Rebuilding Homes”By Susan J. Meister
Northshore Disaster Recovery Inc. (NDRI) Director Dale Kimball believes that long term recovery is more than rebuilding homes. “We want to rebuild the whole community,” he said.
NDRI, in Slidell La., is one of the stations of the Louisiana United Methodist Disaster Recovery Ministry, funded by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). It serves as the Long Term Recovery Organization for St. Tammany Parish, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, which suffered extensive wind and water damage from Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
To help rebuild the community, a unique partnership between NDRI and Save the Children will establish two community centers at transitional living communities in St. Tammany Parish. This project is consistent with NDRI’s primary focus of working with persons in FEMA trailers. These two trailer communities, one with 400 units and the other with 150, do not have facilities for community activities, playgrounds or a park setting for children. This past summer, counselors from Louisiana Spirit, an organization that offers crisis counseling to hurricane survivors, conducted summer programs in the washeria that encouraged fun-filled events in the park areas.
Community Centers Will Offer Activities
NDRI purchased and leased two mobile homes, which will be used as community centers. The centers are stocked with lots of supplies. NDRI will coordinate activities including after-school programs, tutoring by high school students, counseling, and special Bible School programs by church groups. Kimball describes the centers as a fabulous opportunity. He foresees participation by volunteers with special skills who want to help children.
Rev. Marie Williams, chair of the NDRI Board of Directors and co-pastor at Aldersgate UMC (which houses NDRI offices), echoes Kimball’s enthusiasm. “I have a grandchild living in a FEMA trailer park,” she said. “There is no place to play outside, no trees – just row after row of trailers. The community centers will offer children and parents a way to experience some relief from the routine in a safe environment. What a treasure this is!”
Families in Parks Face Special Challenges
Shelly Gomez, a specialized child crisis counselor with Louisiana Spirit, helped lead the summer programs. “I am deeply concerned about the kids,” she said. Gomez notes that families in the parks have lived in their trailers for two years, and the stresses are many.
Teenager Shana Legnon lives in the park with eight people living in her trailer. She was so glad to start high school. “Thank God for school,” she said. “It gave me some place to go all day.” The community center will offer an additional place for Shana and her friend Scout to hang out.
Shanna Clark Gossia has four children, ages 4-15. Five year old Oscar loved the summer program, especially water fun day. His mom is looking forward to the activities in the community center to give her kids a safe place to learn and have fun.
More information about the work of NDRI and Save the Children can be found on-line. NDRI is one of the stations of the Louisiana United Methodist Disaster Recovery Ministry, funded by UMCOR.