Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spokane Diocese youth continue cleanup from Hurricane Katrina

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 4, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Teens and adults traveled to Waveland, Miss., to assist in the ongoing recovery from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. (IR photo courtesy of Dan Glatt)

Last spring, Dr. Rob McCann, executive director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Spokane, noted that his agency had some Hurricane Katrina refugee funds that had not yet been used. “We could either use this money for other activities related to the Katrina disaster or send the dollars back to (Catholic Charities U.S.A.),” he said.

In May, Dr. McCann contacted Dan Glatt, youth minister at Spokane’s Our Lady of Fatima Parish, and offered to sponsor a youth trip to Mississippi where participants would help out with ongoing post-Hurricane Katrina reconstruction efforts. “We chose to do this high school trip as it would be a great opportunity to connect diocesan youth ministry with (Catholic Charities),” Dr. McCann said.

All told, 18 youth – 10 boys, eight girls – from 18 parishes made the trip to Mississippi, accompanied by eight adult chaperones: Father James Kuhns; Bill Mcmillan, from St. Mary Parish, Spokane Valley; Joan Leeds, Our Lady of Fatima’s Director of Religious Education; Molly Mc-Kinnon, a French teacher and campus minister at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane; Debbie Glatt from Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Spokane, and Deacon Kelly Stewart, youth minister at Assumption Parish, Spokane. Tony Lapke, from Kalispell, Mon., also served as a chaperone.

“The parishes the students came from were balanced pretty well between urban and rural parishes,” Dan Glatt said.

The group left from Spokane International Airport on Aug. 11, flying nonstop to New Orleans, where they spent the first night at an airport motel. There they picked up rental vehicles, four minivans and a Jeep, and drove to Waveland, on the coast of Mississippi, 49 miles southeast of New Orleans. “We arrived almost two years after Hurricane Katrina,” Glatt said. “We stayed in an old wire factory, which was bought by this guy from Northern Ireland who is using it to build pre-fab homes, at a very reasonable rate, trying to get people into homes of their own down there. He converted the office structure, in the center of the building, into a dorm, and he said that this is his way of giving back to the community.”

Glatt explained that the organization the group connected with Waveland is St. Clare Recovery, a nonprofit started at St. Clare Parish, in Waveland, to funnel volunteers and resources to help get people back into their homes. “It’s the only nonprofit group left,” he said. “There were 10 groups originally, but the others were profiteering and they were shut down by the IRS, and so forth. There is so much work that needs to be done. Their biggest concern is getting people back into their houses and out of their FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trailers. Their goal, basically, is trying to get people back to where they were two years ago, back into their homes.”

The first day the group from the Diocese of Spokane was in Waveland, they attended the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Clare Parish, “which,” Glatt said, “is basically in a tent – it’s designed by a gentleman in Alaska who designed this Quonset hut-style tent. It’s used on Mount Everest at the base camp. He brought about 15 of them down there right after the storm and, with his crew, got them set up (for various uses). The church, the school, the convent, the rectory were all wiped out. There is literally nothing left. (The hurricane) sheared the metal right off the foundations. They found parts of the church miles away.”

Spokane Diocese youth and their chaperones helped prove the truth of this sign in Waveland, Miss. (IR photo courtesy of Dan Glatt)

Father Kuhns was among those who joined the Mississippi mission group. Thinking back on his experience, he said that what has stayed with him is “great sadness – there are so many city streets and driveways, and sometimes the stilts from the houses, and nothing else (remains); damaged trees, places overgrown with weeds; despite being green it was a very desolate place to me. Listening to the people with whom we worked, and some of the managers in the St. Clare Recovery project, that made the whole thing move from my head into my heart.”

Father Kuhns said that one remark, especially, stays with him. “When I asked Tony Doyle, the project manager for St. Clare Recovery, what his first impression was when he came back into town (after the hurricane), tears came into his eyes, and he said, ‘I saw my friends and neighbors hanging from the trees.’”

Glatt said that the group prepared their own breakfast and lunch each day, then each evening they went to a local restaurant for dinner. Some of the restaurants “were very generous to us on the price; they gave us a good discount. Even the TraveLodge that we stayed at going and coming had a Katrina Rate for volunteers, which was really reasonable.

“Our way of getting out into the community was by going out to dinner, and people were just amazing, so many would come up to us and thank us for being there. We’d say, ‘We really haven’t done much,’ and they would say, ‘Just by being here you have done so much because we’re afraid that we’ll be forgotten. We’re not New Orleans....’ The thing is that little Waveland, Miss., was Ground Zero. That’s where the eye of the storm came through. Tony Dixon, who was our volunteer coordinator, told us, ‘Waveland’s official death count was 54, but unofficially we know probably 400 people who have never been found. We know that because the post office continues to get social security checks and retirement checks, and there are no forwarding addresses, and we know those people would be looking for those, so we know it’s over 400.’”

The youth and their adult chaperones undertook two projects while they were in Waveland.

“There was a gentleman by the name of John Storm,” Glatt said. “He was in a wheelchair, and Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Jackson (Mississippi) had installed an electric wheel chair lift for him, to get in and out of his house through the front door. But if the power goes out he’s stuck, and also he couldn’t get to his backyard, so they wanted us to build a wheelchair ramp for him on the back side of his house. So we built a little deck with a 22-foot-long wheelchair ramp. He was so excited, so happy, because he can now get out of the house and be able to throw a ball for his two dogs. You could see his spirit just lift.”

The other project was for a woman named Deborah Cranmer. “She was a Registered Nurse and worked fulltime,” Glatt explained, “and she now has a brain tumor which is affecting her cognitive and motor skills. She lives like three or four miles from the Gulf, and she had 14 feet of water in her house. The last thing that needed to be done was to get two bathrooms sheetrocked. The bathtubs had been installed incorrectly, and she was very upset about that, and was having a hard time expressing herself about it. So Father Jim (Kuhns) and I took on this project with a couple of the high school students. We tore out the tub walls, got them squared back up the way they were supposed to be, reinstalled the tub walls the way they were supposed to be, and then got the two bathrooms sheetrocked. Then we got the first coat of mud on them, and hope they can get the finishers in there to get the second coat on there. This woman has been in her FEMA trailer for 22 months, and she’s just desperate to get out. It’s just heartbreaking.

“I think the highlight at her house was, after we got the sheetrock on, and the first coat of mud on, Father Jim blessed her house, and that really was just very emotional. Father Jim got the high school kids involved. He was sprinkling the holy water, and he’d say (to one of the students), ‘You sprinkle the holy water on this wall,’ and (to another student), ‘You sprinkle the holy water on this wall over here.’ So we went all through the house and blessed it. It was a very powerful experience.”

For more information about St. Clare Recovery, Glatt refers to the organization’s website, “Their biggest needs,” he says, “are for Lowe’s and Home Depot gift cards, because that’s where the supplies are. A box arrived one day from a church in Massachusetts, and they thought someone was being funny, sending them two bricks to help them rebuild. They opened the box, and it was like $9,000 worth of Home Depot gift cards. These were cards worth $5 and $10, $25 (each), that kind of thing. That’s how they keep going, getting people’s homes back into livable condition again.”

In addition to the work the Diocese of Spokane group did in Waveland, before they left the diocese, on very short notice teens and adults collected enough money from parishioners to bring along about $1,200 worth of Lowe’s and Home Depot gift cards.

The Spokane group left Waveland on Aug. 18, one week after departure from Spokane.

Inland Register archives

Home | Bishop | Communications | Parishes | Catholic Charities

© The Catholic Diocese of Spokane. All Rights Reserved