Huge volunteer response powers Disaster ReBuilders’ work in North Carolina

Huge volunteer response powers Disaster ReBuilders’ work in North Carolina

Photo: The Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders’ Aaron Ratliff with homeowner Norika Nakada at the Jan. 10 dedication of her repaired home.

Long-term recovery after a natural disaster is extremely difficult, and the work often is exacerbated by the lack of attention in the months and years as other disasters make headlines. It is in the trenches of this struggle that the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders work to rebuild homes, rebuild lives and rebuild hope for those in danger of losing it.

The Disaster ReBuilders’ newest base is in New Bern, N.C., helping families impacted by September’s Hurricane Florence. One week ago, they dedicated their first repaired home for the widow of a Marine Corps veteran whose house was damaged primarily by a large tree that smashed through the roof of her home and the water and mold issues that followed. (Click here for a photo gallery and a video from the dedication.)

The dedication happened while teams of volunteers from Orchard Park (N.Y.) Presbyterian Church and Auburn (Ala.) United Methodist Church were in town working with the Disaster ReBuilders. This is fitting because the two churches worked together with the Disaster ReBuilders last year on the Texas coast, where the Disaster ReBuilders maintain a current base of operations.

“A lot of those who signed up already are teams who came to work with us in Texas,” the Disaster ReBuilders’ Toni Karam Ratliff said Wednesday by phone in New Bern. “They had a good experience and wanted to come back. We’ve got over 700 volunteers over the next three or four months coming in every week.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that anything is slowing down in the Houston area. If anything, work there may still be increasing.

“For those west of the Mississippi, we’re still encouraging them to go to Houston where it’s closer and cheaper, which is a good thing,” said Ratliff, whose husband Aaron is leading construction efforts in New Bern after leaving the Texas work in capable hands. “That way, we can keep them flowing to both areas. Or, if we’re too full in one, we can shift and ask them to go to another. We want to make sure there’s enough work for everyone to do.”

While volunteers’ positive experiences working with the Disaster ReBuilders in Texas means they can find plenty of eager hands to serve in North Carolina, that track record of success in Texas also helped them set up shop very quickly in New Bern.

“We have been very, very fortunate to immediately connect with some wonderful people,” said Ratliff, referring to the Craven County Disaster Recovery Alliance. “They are all on board and have really put the word out there. When they looked at our website, they saw what we’ve done in Texas and were a lot more comfortable with it and saw the track record.”

The work in New Bern has been a little different from that in Texas, mainly because of a dearth of funding.

“In Texas we’re doing complete rebuilds, and here with the funding so far we are very limited,” Ratliff said. “We are having to go in and do surgical repairs. Then, if we get more funding or if a church sponsors a house, then we can do the kind of rebuild that we are used to doing.”

Ratliff added that there is a severe housing shortage in the area, so much of the grant money has gone to making critical repairs to get people back in their homes as soon as possible even if they are not 100 percent ready.

“The money is just not pouring in here fast enough,” she said. “We’ll go back with a phase two plan as more grant money rolls in or sponsorships come through. Of course, we’ll have to do the work while they’re living in the homes, but our plan is to go back in and make that a Fuller Center home and complete it. It’s taking a little while for the community to get rolling and the funding to come in. Hopefully that starts happening for these people.”

New Bern is a beautiful community of about 30,000 people with a rich colonial history and close proximity to the Carolina coast, making it a popular tourist destination. In a way, that has complicated recovery efforts as some officials work to paint New Bern in the best possible light, glossing over the struggling families and damaged homes.

“As a tourist town, hey want to make sure they don’t lose that income coming in,” Ratliff said. “But by covering up the ugly, then people forget and won’t know they need help here.”

Ratliff suggested striking a balance between tourism and recovery efforts.

“The people who vacation here are the kind of people who can help,” she said.

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volunteer with the disaster rebuilders


Auburn United Methodist Church blog post about their experience in New Bern


Mother, disabled daughter joyously return to Louisiana home flooded in 2016

Mother, disabled daughter joyously return to Louisiana home flooded in 2016

When historic flooding struck much of southern Louisiana in 2016, Teressa Bell helped her wheelchair-bound daughter Donna get to the second-floor deck of their home to await rescue by boat. But long after floodwaters receded, their problems continued.

