Louisiana family featured in “Good Morning America” report celebrates home restoration
HAMMOND, Louisiana — When Hurricane Ida roared ashore in southern Louisiana, residents of communities farther inland knew they were likely to be impacted, but few expected the severity of the storm so far from the coast, such as in communities like Hammond, Louisiana.
The Williams family — Benjamin and Courtney and their seven children — was one of those who felt Ida’s full wrath. After the electricity went out and then water began pouring through their roof into their home, Courtney had just one mission: Keep the family together — no matter what.
In the dark of night, amid raging winds and torrential rain, each of the family members clung to a rope as they crossed the street to the relative safety of a neighbor’s home. Their home was taking a beating, but they were together.
When they looked for a place to stay while their home was either repaired or demolished, the closest place they could find that would accommodate their entire nine-member family was two states away. They decided to stay in their waterlogged, cramming together to sleep in a single room. Yet, when the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders offered to help the family, their first response was unexpected.
“When we came on the scene to see if they needed help, they were quick to say that someone else probably needed it more,” Disaster ReBuilders board member Heather Westcott said. “I can’t imagine that anybody would need help more than a family of nine whose roof had collapsed. But that’s just the type of people that they are.”
A second visit yielded the same response — that they should find someone else who needed help more. “She just kept trying to shoo us away, so I just had to go there,” Westcott said. “After about two or three hours, I finally convinced her that maybe there was a way we could help her.”
The family agreed, so long as they could stay in the house while the work proceeded. From September through January, they endured the sounds of saws, air-compressors, drills and hammering as volunteers came and went. The first order of business was to repair the roof, then they gutted most of the house — all the way to the studs in three of the rooms.
“What mattered to her was that the family stayed together,” Westcott said. “She really appreciated that we recognized that. We found a way to honor what was important to them in addition to rebuilding the home.”
The project caught the attention of “Good Morning America” journalist Robin Roberts, who played college basketball at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. Roberts came to Louisiana to do a report on the one-month anniversary of the storm. (See video at then end of this report.)
“Because she’s from there, she recognized that it takes a long time to recover,” said Westcott, who was interviewed by Roberts for the story, along with Benjamin and Courtney Williams. “She knew that everybody had completely forgotten about it. She was able to shine a spotlight on the fact that there were people still coming there to help and that there were people there who still needed help. She made a point of coming to Louisiana and featuring that and putting a focus on that.”
The hard work came to fruition in January of this year as the home was completely rebuilt, including the new roof, walls and flooring. The Disaster ReBuilders even threw in an unrelated kitchen upgrade as a Greater Blessing because they believed it was too outdated for the large family.
“They had a modest, well-used kitchen, and when you’re feeding a family of nine, you need something much better than that,” Westcott said.
Though the work was completed in January, the soonest that the family was able to gather volunteers and supporters together to thank them with a proper home dedication was Wednesday. Though it was a few weeks coming, the dedication was emotional and filled with expressions of gratitude.
“Through this experience, God was working in me to humble to accept not only be the person who gives all the time but to also receive,” Courtney told the gathering. “That was hard for me. Going through this, week after week, and what you were willing to do, and all the people who came and were willing to work, giving your time and your talents even though you didn’t know us — it was just so humbling. It was overwhelming, and I didn’t know how to accept it. But God was truly working in me to get me to see that’s the way He designed things. You can’t always be the giver. Sometimes you need to be the receiver so that you can continue to be the giver.”
That giving spirit is one of the reasons volunteers fell in love with the family, Westcott said.
“They’re the most God-fearing, God-honoring Christian family,” she said. “When we gave them the Bible, I said, ‘I know the last thing you need is another Bible, but we know this is your foundation and this is the home’s foundation and that you’ll give this to somebody who needs it and you’ll continue to spread the love of God.’ We feel really good about dedicating a home like that because we know it’s going to support people continuing to do some amazing work for God and for his glory.”