May 15, 2008
PASCAGOULA -- There's still work to be done on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is the message seven Habitat for Humanity volunteers will take back to their homeland, hoping to inspire their countrymen.
Sean McShane, Jim Warnock, Jackie McGeown, Elaine Dobbyn, David Doake, Maria Guggan and Mary Morgan are from Northern Ireland. The group has been framing Habitat homes on Tucker Street all week. They laid down their hammers briefly as thousands of volunteers with the nonprofit organization were treated Wednesday to a block party at Merchants & Marine Bank in Pascagoula.
"So many people think that there is no more suffering here," said Guggan, who served as a team leader. "They don't understand that people are still struggling after Katrina."
Guggan, a first-time volunteer with Habitat, said she was amazed at the giving spirit of people on the build site.
"There's so many people that are willing to give up their time to be here," Guggan said. "They give up their vacations to become a partnership for rebuilding the Coast."
The build not only constructed homes, Guggan said, but has forged lifelong friendships for her and her group.
"None of us knew each other before," Guggan said. "But, we'll be friends for life and may return together again."
Warnock returned to the States on Sunday for his seventh Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project. The project is in its 25th year, and took place across the Coast.
"It's just very worthwhile when you see the owner's face light up," Warnock said.
Doake said the 24-hour plane trip to the U.S. was the most difficult part.
"We took the scenic route," he said, laughing.
As the volunteers dug into steaming plates of barbecue from Tay's BBQ and Scranton's Restaurant, Pascagoula Mayor Matthew Avara vowed not to cry as he spoke to the crowd peppering the courtyard of M&M Bank on Pascagoula Street.
"Over the last three years, I've seen so many people come into the city and do so many good and decent things," Avara said as his voice broke slightly. "You've made our city rebound quicker than I could have ever imagined. I am so honored to stand here and recognize what you've done. I can assure you that the people of Pascagoula are on standby, and if there's a need we are going to come and help you," he said as the crowd applauded.
Ricky Mathews, president and publisher of The Sun Herald, called the volunteers a light of hope.
"There's about 25,000 lights of hope here," Mathews said. "You brought the gift. We get more from you than just the hammer that you swing."
Marsha Kelly, deputy director of the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service, said it's still hard to believe that the state changed so dramatically from 33 months ago.
"It's been changed because of you," Kelly said. "We're inching toward 700,000 volunteers documented that have come to Mississippi to help us recover. We have another 50,000 homes that we need to rebuild and we've got a long way to go. We begin our day and end our day with the blessing of having you here."
The event was sponsored by the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, M&M Bank, Chevron Refinery Pascagoula, Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding and Clear Channel, said Carla Todd, chamber director.
"We're very fortunate to host this in Jackson County," Todd said. "Volunteers are a breath of fresh air. Everyone along the Coast needs to see that people still realize we're in need down here."