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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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WAVELAND, Miss. -- In a sense, Jose Luis and Maria Martinez created this situation themselves by moving to the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina with their four children, no place to stay and no job guarantee in pursuit of what so many want: The American Dream.

“We do this for our children,” Maria, 39, says of having left Houston in a run-down minivan with the hope that Jose Luis, 49, could cash in on the Katrina work boom that has drawn countless Hispanics to the hardest hit areas.

The family made it to Waveland, thinking a friend here would line up work hanging sheetrock for Jose Luis, but the jobs never came through.

Maria recalls that after a first night in a hotel charging $300 for one bed, the family spent several nights in their car, then in a small tent on a strip of grass along Highway 90.

Sandra Reed, an administrator at the Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District, was handing out tents to homeless families with school-age children when she and a Spanish-speaking teacher came across the Martinez family.

“They couldn’t even stand up in it,” she says of the pup tent they were living in. The family received a stand-up tent and the educators saw to it that the eldest child, Julissa, 7, got enrolled in school. “The need was just so stark,” Reed says of the effort expended to help the family.

Gutted building becomes home

Several weeks later, the family discovered a gutted building that was uninhabited and moved in. The owner later found them living on his property, but after hearing their story said they could stay.

Hispanic work wave sweeps gulf

The building was much bigger than the tent, but also more dangerous: nails from exposed beams, rusty equipment and a shower in a loft area that sagged anytime someone walked on it.

The conditions were just short of squalid, and Jose Luis wasn’t making much financial headway. Since he speaks English and has a green card, he was able to recruit other Hispanics and contract his crew out at various job sites, but the work was unstable at best. After one job, he was left with just $85 for two days of work. And every job required him to pay his team from day to day, while the contractors paid him only after the work was done.

About the only thing going right for the family was having met Reed, who also saw to it that Maria took her youngest children -- Juliana, eight months, and Gabriel, 3 – to a nearby health clinic after they developed ear infections.

Turning a corner

That visit not only helped the children, it would prove to be the Martinez’ ladder out of the post-Katrina hole they had fallen into.

Maria and her children quickly caught the attention of staff at the clinic, which is run by the Loudoun Foundation, a Virginia-based charity.

“These people have really touched a lot of people I work with,” says Tracey Parent, who heads the foundation.

So the foundation offered to take the entire family to Virginia for a chance at a new life. “We have a place for them to live and a job for him,” Parent says. “We felt they could make it on their own if they had the opportunity.”

Parent says Maria was prepared to leave right away, but that Jose Luis was reluctant to give up on Katrina work just yet.

Two days later, though, the entire family decided enough was enough and Parent flew down to accompany them back to Virginia.

'Do they deserve to rot?'

Parent realizes that the locals impacted by Katrina have their own tragedies and long-term needs, but says that shouldn’t mean not helping people like the Martinez family.

“My goal is to provide an opportunity, not charity,” she says. “It’s not my job to find fault or pick and choose. It’s unfortunate they picked that spot (the Gulf Coast), but do they deserve to rot?”

Maria, for her part, is already thinking of the possibilities -- including work for herself and day-care and schooling for the four children.

Reed, she notes with a smile, “told me I was too young not to be able to go out and do something with my life.”

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A wonderful story. Any family that is in this country legally, and is willing to work, as this mother and father are, deserves all the help they can get. Jose and Maria, I hope you find your dream, and I'm sure you will make it happen.

I truly hope that they find a good life for the whole family.

Why should a feature story be about someone who came to Waveland looking for work. What about all those in Waveland and BSL who lost their jobs and homes to the storm. I may sound heartless but so many are in need down there. What about opportunity for them. Some still livng in tents, waiting for trailers. Are these people even citizens of this great country?

I live here on the coast of Mississippi, daily I see the misery that our people are going through. This family hurts also, isn't there enough love to go around to others? If you have any love to spare then consider giving whatever you can to the animal shelter in Waveland. Before the storm I had the opportunity to stay with a good friend that was involved with the Friends of the Animal Shelter in Hancock County. They were one of the best group of people that did a great job of helping unwanted animals that I have ever come across. Now I have heard that the conditions are horrible, everything they did to make this somthing to be proud of in making things better for companion animals is destroyed. Like I said, there should be enough love and concern to reach out to all in need.