They were among the fortunate Louisiana residents to receive FEMA money to make repairs on their home. Unfortunately, a crooked contractor absconded with their money without making repairs. With their remaining repair funds, they were again targeted by a shyster. They had nearly given up hope. Then the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders came along.

On Thursday, more than two years after their dramatic rescue, the Bells’ repaired home was dedicated with a huge crowd of volunteers and supporters in attendance, including U.S. Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana.

“We didn’t know we had so many friends!” an elated Teressa said after cutting the ribbon.

The Disaster ReBuilders have been working for the past month in areas of North Carolina in areas struck by Hurricane Florence and for the past year in east Texas helping families impacted by Hurricane Harvey. But two years ago they began working in Louisiana, setting up a base camp in Denham Springs — a small community in the heart of the flood zone.

Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center for Housing Executive Director Tamara Danel urged the Disaster ReBuilders to consider helping families who were falling between the cracks of traditional assistance offered by insurance and government agencies. Having worked with the Disaster ReBuilders since the days of Hurricane Katrina, Danel knew their expertise would be put to good use again in Louisiana.

“Thousands of volunteers from around the country have come to Southeast Louisiana to build and repair houses for low-income families, disabled families and people who just did not have the resources to come back after the devastation,” said Danel, filling in for Disaster ReBuilders President Bart Tucker, who was hard at work in North Carolina on Thursday with other members of his Disaster ReBuilders team.

“We’re just so happy to be a Christian organization that can partner with churches like Christ Community Church (local house sponsor) and with volunteers from all walks of life and all faith backgrounds to make simple, decent housing affordable and available to everyone in need,” added Danel, whose Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center has two new homes scheduled to be dedicated this coming Sunday.

Sen. Kennedy expressed his appreciation for all of the supporters and volunteers who helped make the project possible and shared the frustration the Bell family experienced with shysters.

“I’m so happy for this wonderful family, Teressa,” he said. “I want the name of that contractor who took your money and didn’t do his work because we’re gonna chase him all over Hades and half of Georgia until we can get him — I can promise you that.

“I don’t know why bad things happen to good people,” Sen. Kennedy added. “If I make it to Heaven someday, I’m going to ask the Good Lord. But what counts in life is not whether you fall down — we’re gonna always fall down some. What counts is whether you get back up.”

He noted that media attention quickly turns to new disasters and thanked those who continue to help families in the months and years of recovery after natural disasters.

“What counts is what you do in life when people aren’t looking and the cameras aren’t there,” he said. “And a lot of people did a lot of good for their fellow man and woman, and it just makes me proud to be a part of this great country.”

Before Teressa and Donna Bell cut the ribbon and entered the home, construction leader Peter Salemme presented the two with blankets created by volunteers, as well as an “instruction manual.”

“With new cars and appliances and such, there’s always an instruction manual that comes with it,” Salemme said. “We have two instruction manuals for you and Donna — the Holy Bible.”

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WBRZ-TV has a great report on the dedication that you can watch by clicking the image below:

Catholic Charities contributes $500,000 to Disaster ReBuilders’ efforts in Texas

Catholic Charities contributes $500,000 to Disaster ReBuilders’ efforts in Texas

Catholic Charities of Galveston-Houston is contributing $500,000 to the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders to house families and rebuild their homes that were damaged last year by flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Fox-26 television reports on the deal in the video below and notes that the Disaster ReBuilders are looking for more local volunteers as they continue their efforts over the next couple of years in the area. If you would like to contribute funds or volunteer hours to the Disaster ReBuilders’ efforts, please click here.

