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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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BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- The Big Apple has come to Bay St. Louis in the form of 20 professional actors and singers intent on spreading holiday cheer throughout a community stripped clean of nearly all forms of entertainment. Think the cast of "Rent" meets Christmas caroling and you'll get an inkling of the sort of diversions the group is offering.

The New Yorkers are here courtesy of the World Art Project, a three-month-old nonprofit group headed by veteran actors Liza Politi and Sarah Hamilton. None of the participants is getting paid for their time and the organization itself is operating on "a wing and a prayer and contributions from very generous hearts," says Hamilton.

Dubbed the "Bayou Tour," the trip will include performances in areas all along the Gulf Coast that suffered crushing blows from Hurricane Katrina.

The tour a kind of karmic payback: Shortly after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, a Mardi Gras group from New Orleans came to Ground Zero, offering up everything from fresh cooked jambalaya to "music and laughter,"says Politi, who put her acting career on hold for the first nine months after the attack to do volunteer work at Ground Zero.  She never forgot the efforts of those New Orleanians.

"For a few days, a bit of the Big Easy made living in a very hard place a little more comfortable," Politi says. "We want to give that feeling back this holiday season."

On this night, the group was performing for about 100 volunteers staying at the compound built by the Morrell Foundation. Sometimes raucous, sometimes serene, the performance shifted through a dozen different Christmas standards. When members of the performing troupe bolted from the ranks to grab members of the audience to join the choir, applause broke out to coax the shy amateurs onstage.

While the group will put on a host of public appearances, there are other more intimate shows dotting its itinerary. One of those is a special performance just for morgue workers here. This, too, is a throwback to the days after 9/11, when Politi and many other performers on this trip went to fire houses in New York's outer boroughs -- the ones that tended to get lost among the adoration heaped on the Manhattan fire crews -- to let them know their efforts and their losses weren't forgotten.

And there is a slightly subversive agenda at work here as well, Politi and Hamilton agree.

"I'm hoping that what the singers and performers are giving here will be dwarfed by what they are getting and that they'll be able to take that back and share it," Politi says.

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20 COMMENTS

How wonderful! Let's not forget that after a tragedy, it is as important to feed the spirit as the body.

Sometimes the littlest things can make a difference; laughter, song and love. Thank you for putting smiles on these people's faces during such a difficult time.

That's wonderful! No wonder we have the saying "I Love New York".

Wow! How wonderful! The people of the Bay helped with 911 too! They sent a fire engine and helped with food for first responders. Thank you so much for coming to share your holiday cheer! Please take pictures and bring the story back to your friends and coworkers up north! Things like this make me feel so proud of our country and its people.

Proof postitive of what my mother taught us...no good deed, however big or small, when coming from the heart will return 100 fold...Those New Yorkers are sending out lots of good karma for sure!
In spite of the circumstances, best wishes to the folks in the Gulf Coast for the holiday season. May your futures prove bright.

Ah, another vindication that music soothes the soul!

Awesome! There's nothing like a little music, and song to cheer up even the most downed of souls. It's food for the body and soul. Keep up the great work, and may all of your holidays be merry and bright, with good health, and happiness for the new year!

What a waste of money that could be diverted to housing, medical care, and food.

..it´s not a waste of money...and it´s not about money..
..it´s about people..they need to know they have not been forgotten...it´s important for them to know that there is still people thinking about them...
..it´s not just about singing, they are bringing joy and sometimes that is much more important to face a hard time..

when the little things or the good feeling things come back...you are getting better...maybe more will come soon....MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!

It always warms my heart when i see others working for a common good, the good of mankind in this case. Good work to the 20 artists who helped put a few smiles on sorrow faces. Keep up the good work people. Lot more work needs to be done, but together, we can do it.
Season's greetings to all,
from Cy.

We need more that bricks and mortar here. We need hope... we need balm for bruised souls... we need to believe that the rest of the nation wants us to be whole again. This tour of New Yorkers is an outward and physical sign that some citizens of America understands. Those Americans that do not come down to help us by singing and performing could write a letter to Congress to help them understand that we need help as much as Iraq... that would be a wonderful way to "raise your voice" in harmony with those performers of the World Art Project. If you do that then we can deal with the bricks and mortar issues as well.

It's sad that some people see this wonderful thing as a waste. The music, the acting, it is all needed. Not only do the hurrican victims & volunteers need medical and financial help, but they need HEART help. They need to forget (even if only a little bit) that their lives are changed forever and to enjoy the smallest pleasures that life has to offer. Kudos to the World Art Project and others like them who are giving what they do best to others.

No Price Tag can be put on the healing of disillusionment and the dispelling of despair.
Thanks and admiration go out to all who participated from a place in heaven that's Pearly Gated.
When you reach out-- May Jesus meet you there.

I agree with Ari in Sangtiago,Chile. This is such a devastation I just cannot begin to imagine all the pain and suffering. Anything to bring even the samllest amount of care and cheer has no price. I grew up in Mobile and moved to Texas and it hurts me to see all that has happened to these folks.

Hurricane Relief, Relief being the correct word for the trip that was made by these singers. Katrina came within a few miles of my home as a cat. 1, Wilma came very close a short time later. I was a Miami Firefighter, now retired, in August 1992 when Hurricane Andrew came directly across my home, and a good part of South Florida. I completely lost one small business, had another, being, the only operating gas station on a generator(no electric for 2 months), for a week in Homestead, with multi-mile lines, trying, with a glock on my hip, to keep people civilized, and also tried to recover a family owned mobile home park that was destroyed, as well as working my 24hr. shift at the fire station. Very high stress. During all the months after Andrew, one of the things MISSING in all the help for the area was true relief, a way to just EXHALE. What these singers are doing is needed and will be for some time. It is amazing how quick an event like this leaves the front pages, but it doesn't for the thousands that are still in a dead zone. Entertainment, the ability to laugh, even just a little, gives you hope when there doesn't seem to be any. You can't just tell people things will get better, they have to believe it themselves. I know from experience what you , the singers, are doing, will go alot farther than you may realize right now. Thanks....

Oh! I really aprciate you!

Thank you

Since 1/1/00,it is not a good time for the US, the 9/11 WTC, the Iraq war,the Afghan war, Rita, Katrina, Wilma etc. etc., all devastation-no prosperity at all.
I pray for the peace and prosperity of the people of US and world as well.

I saw and heard all of you in Slidell. You were all so wonderful and it was much needed here. It brought tears of joy to my eyes! I can't even begin to tell you how much it meant.

nothing more important than those who have to deal with the dead (there with their families--small children) saying (and I paraphrase), "I'm not crying because of the Carols, I'm crying because I remember what it feels like to smile again." Please consider that in your opinion the waste of resources you deem a loss in this effort. Thank you for your opinion, it enabled me to let you know what we really accomplished. Please feel free to visit the website, www.worldartproject.org and visit the blogs of these "wasted resources". thank you and i hope you find a way to share your resources with those in th Gulf.

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