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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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57 COMMENTS

i hope all works out for that family, but what about those who live in new orleans, or other areas that were directly destroyed by "katrina" or "rita". is there anything wrong with taking care of our own first and then if possible help others? i have lost everthing that i have ever had, family, animals and any small items that would link me to my past. i doubt that most people will return to new orleans, st.bernard parish, metairie, la. or other areas not of interest to other people. what is there to return to, no residence, no apartments, no jobs, why would they return. this is my home, but for whatever reason, everything has changed. god has reasons for this and other natural disasters, maybe we need to listen to his message. we are living with our head in the sand, god in coming and we need to listen....

This country is full of needs, both locals and "illegals" alike. Our cities are full of homeless people year in an year out. We have our "own" people milking the system for benefits that should go to others. Let them enjoy their blessing. Perhaps they'll be blessed enough to pay it forward... as we all should.

Peggy Dugan and "George businessman" who doesn't even heave the balls to leave his name should think about the fact that this family had the courage to pack up and move to a hard hit area and try to find work and a life for his family. Why slight him for that when most of the people aren't willing to find a job and get back on their feet themselves? Most every one wants FEMA to pay them rental money every month. I say "get a job" they say "there is no work here." I say "relocate!" And this is what this family did. I welcome them to VA! I say Kudos for dusting them selves off and keep on trying!

I think that this story is a sad but also good this to let us know. The reason why i think that this is a good this is that it lets know how they have to live even 4 months after the tragedy. I have family in the mississippi coast and I know what its like from what i have heard. So any ways I haope that all the people down there will end up good. And that people all around the U.S. are still thinking of them.

I live in the Katrina damaged area of Mississippi and feel blessed by the hispanics who have come here to work and get us back on our feet. These folks work hard and do an excellent job. I have heard nothing but praise for their work ethic. These people don't want a hand out just an opportunity. Thank you to all these men and women for their efforts and sacrifices.

After months of wondering and worrying, I finally got a call from my ex-mother-in-law Friday, and her and my ex-husband (my daughter's Dad and Grandmother) are fine. She is in Biloxi, and she said things are bad there. There are people still living in regular tents (not the FEMA tents). She does not have a job because the place she worked at is gone. She finally got back in her apartment on the 2nd floor, the 1st floor was messed up from the surge. She has gone through her savings and does not know what is going to happen. I hope someone offers THEM a chance.

I agree with most of the comments , Jose should not have taken is family into the area and than to expect help is not nice. Please help the poor people in the area that have gone through so much.

My coment is for all of you negetive people. If you read the story you will find that none of your tax dollars went to this family. The Loudoun Found. is a private group that raises money from events and contributions from the private industry. There is a big difference between opportunity and welfare. PLease learn the terms. The Martinez family was given opportunity not tax dollars(welfare). Would you, heartless people, be so negative if their last names were Kennedy or Smith. Some of those hurricane victoms are waiting for one lump-some (tax dollars) handout that will make their net worth more than they ever had. My opinion, the residents that lost their homes need to move to higher grounds, north, and start over. I am tired of paying high insurance and taxes becuase of their stubborness to relocate!!

While I feel for a man who is trying to give his family something better, it seems as though many people are seeing an opportunity and taking advantage of help that should be given elsewhere. They had a happy ending, and that's great and all, but come on...we need to be concentrating on the CITIZENS who need help. Amazing how immigrants (legal or otherwise) can walk into a clinic and get all the medical care that they need, while my family, who has lived and worked in the US our entire lives, can't even get a band-aid. I would be paying off that medical bill for the ear infections for the next 10 years. Even worse, I know that my situation is extemely common!

I cant belive how we as Americans put other people from other Countrys down.im so sure that the wages are going down, it would go down without them. Most of us go 2 school,have good paying jobs, and go to lunch and complain about others. when hard working illigals are the ones picken the tomatos & letuce for the hamburger your eating for lunch. To all the Haters out there quit hating because illigal or not we as Hispanics,Latinos, Chicanos WERE COMING UP IN THE U.S and all haters are going 2 do is hate.and the Martinez family "Que todos sus sienos se agan realidad. Luchen y agan lo que puedan para salir adelante en un paise que nomas los qieren ver en el piso"

It is a sad situation for anyone to have to go through what these victims of Katrina are going through but what is even sadder is that the victims have to sit back and watch while people that are not even from this country let alone citizens take what few jobs there are. Is the Martinez family the only family suffering here? I don't think so. Help our own citizens first. Also wake up America why is it always so easy to help people that are not of this country and not help our own. Look around you. I sure can think of alot of victims who are willing to do the work and get the pay. Lady help our own and let alians fend for themselves. This story only served to anger me. I am sorry I may sound heartless but am tired of all the help I hear that is going to other countries and immigrants when there are people starving in LA and Miss. and all over America. As I can see there are a number of people who think as I do. I to went through Hurrican Andrew and didn't receive any assistance. We lost everything and had to start over again with no help from anyone including the government or insurance, which by the way was cancelled the day after the hurricane. We were considered high risk so lost our house and everything we worked 20 years to have. Some people have still not bounced back from it. Mr. Martinez and family I am sorry but America is tapped out.

Dear American Citizens: Unless you are a "native American Indian", you have no right to judge Jose and deny him the right to pursue the American dream. Your ancestors came to this country as immigrants as well. Jose is a legal immigrant, since he has a green card. He is obligated to pay taxes like any other citizen or legal resident, and if he subcontracts work out, he's responsible to employ legal workers that pay taxes as well. I find it extremely hypocritical to tell Jose to go back to where he came from, if you are not leaving this fine country yourselves and go back to where you (or your ancestors) came from!

i have some compassion for jose and his family,but what about the locals who still have not recieved any help.is it fair to them for outsiders to come seeking help and work to be given same by any charity.

