COLUMBIA — In mid-December 11 Home Works volunteers from Columbia, Greenville, the Isle of Palms, S.C., and Augusta, Ga., traveled to Covington, La., located about 45 minutes northeast of New Orleans.
The trip was made possible through the initiative of Bishop Dorsey Henderson of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina. Both the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina and the Catholic Diocese of Charleston sponsored the trip, spiritually and financially.
With the assistance of Covington Councilwoman Jan Robert, local homeowners were identified as potential recipients of home repairs. When the Home Works volunteers arrived in Covington and drove through the streets, they passed house after house with blue tarps on the roof. Covington wasn’t affected by surging waters but rather by high winds and rain.
The efforts of the Home Works volunteers were concentrated on homes that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Barbara Harrell’s home was one of seven repaired during the weeklong endeavor. Part of the tin roof of her residence had been ripped off, and there was ceiling damage in the kitchen below.
The home of Lena Wilson, 84, also had roof damage, as well as damage to the ceiling in the bathroom.
The memorable part about the trip to Covington was not making home repairs but rather discovering the hospitality and spirit of the people who live there. Rev. Chad Willis, pastor of Covington Presbyterian Church, offered the use of the church’s Presbyterian House to the Home Works volunteers. It was home for the week. It was a place that witnessed area churches and businesses, in spite of their calamities, providing meals (many homemade) for the Home Works volunteers and also for the homeowners.
The appreciation and gratitude shown by the residents of Covington culminated with a dinner the evening before the trip home. Christ Episcopal Church and its pastor, Father John Bauerschmidt, hosted a “thanksgiving” meal complete with candlelight and dessert, not only for the Home Works volunteers but also for the homeowners. It was truly an evening of giving thanks.
This is, however, a tale of two cities. On Thursday of that week, the volunteers travelled to meet Father Roger Allen, Episcopal chaplain of the Chapel of the Holy Comforter adjoining the University of New Orleans. It would be a trip that the volunteers could not have imagined, or would ever forget.
The 11 Home Works volunteers accompanied Father Allen to his former home to bring back to his chapel and living quarters a few of the things that he was able to salvage from the flood that destroyed New Orleans.
When the volunteers arrived at his home they found a structure ravaged with mildew, with heaps and piles of water-soaked furniture, clothes and books. Almost everything in the home was beyond consideration of saving. Water had risen seven feet inside the house.
Father Allen directed the volunteers to load a few household items and mementos that barely took up a 5- by-12 foot space in the trailer. Father Allen’s last comment was, “I now have closure and can now leave here in peace knowing I won’t have to come back.”
Driving through the New Orleans neighborhoods was eerie. There were no dogs running around, no birds flying, no green grass or other signs of live vegetation.
One could not help but notice the ominous water line across the front of the houses. Paint sprayed on each house indicated what search and rescue team had inspected the home, the date it was inspected, whether any people or pets were found inside, and whether they were dead or alive.
There were many unforgettable sights and smells — in particular the homes with a four-foot section of the roof cut out to gain entry into the home and perhaps rescue a person who had taken refuge in the attic.
The images of cars propped on top of other cars, the emptiness, the debris on the curbs left by homeowners clearing out their homes, the barricades — all made an indelible imprint in the volunteers’ minds and hearts.
Another Home Works trip to the Covington area is planned for March 18-26. The trip is sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina and the Catholic Diocese of Charleston.
Volunteers, regardless of their skill level, will do more than repair homes. They will convey a message of hope and love to their brothers and sisters in need. It’s all about working in an ecumenical spirit that will help bring life and normalcy once again to a region in despair.
To get involved
Home Works has many opportunities for worthwhile projects. Contact director Hank Chardos at (803) 781-4536 or via e-mail at Homewrksc@aol.com.