Wednesday, August 29, 2007

2nd Anniversary

29 August 2007 marked the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall, which washed away the lives of residents all along the Gulf Coast. From Waveland to Pascagoula, sunrise and sunset services remembered the past and departed while focusing our attention on the future and hope.

I went to the sunrise service in Waveland. On the horizon, clouds hung lazily in the air, a textured canvas upon which the sun's early rays could paint softly shifting hues of purples, reds, oranges, and yellows. As the sun gently shed it's light on those gathered, representatives from the Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, and Jewish communities led us through prayers and reflections.

The Total Experience Gospel Choir, a group from Seattle, sang. Pastor Patrinell “Pat” Wright's voice was beautiful - crystal clear, strong, full of soul, moving. The harmony of the choir, coupled with her solo, were perfect accompaniment to the service and the perfect way to begin a day of remembrance. Rather than create our own memorial services, we as Hands On Gulf Coast, decided to participate in the memorials occuring along the coast. Instead, we slowed the pace of work to allow our folks to reflect on the impact of the storm, progress since then, and work left to do.
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As I drove from the service in Waveland, I saw the still empty lots, overgrown with weeds whose rapid growth, fueled by semi-tropical sun and abundant rain, gave the appearance of encroaching jungle . The sight of their emptiness and their inactivity starkly contrasted to the glitz of Biloxi's casinos and the bustle of Gulfport's commerce along Highway 49.

Though I drive often through the devastated neighborhoods of East Biloxi, I am still amazed at the difference in progress between Biloxi and Waveland. Whereas Biloxi shows the beehive-like activity of paid construction workers and volunteer crews building and rebuilding, Waveland shows an eerie, serene quiet of aquiescense to forces beyond the average citizen's control.

Waveland is not as blessed with gaming revenue or major employers, so as a poorer community it loses in the recovery efforts. They are easily neglected and have the fewest resources available to start recovery, much less keep it moving. I think that's why it's important for folks like us to continue volunteering. Our presence on the Gulf Coast shows residents in the neighborhoods with the greatest needs that someone still cares and someone will still help.

Our presence gives residents hope to carry on the slow, laborious process of rebuilding. Though we, as volunteers, may not be able to solve every problem, we as citizens can keep policy makers and government officials focused on the problems of neglect and poor recovery to ensure that the Gulf is rebuilt.

Integral to the rebuilding efforts are the countless volunteers who gave freely of their time, money, and compassion to lend a hand. Thank you to all who have served on the Gulf Coast and thank you to all who will serve on the Gulf Coast.