|Scott Houghton (left) takes a break with fellow volunteers John Simmons, Stoddard Reynolds and Otis Cox.
Dickinsonians have found many ways to support the Gulf region since Hurricane Katrina struck, whether through cash donations or sweat equity. Below are firsthand accounts from two Dickinsonians who wanted to share their experiences with Dickinson Magazine readers.
Brian Keefer ’85 spent 10 days in Ocean Springs, Miss., as part of a relief mission to the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast. He joined a handful of other volunteers to renovate a warehouse that serves as a food and supply distribution center, where nearly 100 families find help each day. It also serves as a temporary home for up to 250 volunteers.
“To witness the devastation a year after the hurricane, including entire blocks of homes completely wiped away, was heart wrenching,” Keefer observed. “But the spirit of the survivors and the volunteers was very heartwarming.”
Keefer is a communications consultant for Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in Princeton, N.J., and lives in West Chester, Pa.
“Although I have not been able to return to Mississippi or Louisiana, I have talked to local groups about my experience, and we continue to seek donations to aid the families in need,” he said.
Scott Houghton ’87 and 20 other members of Methodist churches from the Simsbury, Conn., area spent a week in May working on homes in Gulfport, Miss. The group split into smaller teams, each led by one of the contractors who volunteered for the trip. Houghton’s team reconstructed the home of Earline Spillers.
“The crew that had worked on her house before us had removed the siding from the outside and gutted the inside,” Houghton recalls. “It was just the frame of a house with studs and hardwood floors.”
Because he had prior experience, Houghton was in charge of drywall installation.
“I hadn’t done it in a while, but it came back to me quickly,” Houghton jokes. But he doesn’t plan to leave his day job as vice president of insurance consulting for Aon Consulting.
In Gulfport, where Katrina actually made landfall, the storm surge was 28-feet high. Houghton says that Spillers counted herself among the lucky ones because her house only flooded and could be repaired. Houses on higher elevations that weren’t affected by the water were demolished by the wind.
Houghton received word in January that work on her home was completed, and she was able to move back in.
“I was surprised at how optimistic all the residents are,” Houghton says. “As part of our training, aside from basic painting skills, we learned how to deal with people with post-traumatic stress disorder. We get down there expecting severe depression, but that’s not what we found. Earline was so happy, talking about rebuilding and moving back in. At one point she said she didn’t know that people would come and help her like that. It took Hurricane Katrina for her to realize what a great place the world is.”