The following is an aritcle from the Star-Banner by Jo Vanhoose.
The original can be found here.
Habitat volunteers soldier through soggy weather
BILOXI, MS – The sun didn’t show itself as it rose over Biloxi on Tuesday morning. A group of 16 volunteers – 14 from Marion County – huddled in front of a construction site, all of them filled with hopes to start building a Habitat for Humanity house as the sky filled with rain clouds.
The rain came early, just as the group began framing and hanging Sheetrock. A mist became a sprinkle, then a full-blown shower, a rain that would send any other construction crew off to an early lunch. The volunteers kept hammering.
“We’re here to work, and we can work in the rain no problem,” said Mike Mills, the leader of the Habitat for Humanity of Marion County group that is spending this week building homes a few miles from the Gulf Coast. “We don’t want to lose any time.”
They didn’t. The group scurried around during the rainstorm, not for shelter or to grab umbrellas, but to cover drywall and drive two-by-fours together.
Then, just as the group went to raise the home’s first wall, the rain stopped and the sun came out.
Or maybe it was just the volunteers’ spirit shining through.
“This is the reason I keep coming back here,” said Cindy Hoffman, who has made several trips to the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. “I love this. I love it all.”
The group from Marion County is one of hundreds that have descended on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to help rebuild homes destroyed by Katrina. Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army have established a permanent village in Biloxi to house the 150 or so new volunteers that arrive each week.
Phil Tritz, the construction supervisor for the Ocala group, says he’s worked with more than 5,000 volunteers to build more than 30 homes in just 18 months.
“Working with the volunteers, that’s the best part of the job here,” Tritz said. “It’s not all about the money, not just go, go, go.
“The people you meet on the job are just priceless.”
Tritz used that word to describe a few in the Ocala group, many of whom had never worked a construction job before coming to Mississippi. As Tritz showed the group basic building techniques, like how to swing a hammer and use a drill, a few volunteers looked wide-eyed at the table full of tools in front of them.
“I don’t have a clue,” said Marsha Holloway, who helped organize the trip.
“It’s just like baking a cake,” said Christina Binney, who has helped with Habitat homes before. “It’s baptism by fire, but all you have to do is follow directions.”
At 8 a.m., the group started work on what will become a duplex. Walls and insulation made up one side of the building, but the Ocala volunteers had to start with just a concrete slab.
By 10 a.m., half the volunteers stacked frames they made while others added a second layer of drywall to form a firewall. Just before noon, the first wall went up.
“I tell you, this is real fun,” said Oscar Brathwaite, a first-time volunteer from Ocala. “I’ve never done anything like this before, but I learn fast.
“It’s awesome to see everything coming together.”
By the end of the week, the Ocala group’s side will mirror the other half of the duplex. It sits on a wooded lot off an unlined street amidst some pasture land about 10 miles from downtown Biloxi. The families who will live in the two units must spend 300 hours on education and construction work. Many recipients, such as Mississippi native James Anderson, work on the homes they will live in.
Anderson, a retired Marine who will move into his new Habitat home with his wife next month, stopped by to help the Ocala volunteers Tuesday.
“I love doing the working and meeting everybody that’s helping out,” he said. “These people here are as nice as can be.”
On one of the walls, someone in the group wrote, “Bless this house and all who enter.”
Anderson thanked everyone in the group for the blessing he will soon receive.
“This is the only way I was ever going to get a house,” he said. “If it weren’t for people like this, the Gulf Coast wouldn’t be back to where it is now.”