Gulfport Housing Recovery Program Comes To An End

Volunteers from Tennessee and Virginia spent Tuesday putting the finishing touches on a storm-damaged house on Second Street. They are among 6,500 volunteers who have been part of the Katrina Rebuilding Program at Trinity United Methodist Church in Gulfport.

"It's been overwhelming," said Carol Kawa, a volunteer from Kingsport, Tennessee. "To go into homes that have been devastated, to help rebuild, to meet the homeowners, to see the gratitude on their faces, has just been a real moving experience."

"It has been an incredible opportunity for Trinity to be involved in the community, to open their hearts and doors and to truly make a difference in people's lives," said Courtney Allen, Rebuilding Program Coordinator for Trinity.

The rebuilding program at Trinity actually began days after Katrina, when the church fed more than 35,000 people in three weeks. After that, volunteers came to clean-up 700 homes and rebuild more than 640 houses.

On Tuesday, almost two and a half years later, that extraordinary mission is coming to an end.

"This is the last official mission trip down here through Trinity Church," Kawa said. "It's very, very sad. It's been a very emotional time."

So for the last time, Trinity volunteers gathered for an emotional house blessing service. It's a house they've been repairing for Jack Bethea, so he can have a home for the holidays.

"You are almost whole again, and you have a safe, secure, and dry place," Allen told Bethea.

"I was pretty moved. It's a real blessing," Jack Bethea said. "I'm a religious person, maybe not as much as I should be, probably more so because of the volunteers."

"Building hope and rebuilding lives, and that is truly what we've been able to do here," Allen said.

The Trinity volunteers have made numerous trips to the Gulf Coast, some as many as 18 times. They say they will continue to come back and work with local churches, as long as there is a need.