I am sure there is residents in this area who are in much more need than these people. The hispanics invading the region and lowering wages for the local residents is a real issue. I have been told the wages are so low now that many NO residnets do not want to return and I do not blame them. When does the Federal Govt have the guts to take action on immigration and focus on those who are citizens and need these jobs in the area with a liveable wage. What a sham

Good going, only in America can a hard working man and woman find an opportunity in the midst of the rumble of a natural disaster. Since I live in Southern California I know that the Hispanic population is the backbone of the working industry. I hope that this family finds their hopes and dreams in America.


Peggy, it's a vicious circle. Jose up there is looking for people to pay him. The people down in the effected area are looking for their gov. or fema or insurance company to give assistance. You'd think after paying premiums and taxes as long as these people did it would return vin aid. Not so. I hope everything turns out alright w/Jose. But even more wish that Katrina never happend. Your going to need those workers down there Peggy (legal or not so legal, they will go to where the work is). For a steady pay check, they will work very hard. Too bad they couldn't stay longer. The extra pair of hands help. If your in Waveland, good luck to you and yours.

Going to the coast "with hopes of cashing in on the Katrina work boom..." I'm not sure how I feel about that; I mean, so many people that live there still need help and this agency took care of this family before the locals? I don't agree with that at all; if they went to the coast on their own, let them leave on their own.

My God,another story to feel sorry for all of these people who should not even be here.Lets worry about our own people tahat are homeless and have not found work.All those people he subs out will not even pay any taxe's anyway,as well as himself.Lets just get ready to pick up all his health bills and the people he won;t even pay for their services.Wake up America!

I agree with Peggy and don't want to sound heartless as well. It is hard enough on us to provide for victims of the storm, much less to provide for immigrants. God help us all.


This is really sad and I pray for the victims everyday.

I think that this is a great story and I wish the Familia Martinez a Blessed Christmas. I also wish all who have suffered from Katrina a Blessed Christmas and Happy New Year, my thoughts and Prayers are with you all. God Bless!

Mr.Martinez is finding what a lot of old hurricane vets know. No full time money from constction till the insurance settlement. Which don't come through til 2-3 years from now or the Fema does something which is like that $85 he got,too little. No one should rush in after A Hurricane ,but they do and becxome vics. Jesus can't make them understand no 'BIG' payoff in Diasters,None. Some last 30 years later they come sort of,that one thing CNN,MSNBC don't see or tell those Hurricane diasters last 30 years still people recovering from the cane in '64 or '84 in Texas or Missippi. I was in Hempstead.Fla. I found people still homeless three years after the hurricane. They were,under the radar, something people with computers don't understand. Thirteen people living in a alley,using a bowling alley for restroom,living in tent in a swamp,next to the canal,by the highway that they panhandle at. So, it is good to the New Victims of Hurricane Katrina,Allen ,Rita,Beulah,or whatever.

Well let me tell Peggy and those that follow her train of though, you are heartless. Remember one thing that these are people we are talking about so let also remember that the same attitude existed throughout the history of this country and the mentality of seeing others that are not like them as lower forms of human beings. My heart actually goes out to those people that think like Peggy, then the immigrants that have come to contribute to this country. Take care and may your heart find some warmth during this this season, and throughout the year.

Thank you MSNBC - As New Orleans and other areas hit by these natural disasters show how they are really struggling to try to survive, and the kind of organization needed to stay there to document and employ people where they are needed down there is staggering, if not overwhelming.

The only hope they / we have in any real sustained recovery is thru donations of our time and money sent down by those who wish to help - "those less fortunate than themselves."

Stephen Rene
"Together We can & are Making a Difference"

I feel that if this family had a home and a job in Houston they should have stayed here. They should not be taking help that others need so desperately in that region. There are also families still in Texas waiting for homes, jobs and trailers after Katrina.
We only hope and pray that those people dont have too spend Christmas in tents because their homes were destroyed and FEMA isnt doing enough.

