Alex and Emily Scott of Unionville wanted to do something to help the people of the Gulf Coast, and their parents found a way for the whole family to lend their hands to the massive effort of picking up the pieces left behind by Hurricane Katrina.
Bob and Trish Scott, 15-year-old Emily and 19-year-old Alex volunteered for a week at Camp Coast Care in Long Beach, Miss. in February and came back fully realizing the enormity of the task of cleaning up and rebuilding the coastal communities, knowing how much there is left to do and wondering how it will ever get done.
But, they also came away feeling they had made a difference in at least a few of the lives turned upside down and inside out by the storm last August. And, they are hoping to return and give more time and muscle.
"It was time we could afford to give," said Bob Scott of their family plan to help. Alex Scott, a freshman at Bates College in Maine, had a week off from school.
A friend from college also joined them at the camp. Emily Scott had permission from Unionville High School to take off a week to do aid work in the hurricane zone. She is writing a story of her experiences for the school's Indian Post newspaper.
Bob Scott is a retired surgeon, but wanted to help not so much in the medical tent established by the camp, but out in what remains of the residential areas, clearing debris. He said you hear about it on the news and see so much film footage, but the devastation is unimaginable until you are there and can see the extent. Words cannot adequately describe it, he said.
"It was like a tsunami for which you had warning," said Bob Scott. He explained that while most residents were able to flee, their houses and all their possessions were washed away with the 30-foot surge of water. Those possessions are now the debris that covers the landscape.
Tattered clothes, smelly trash, smashed and waterlogged vehicles, battered appliances, unrecognizable furniture and every thing all those many residents owned now lies everywhere along the coast. The sides of the roads are piled high with timber. In most cases, Trish Scott said, "it was like the houses were never there," but all their pieces and all that was in them are everywhere.
Camp Coast Care is a "mission point" for Lutheran Episcopal Services in Mississippi. The camp hosts between 150 and 200 volunteers a night, offering them a cot on which to sleep, showers and three hot meals a day and sends them out in the day to "clean up and rebuild local homes and communities," according to its Web site.
Trish Scott said while her family attends a local church in this area, they are not members of either the Episcopal or Lutheran churches and volunteers do not have to have an affiliation, just willingness to work.
Although she had never cleared timber or done similar work before, Emily Scott said she spent her days there cutting up and hauling wood to clear properties. She said she loved the feeling of knowing she helped someone. One day, she said, they helped a woman whose house still stood, but every tree was down, covering every inch of her property. She was physically unable to do the work herself and was so grateful for their help. Before she would let them leave she asked them in and loaded them down with Mardi Gras beads as a thank you gift.
"Everyday made you feel really, really good about yourself," she said.
Bob Scott said their most gratifying day was one spent clearing the property of a couple in their 80s who could never have done the work themselves in their lifetimes.
Their team of nine workers cleared the debris in a day, "piece by piece." They knew they had made a difference when they arrived home and received a touching letter of thanks from the elderly couple.
"I must say, the kids worked really hard, but had a really good time doing it," he said. The spirit and enthusiasm amongst the volunteers was infectious, motivating and inspiring, he said. At each meal the family would meet new people from all over the country, some of who were making return trips to the camp to volunteer.
At the camp, currently housed on the campus of the hastily rehabilitated Coast Episcopal School, volunteers are asked also to do chores there, allowing the camp to run efficiently and cleanly in order to allow the volunteers to keep coming and keep helping. The Scotts washed dishes, among other chores, which are carefully outlined to enable newcomers to get right to work easily. The Scotts agreed that the camp was comfortable and user-friendly.
According to the camp's Web site, campcoastcare.com, the Gulf Coast now is heading into the reconstruction phase and the mission needs skilled sheetrock installers, carpenters and roofers. But anyone willing to lend a hand is more than welcome. There is no minimum or maximum amount of time required. The Web site volunteer page stressed, "Flexibility and patience are the best skills you can bring with you."
The camp sends outreach teams out daily to find storm survivors in need of their services, determine their specific needs and then sends out the volunteer crews to do the job. Most people that come to the Camp Coast Care for medical help or food have been without homes, transportation, work or even a means of contacting family members for more than six months now. They are so grateful for the help the mission gives. Many have lived in tent cities since the disaster, waiting for a FEMA trailer. "A lot of these people were just getting by to begin with," Trish Scott said.
Bob Scott said most residents who lived inland had no flood insurance because no one imagined the Gulf of Mexico flooding "with a wall of water 25 to 30 feet
High" as far inland as three miles, as it did with Hurricane Katrina.
Emily Scott said she was told 286,000 homes were destroyed and Gulf Coast is expected to be a disaster area for five years. Her father added, between 1,200 and 1,600 people are still missing.
"It's so big. There's no quick fix and no easy answers. It just takes one hand at a time willing to help," Trish Scott said.
While it is hard to recognize now, Bob Scott said, a lot has been accomplished in six months. "If you chip away at it a little bit at a time, cumulatively it will happen."
Many organizations offer similar volunteer opportunities in the Gulf Coast region. A quick Google search revealed numerous church-affiliated missions, as well as the widely known Habitat for Humanity and American Red Cross.
The Scotts experiences left them wanting to do more. Bob Scott said it was a great family experience, living and working at Camp Coast Care. "It was a calm feeling
of maybe we belonged there. We were supposed to be there and we're supposed to go back."