Ginger Ford Northshore, Disaster ReBuilders team up in Livingston Parish, Louisiana

Ginger Ford Northshore, Disaster ReBuilders team up in Livingston Parish, Louisiana

The Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center for Housing and the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders are teaming up to help two families in Livingston Parish, Louisiana — one whose home was devastated in the 2016 floods and another who had been living in substandard housing. The builds began in June, and they hope to have the families in their homes within two months. Volunteers from Quad Area YouthBuild Program and the Livingston Young Professionals are providing a boost to the effort, which began with a large group from Maryland called Dreambuilders, who came on June 18 to raise the walls. KSLA-TV has a new report on the build, featuring an interview with Ginger Ford Northshore Executive Director Tamara Danel that you can see by clicking the link below.

KSLA-TV report

Disaster ReBuilders bring many new friends for Harvey victim in Friendswood, Texas

Disaster ReBuilders bring many new friends for Harvey victim in Friendswood, Texas

(Photo: Lou Ellen Hatchett, seated, was joyful during the recent dedication of her restored home.)

Lou Ellen Hatchett has a crystal-clear message for all those folks — often dirty and sweaty — who kept marching in and out of her house earlier this year while she just wanted to return to the Friendswood, Texas, home that had been flooded by Hurricane Harvey last summer:

Please come back to see me!

Her home has been restored thanks to the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders and dozens of good-hearted volunteers who came to East Texas to help their fellow Americans get back into their homes.

Hatchett’s home sits several miles east of downtown Houston and just a few miles west of Galveston Bay. Nearby Clear Creek was one of many calm waterways in the area that became watery monsters after Harvey dumped rains measured in feet instead of inches in late August and early September. This is the area that is now flooded with good-hearted volunteers instead of rain, thanks to the work of groups like the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders. Still, reminders of the summer disaster abound.

“Here I am, sharing many blessings, while so so sad so many still hurt so deeply, hoping I’m able in some way to help them,” she wrote to the Disaster ReBuilders during a recent sleepless night when thoughts of the disaster and the recovery were spinning through her mind. She recalled how rising Clear Creek, “caused so many homes totally covered with water only two blocks from my home, from this biblical Harvey non-ending hurricane disaster that still looks just as it did when it first happened — so many neighbors who will never be able to move back into their homes.”

Many, though, are being helped by team after team of volunteers working through the Disaster ReBuilders. Hatchett is thankful for each one who came to help her. She called the volunteers who came from across the nation, “my new families — forever welcome to come again soon and be part of my life in my home as lifelong family and friends. … I wouldn’t have a home if it hadn’t been for them.”

“I don’t want to live alone anymore,” she added, “so I must reach out to my new friends and assure them of a genuine welcome to my home at any time. Just come see me — as real friends and neighbors.”

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TV REPORT: Disaster ReBuilders, volunteers continue to provide hope 6 months after Harvey

TV REPORT: Disaster ReBuilders, volunteers continue to provide hope 6 months after Harvey

You might not hear many people talking about Hurricane Harvey these days, but more than six months after the devastating flooding that hit East Texas many residents are still picking up the pieces of their lives. Groups like the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders and the many teams of volunteers who make their work possible are supporting families in their long-term recovery efforts and keeping hope alive in the region. KRIV-TV, Houston’s Fox 26, has this report on The Fuller Center’s continuing work in the area.

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Prayers Answered in Plaquemines Parish

Prayers Answered in Plaquemines Parish

Submitted by Bart Tucker
Director, Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders

Some of you are aware that we’ve been dealing with a serious technical issue for the four houses underway–the pilings at two of the four homes were cut short. One house was two feet below ABFE (advisory base flood elevation) and the second was one foot short. The surveyor revealed this when the second house was very far along in trim-out.

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Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders more than just re-building!

Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders more than just re-building!

Submitted by: Bart Tucker
Director, Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders

I hadn’t seen Malcolm (one of our first homeowners in Plaquemines Parish) in a couple of weeks so Alyssa and I stopped by to check on him. First thing I noticed was a great big empty spot where the FEMA trailer used to be! He came to the porch to welcome us but was moving slower than normal. Alyssa wouldn’t let me chat without checking out the animals—new baby ducks, puppies, bunch of kitties, baby wild boar in a pen, standard flock of chickens (numbers seem to be diminished including the four we raised), etc. Read More »