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Published:April 5th, 2007 07:42 EST
Gulf Coast Residents Still in Need  - Interview with Jeff Gordon, Volunteer

Gulf Coast Residents Still in Need - Interview with Jeff Gordon, Volunteer

By Mark Palangio

The media’s coverage of the devastation that Hurricane Katrina left in its wake has been dying down considerably as time continues to pass after the tragedy. It has been well over a year since Katrina hit, but people do not realize there is still a lot of work to be done in New Orleans and the surrounding areas to get them restored back to normalcy. Jeff Gordon, a local Morgantown resident, is one of the people that does realize how much work still needs to be done, and he decided to take action.

Gordon headed to Pascagoula, Mississippi for six days with a close friend, Robert Wood, as a volunteer. He chose to go to Mississippi rather than New Orleans because he felt Mississippi was not getting nearly as much aid. The destruction there was not as bad as in New Orleans, but the people there were still in need. Gordon felt that because Mississippi is the poorest state in the US, and because Jackson County is the poorest county in Pascagoula, that area was overlooked.

“The poor get very little attention in this country,” said Gordon.

In talking about his experience in Pascagoula, Gordon seemed to stress a few important issues, with one of them being that more people need to volunteer and get involved rather than relying on the government to do everything.

“Most people don’t see it anymore, you have no idea how many people are living in FEMA trailer parks,” said Gordon.

One of the major needs in the reconstruction process is skilled volunteers according to Gordon. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other skilled workers are in great demand. Unskilled volunteers with no construction skills are doing a lot of work, which leads to a lot of things being done the wrong way, things that will not last, such as shoddy repairing of leaky roofs on houses.

“A lot of stuff looked better, but wasn’t built to last,” said Gordon.

While he was in Pascagoula, Gordon teamed up with Annie Card and Tammy Agard from the Mississippi Home Again program, a non-profit organization established to help Mississippi Gulf Coast residents with limited financial resources to resettle in their homes after Katrina. During the six days he spent in Pascagoula, Gordon helped work on five different houses in the area, two of which needed major work, and three others that just needed some minor patchwork.

One of the two houses he worked more thoroughly on belonged to a man named Houston Banks. Banks was a 76 year old whose house, which was much more a shack than an actual home, needed a new kitchen and rewiring. Banks was injured back in the 1960's when he worked for a utility company, and now he also has asbestos and lead poisoning as well. Gordon said Banks was always in pain, but he was always upbeat and a joy to be around.

“He would laugh and tell us stories, it was pretty amazing,” said Gordon.

Another home that Gordon worked on was that of a retired social worker who helped people for over 20 years at her job, and ironically, she could not get any help when she needed it the most. Mold was a major problem because of all the flood damage, and she had breathing problems already, which made things even worse.

“It broke my heart,” Gordon said when talking about her situation, “Every time I think of that woman it brings tears to my eyes.”

Gordon stressed that he believes more positive stories need to be published and made known about what is happening in Mississippi and New Orleans; he feels that is the only way to get more people to volunteer. The media has been covering the devastation less and less over time, and it just gives the public a sense that everything is fixed, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Gordon has a ton of respect for people like Annie Card and Tammy Agard, who just put their lives on hold to help those in need.

“If more of these stories made the headlines, I think more people would be inspired,” said Gordon.

Gordon hopes to inspire people to get involved with his story and sharing it with others. His experience was intense, and he said it was both very rewarding and extremely depressing at the same time. Part of his frustration with the whole situation was the fact that a lot of people cannot get help from the government, and there are not enough volunteers to help everyone. He said he would love to go back and help some more, but he also said he needed time to recover.

Gordon even admitted he was paralyzed by the logistics of the situation right after Katrina hit, and he did not know exactly where to start or what to do to help. He did get involved though, with the help of his friend Robert Wood, and now he is using his experience to try to get others more involved. Even though it has been almost a year and a half since Katrina, it is not too late to help.

Some suggestions he gave for people who want to get involved but do not know where to start would be to contact someone like Annie Card (anniecard@yahoo.com) from Mississippi Home Again (http://www.mississippihomeagain.org/), or another similar group such as Habitat for Humanity (http://www.habitat.org/).