Katrina teaches them how to do unto others
When a Louisiana family showed up at their church, youth group members knew they had to do something.
By RITA FARLOW
Published October 30, 2005
In the two months since Hurricane Katrina flooded the downstairs of their two-story house, Carla and Mike Thompson have received no federal assistance. There's been no trailer delivered to their home in Slidell, La., no check received.
"They tell you you might be getting this or this, but we're still waiting," Carla Thompson said.
But the couple and their three children now have walls where just weeks ago there were gaping holes, thanks to a youth group from Gulfport that volunteered to help.
Members of the Life Teen Youth Group from Most Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church traveled to Slidell recently to help repair the Thompsons' home.
The group spent three days in Slidell, hanging insulation and drywall, repairing electrical outlets and replacing the ruined hot water heater. While there, the 12 youth group members, ages 15 to 18, their youth minister and two chaperones also spent time with the family, running errands, eating dinner and watching movies in the yard - drive-in style.
The experience was eye-opening for teens involved.
"It was better than just collecting money, because instead of just talking about doing something (to help), we went up there and did something ourselves," said youth group member Liz Biasotti, 16, of St. Petersburg.
They were surprised by how many people still need help after so much time has passed.
"We passed by one church, and I couldn't believe how many people were waiting outside that church (for supplies)," said William Eveland, 16, of St. Petersburg. "It's unbelievable."
William said he'd go back "in a heartbeat" to help out.
"It's really a wonderful feeling to help people who need it," he said. "If (we're) not going to do it, no one else is."
The teens and their youth minister, Nick Harper, met the Thompsons when the couple landed in Gulfport, where Mike Thompson's father owns a condo. The family rode out the storm with Carla Thompson's parents in Wiggins, La., about 180 miles northwest of Slidell, then got in the car and headed east toward Florida.
When they arrived at the condo in Town Shores, Carla Thompson opened the phone book, looking for a nearby Catholic church. She found Most Holy Name of Jesus, which she said immediately welcomed them. Eileen Plasse, parish manager, helped find schools that would enroll the children.
Bradley, 15, was enrolled at St. Petersburg Catholic High School, while 13-year-old Samantha and 8-year-old Emily attended St. Jude Cathedral School in St. Petersburg.
Carla Thompson said the response from the local community was overwhelming. The family received donations of school uniforms, clothes and money. They also forged a special bond with the youth group at Most Holy Name.
"We got to meet the kids and get to know them on a personal level," she said. "That's touched our lives forever."
The group left the church at 5 a.m. Oct. 20 for the 11-hour trip to Slidell.
The Thompsons' home, in the Bayou Paquet Estates subdivision, escaped structural damage but was inundated with several feet of water.
"They were actually flooded out and they had like 4 feet of water in the house, and they had wind damage, but not severe enough that they couldn't repair the house," youth minister Harper said.
Mike Thompson removed ruined furniture and gutted the downstairs. He removed the insulation and sheet rock before bleaching all of the studs to prevent the growth of mold.
Youth group members got to work as soon as they arrived.
"We started hanging drywall and mudding it right away," Harper said. "We got one room almost all the way done - put insulation in, put the drywall up. It gave them a space to sleep."
The boys camped out on the floor downstairs while the girls slept upstairs in the Thompsons' daughters' room. The youth group members finished their work on Oct. 22 and were rewarded with a trip into New Orleans. Harper and the kids said they saw flooded cars, destroyed buildings, even body bags being removed from houses on their way into the Crescent City.
"That's where the kids really started to see the damage," Harper said. "Houses on canals there were totally gone. No houses, just docks. Shrimp boats were either in the streets or (lying) in the flat bayous down there."
But the French Quarter was clean. Businesses were open and hungry for patronage. They attended Saturday evening Mass at St. Louis Cathedral, had dinner and did some sightseeing.
The trip was funded mostly through individual and corporate donations. The youth group collected money to defray costs for the trip at the church's annual Oktoberfest. To transport supplies, AAA Auto Club South, through its partnership with Penske, provided a 14-foot box truck for free. Hertz offered a discounted rate for two vans to carry the kids, and Lowe's home improvement store offered discounts on supplies. CED Electric in St. Petersburg donated all of the electrical outlets and covers at no charge, and Lake Hill Supply in Clearwater donated 45 12-foot sheets of drywall, enough that the group was able to give leftover sheets to another family in Slidell. The group is still collecting donations to cover expenses that were charged on Harper's credit card, like gas.
William Eveland's twin brother, Alex, said seeing the damage in Louisiana really hit home. Before going to Slidell, he said, he could only imagine what would happen if a hurricane hit this area.
"It makes you realize how lucky you are," he said. "We're blessed."
[Last modified October 30, 2005, 01:13:18]
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