I spent the better part of last week in the Gulfport-Biloxi area of Mississippi on what was once the beautiful coastal beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. I had the distinct privilege and unforgettable pleasure of working with the incredible staff of the HOPE Community Development Agency.
On August 29th of 2005, the entire 60-mile coastline of the Mississippi Gulf Coast suffered 10 hours of unequaled destruction by Hurricane Katrina, resulting in such cataclysmic loss of life and obliteration of homes and possessions that the entire area eerily resembled dawn after a nuclear winter.
Just two days after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, in response to dire and immediate need to coordinate and support relief and recovery efforts, the East Biloxi Relief and Coordination Agency was created with the goals of sustaining hope and providing relief and comfort through synchronized action and helping the community regain control over its future. This group later evolved into the HOPE Community Development Agency.
Partnering with local churches and local volunteer organizations, it provided immediate food, shelter and basic medical care to the thousands of families whose homes were destroyed by the hurricane. In the following months, the event and those involved faded from the national headlines and many across the country wrongly assumed that everything was back to normal. Not true … by a long shot!
Five years later, I found myself piloting my rental car through various neighborhoods stunned by what I saw. While all of the casinos have been restored, I found many homes, retail establishments, fast food locations, and concrete bridges looking as though the initial devastation had occurred yesterday! I was astonished to say the least.
HOPE eventually evolved into a full-service resource center for residents—a place where residents come to share their aspirations and concerns regarding the rebuilding effort, to participate in planning for both the immediate recovery and long-term prosperity of their community, and create a shared vision for the future of their community.
This extraordinary team has rehabilitated more than 650 homes, with roughly 200 salvageable homes remaining; new construction of homes totally destroyed by the storm lags behind, though Hope has rebuilt approximately 35 new homes and has more than 70 in the pipeline. The homes themselves have been rebuilt in standard design while others boast futuristic designs perched high above the sands on steadfast stilts. The rental units have yet to receive attention.
In short, much has been accomplished and yet much has yet to be done five years after the initial tragedy. Talking with local residents you can sense the spirit of love, teamwork, respect and sense of loss they have shared in their quest to rise again from the mass destruction brought about by that massive force of nature. The unbending spirit of generations of shrimpers, fishermen, and other coastal families will insure the rebuilding of their homes as well as a limitless future.
It was indeed an honor to meet and work with those who have survived such devastation and emerged to rise again with an undying spirit. In a very short span of time, they taught me lessons I’ll never forget. For doing so, they have my undying gratitude and heartfelt thanks.
Our country has experienced many challenges over the past few years and many have lost much. We must endure a variety of obstacles and rise again to regain and maintain the greatness we know we possess.
Share this short video with friends, family and associates to realize the challenge we face, the potential we possess and the rewards which await us.