I am embarrased that in this season of giving that some people have such a hard time with helping others. Good for the Martinez family for trying to improve their lives. I bet they weren't doing that great where they were before if their entire life fit in a minivan! They were probably like so many other americans who fall under the radar and are just trying to get by. This is just a way to pay it forward in my opinion. I'm sure that most of our ancestors when they got here were given a helping hand at some point and were grateful for it. It is a shame that we all rely on our government to do it and not do it ourselves. I say think about how much money you are spending this holiday on presents and how many meals that could provide for others.

Why should we condemn them for having the luck to have received assistance. Obviously these people had fortitude as it was noticed by individuals at the Loudoun Foundation. The foundation felt that with some small assistance this family could truly have a better life. At least they had the courage to try and make a living in a new unfamiliar place. I wish them well.

What a crock,Its veruy easy for you to say this from the comfort of where you are and I do suspect a number of the so called positive responses to this trash story are of Anglo descent. You guys don’t care about the people who are really affected by this tragedy "African Americans". Oh yeah its cool to have that good feeling you get, when you here a story about a dumb dog found and returned, or about illegals taking American jobs katrina or not. It just baffles me where the focus is, and a s I say before YOUguys YOU know who you are couldn't give a Darn what happens to the African Americans, its just great that Hispanics can come in and find work.Please.

This story shows that it is not only residents of the Gulf Coast that were affected by Katrina, but people country wide have felt repercussions from the storm. With so many evacuees spread out over much of the US, jobs must be hard to get. In the rush to send aid to the storm's victims we have forgotten those who were not affected by Katrina, but still need our aid. God bless Jose and Maria, and to all affected by Katrina.

I can see why people are angered over this story. While the U.S. is always trying to help people out with the "land of the free" motto and opening doors...we are giving away the U.S. piece by piece. We should help our own legalized people first. And we should help those people who lived in the zones affected by the hurricane before we help this people that come to the area just to make a buck off of someone else's woes. It seems we have all these organizations helping the Hispanics and their "rights cause" left and right, but Americans need to learn to take care of their own legal citizens and quite handing away freebies to people that do not pay taxes or contribute to the government in any other way but to deplete the resources of the government, ie: police and fire protective, free health care, and the list does go on and on. Help Katrina victims FIRST and foremost!!! They didn't have the choices these Hispanics had and they certainly are not getting the help the Hispanic family has gotten. It is appalling!!

Peggy and Jeff, I suppose your ancestors were Native Americans? If not, than you "Shouldn't be here" either. We're all immigrants who were chasing the American Dream, and it just so happens that NOW it's the Hispanic's turn to be vilified just as the Irish, Italians and Polish were. The article said he has a Green Card, so he is legally here. In this day and age I say "Bravo" to anyone who doesn't EXPECT a hand out and is willing to WORK for a better future, no matter how dirty the job. Don't cast a sideways glance at this man for someone recognizing his WILLINGNESS to work and taking him up on it. In case you haven't noticed, this IS America. The land of opportunity for ANYONE willing to work for it. God bless you and your family Jose Luis; God bless the victims of this terrible disaster, and God bless the U.S.A.

I'm probably going to be lambasted for this, but ... I'm sorry, but I'm right in the middle of the Katrina mess, living in a FEMA trailer and half-ruined house, trying to get out lives back together. And, by golly, any work that will be done to my home will be done by locals who also lost everything! "Cashing in on Katrina"????? The only people who should be "cashing in on Katrina" are the ones that were affected by Katrina! Now, if Mr. Martinez had been hired by locals to work for them and had come prepared for the conditions of the area (tents, camping equipment, etc.), that would be a different story, but for someone to come to this area, where we still have LOCALS living in tents (including elderly, handicapped, and pregnant women) looking to make a buck just ticks me off! And I would feel the same way if his name was Chang, Magadawa, or Smith! No one should be coming to this area unprepared and unable to care for themselves. If Mr. Martinez and others like him want to "cash in on Katrina", the least they could do is wait until the area is more stable and able to provide for such an influx, but until then, please just stay away. Six or eight months from now, maybe we can afford such workers, but not now.

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