Back Bay Mission Overcoming Obstacles To Help Needy - - The News for South Mississippi

Back Bay Mission Overcoming Obstacles To Help Needy

For years, a church bell served as a symbol that Back Bay Mission is a place that rings God's love throughout Biloxi.

"The bell was given to us back in the 1950's by a congregation in southern Illinois," explains the Rev. Shari Prestemon, Executive Director of Back Bay Mission.

When Katrina's storm surge swept through the campus, six buildings were destroyed. The bell and the administration building were the only survivors.

"We had a little over 5 feet of water in here, so basically everything we had was lost," says Prestemon. "It was devastating, because this was an agency people have looked to for more 80 years. We knew the community needed us then more than ever, but yet we had no set of tools to equip that ministry or those programs anymore."

So the Mission had to get creative. Within two months, trailers turned into temporary offices, and portable storage units served as a makeshift food pantry.

Not only has Back Bay Mission been able to continue its work, the ministry has actually expanded. Since Katrina, the organization has brought in groups from all over the country, every week, to repair hurricane-damaged homes and even build new ones.

"We're doing more housing rehab work, more emergency assistance work," says Prestemon. "We're also preparing to become an affordable housing developer as well for the first time."

And repairs recently started at the Mission's central office. That's where the bell still stands as a testament of hope.

"It still symbolizes the same thing - that we hope to be in this community, sharing God's love and compassion with as many as we can," says Prestemon. "We're eager to get back into this building, and resume some things and be able to serve our clients with more dignity and in better environment. I think our future's very bright."

Back Bay Mission wants to start construction on three buildings before summer of next year. The project is expected to cost about $2.3 million. Churches and individual donors are pitching in to cover more than half the cost.

By: Trang Pham-Bui

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