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Turning over Ike’s reins

New Covenant Presbytery assumes responsibility for volunteer village

December 10, 2010

A group of people on a roof of a red-colored house, working.

PDA/New Covenant volunteers begin reconstruction of a house in Texas City damaged by Hurricane Ike.Photos by Kendall Boyd. —Photos by Kendall Boyd

TEXAS CITY, Texas

While most other volunteers are packing up and heading out, members of the Hurricane Ike Recovery Team organized by New Covenant Presbytery are digging in for one final push at putting a roof over the heads of a few more displaced families.

To do so, they are hoping to get some much-needed assistance from caring volunteers.

"We kind of saw this coming," said the Rev. Mike Cole, general presbyter for New Covenant. "Donations from Hurricane Ike amounted to less than one percent of what was generated for hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Organizations have simply run out of funds. We watched our finances and prepared for a situation similar to the one we have now. We have the money to help a few more families, but we still need the volunteer labor."

In September of 2008, three years after the nation’s eyes were riveted to Katrina as it devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi, Hurricane Ike came ashore in southeast Texas.

The magnitude of its damage — more than $50 billion — has surpassed all other storms, making Ike the largest and most costly hurricane ever to hit the United States. The day after Hurricane Ike struck, 733,000 Texans found themselves unable to return to their home.

In the months following Hurricane Ike, volunteer villages were set up in Texas City and Port Neches by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Each village can house up to 60 people. Separate lodging is available for women. The cost of staying at the village, $20 per day for each volunteer, includes housing, food, tools and worship.  

Since opening in November of 2008, Presbyterians have gived more than 100,000 hours of volunteer construction assistance to help uninsured or underinsured and low income families return to their homes. The Texas City village and its sister village in Port Neches have generated nearly $2 million in labor and materials. Hundreds of houses have been reconstructed at an average cost of $15,000 to $23,000 per home.

Nevertheless, two years later there are more than 4,000 families still in need of assistance.

Today (Dec. 10), Presbyterian Disaster Assistance turned over the full direction of the volunteer village in Texas City to New Covenant and the Hurricane Ike Recovery Team. The village in Port Neches was closed in September.

"The transition will be very smooth," said Cole. "PDA left a substantial amount of equipment and has fully cooperated in making this as easy as possible. Things will run almost identical to the way they have been for the last year and a half."

Cole said that Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is the last denomination still doing Hurricane Ike recovery work along the Texas coast. He said the need is still visible and there are still “hundreds of families that remain homeless.”

"We easily have 60 homes that have been case managed, estimated and ready to be reconstructed," said Cole.

According to Cole, some of the displaced families are staying in government furnished trailers while others have been living with friends. A handful of them have been staying in their damaged homes. "From my perspective," said Cole, "they are uninhabitable, yet they still manage somehow."

Two groups are presently signed up to help in the coming months.

People working inside a house, constructing a ceiling.

Volunteers repair the basement ceiling of a house in Beaumont, Texas.

Between Christmas and New Years, a small group of young people from Plano, Texas will volunteer their time to work on some of the homes.  After the holidays, a group of 25 from the Reformed Church of America — based in Grand Rapids, Mich. — will arrive and plans to stay and work for three months. Cole said there is more than enough room for other groups to stay at the village.

To sign up or for additional information, churches, presbyteries or other organizations should contact the PDA Call Center at (866) 732-6121 or send an email.

Cole said that the Hurricane Ike Recovery Team plans to continue running the volunteer village through May of next year.    

"That's when we anticipate that our money will run out," said Cole. "Summer is also the least desirable time for volunteers. It likely has something to do with the summer heat in Texas."

A group of people sitting and standing together for a photo outside of a now blue-colored house they constructed.

Volunteers stand in front of the completed rebuilding project.

Cole is quick to point out that helping rebuild homes is far more than just swinging a hammer.

"We rebuilt a home for a Vietnamese family that had no extended family in the area," Cole recalled. "The family consisted of a mother, father, daughter and grandchildren. They had no insurance and no means to fix their home, We came in and made it livable and made sure that they had running air conditioning.

"The family later ended up coming to church. They said they wanted to find out what all the generosity and caring was all about. If I hadn’t seen it before, that told me for certain that we were doing the Lord’s work."

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