Okay, its great Jose had a green card & he & his family got lucky to be sponsored by an out of state outfit to begin a new life. He sounds like a good, responsible man & I wish him & his luck. But when it comes to the aftermath of a major hurricane (I'm a survivor of several including Camille, Frederic, & lately Ivan the Terrible) waiting for the feds to help you out isn't always the best thing to do. I know the people on the Coast & they help their neighbors & themselves as best they can & do a great job in such adverse situations that you can't imagine. Like, how many of you have lived under martial law with curfews & the national guard (thank God) patroling the streets & rescuing folks? No power, no clean drinking water, etc. ? The people on the coast (some of them my relatives & friends) are great folks doing the best they can to survive this & they will. Another thing, many of the families here are descendants of, yes Native Americans, and the original French & Spanish colonists who came here in the 1600 & 1700 hundreds. This land has been in some families for many generations. You just don't up & leave that kind of land that holds the bones of your ancestors & which was watered with the sweat & blood of those hardy people. If a people all leave an area, for example in New Orleans & are scattered about & don't return, the children & grandchildren on down will lose their history & sense of community, become displaced. Coming back for a visit now & again will never replace that belonging & connectivity, there will always be a sense of loss. So we stay in places like Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, & Biloxi & rebuild.

i feel for all on the coast...but maybe Jose shouldn't have brought the whole family until he went and made shure of the work and found housing...tradesmen from my area went{didn't take thier famliy} and were back shortly...because monies and material weren't there

I just want to quote William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, on what he supposedly said in a Christmas telegram to his fellow Salvation Army followers "Others!"
I don't care who is in need and what they do to try and help fix themselves, where they came from or their story, if there is a need, we all need to have compassion and help our fellow human, whether by prayer, donation or physical help. Well said Tina; we all come from people who once did all they could to get into this country and seek a better life, and I'm thankful there was a land to come to and pursue a wonderful life. We can't fix our government or what is wrong in this country or the world overnight, but today we can extend our hand and offer help to those in need. Anyone in need. If everyone really did love everybody and help everybody they can we would not need to argue about who should get help and who shouldn't. The major wrong I see being committed is telling Jose and his family to get out, but we stay. What makes us "natural born Americans" so special? We should be apologizing everyday for the atrocious sins of our forefathers for what was done to the Native American Indian. Land was robbed, people killed off and forced to live a new life in horrid conditions and some have the nerve to tell a family seeking a better life to "go back where they came from"? Please just forget all prejudices and help someone if you can.

Why is it that everytime a hispanic get help people feel that they are taking something that belongs to american? First of all if Jose and all the other hispanic didnt move to find jobs that pay the minimun salary to make a living this country would be what it is now. I admire every hispanic for doing what they can to better them selfs. And all of the people that were affected by the hurricanes i am sorry but just like jose you can start by working labor jobs to get your life back to normal and stop wanting help from everyone else.

ok, im native american.
thanks for being a champion to my cause tina jackson.
Go home jose.
or at least dont goes to a stricken area and expect aid. the entire idea is that there are enough people who really need the aid already there!

Just when I think what a wonderful bunch of giving and selfless souls are living in this country, I read hypocritical posts like the ones attached to this story. Here is a man who is willing to work to support his family and give his children a better chance at not having to struggle like he is and he is criticized for it because he is an immigrant? His family is not in this country illegally, he's gone through the system and obtained a green card, so why shouldn't he be given a chance? He made a bad decision in leaving his home to find work after Katrina, but should he and his family be condemned for it forever?

This article is not about after Katrina recovery.It is missing a point. We like to know more about how things are developing there. I can do better report if I can go there but motels are filled with construction workers at least 6 monts.

Thank you Jennifer, you said it better than I could. While many are waiting for hand outs, he cleaned off a corner in the mess and went to work. Hey FEMA! Where's my trailer???

OK,Fine! He made a mistake by moving his family , but that is NOT a reason to punish his kids and his wife and at least he is NOT trying to get FEMA's monies like MANY OTHERS that DID NOT suffer damages and are not entitled to it, he IS an AMERICAN and just because he also happen to be hispanic does not mean he is a low life worthless piece of ACT, maybe the media also made a mistake by saying that he moved his family in pursuit of the American Dream, may he moved to find a "decent" job and be able to feed his family. Please everyone, just have a heart.I pray that they find their dream job and their kids flourish and grow in GOD.

I don't care if these people are black, brown or what they need to use common sense. We have enough problems in those areas without people like Jose adding to it. Thanks for your comments JB. There are enough people down there who were on welfare who can use this as an opportunity to get back to work if they want to, , , Help our citizens first, they deserve it more, that's all we need are a bunch of bleeding hearts trying to look "politically correct" in this and other issues. If you are not here legally, go home. Our government has turned a blind eye long enough. Illegals GO HOME.

As a native North American Indian, I say good luck to these people who are as close to being Native American as anyone and certainly AS American as 99% of Americans. Thanks to all those who feel that if you're willing to work America will find a home for you and I truly wish the best for the Martinez family. Too many times people forget that before the white man drew border lines across North America, people who are called Hispanic today were really Native North American - a line on a map will never change that no matter how red somebody's neck is. Good luck to all people affected by the South coast disasters and somehow I hope you can all have a decent Christmas. My heart is with all you.

I was not affected by the hurricane and fortunately nobody in my family was either. So, I don't KNOW how they feel, or how they are coping with this tragedy, but I do KNOW that some of the people affected by this storm, are sitting on their butts waiting for a handout from the government. If you get an education, find a job, and live within your means, you won't be SOLELY depending on the Government. Jose and his family went to look for work that many of us wouldn't dream of doing. Get of his back and get up off your butts and rebuild your communities!!!!

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