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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. – Phil and Donna Fairchild wanted something other than cruises and bridge games for their golden years.

“When Phil retired three years ago, we thought there had to be a lot more to retirement than playing golf and living on the lake,” says Donna.

They found it here -- living in a 30-foot trailer, working 12 to 15 hours a day, six and seven days a week for an entire year as Hurricane Katrina volunteers.

The Fairchilds, who are finally about to take some time off after running a large Methodist relief camp, are superstars among the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who have flocked here to help rebuild the Gulf Coast and earn the undying gratitude of a community that was brought to its knees by the deadly storm of Aug. 29, 2005.

Believe what you want about how the government responded after Katrina, but take this on faith: Without the millions of volunteer hours logged by the Fairchilds and others over the past two years the hurricane zone would not have come nearly as far as it has. And faith was exactly what brought the lion’s share of these Samaritans here and keeps them coming -- motivated, organized and deployed by religious organizations.

“Faith-based organizations have just been unbelievable,” says Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo, who promises that the names of all volunteer groups and sister cities will be read aloud at Wednesday’s two-year Katrina anniversary observance in his city. “That in itself may take an hour, but I think it is almost as important now to read those as the names of the deceased because these people have done so much for us.”

All told, according to the federal government’s Corporation for National and Community Service, a little over 1 million civilian volunteers have donated their time and talents to Katrina relief efforts, a total of 14 million hours. In the last year alone, they have rebuilt or repaired nearly 10,000 homes, served meals to 1,800 people a month, built 59 playgrounds and started construction on more than 1,000 new homes.

Group has worked on 92 homes
In their time at Camp Gulfside, operated by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the Fairchilds have focused on residential construction projects, overseeing the rehab of 82 homes and the construction of 10. The help is available for the asking to storm victims who are elderly, single parents, disabled or meet other criteria.

Phil, 64, retired after 30 years as a mechanical engineer at the Oak Ridge, Tenn., federal nuclear weapons plant, organized the camp’s job board and directed constructions crews. Donna, 60, who previously worked as a medical-imaging technician, handled the camp’s logistics.

The couple wound up here after testing the waters on a few previous Methodist trips specially designed to attract volunteers who could provide their own housing in the form of recreational vehicles. In February 2006, they worked on Katrina relief efforts in Dulac, La., passing through Hancock County on the way back to their home in Loudon, Tenn.

“We saw all the destruction and we just knew we had to come back,” says Donna. As if on cue, they saw an appeal three months later for a volunteer couple to manage the Waveland camp. They applied and were accepted in August 2006. “We were down here a week later,” their Tennessee residence locked up for a year in which they have only been home once.

Now, it’s time for a vacation, and the Fairchilds will return to Tennessee to recharge their batteries and visit their three children and two grandchildren. After that, they have no doubts they’ll return to the volunteer trail.

“God has done a work on me,” says Donna, blond, energetic and far younger-looking than her age. “This experience has caused me to look at material things differently, when I think how we have struggled to come up with money to pay for a foundation when I have a rug on my floor at home that would more than cover it.”

'This changes your outlook'
“I’m not a Bible thumper, but this changes your outlook,” says Phil, whose head of white hair, full white beard and twinkling eyes give him the appearance of a skinny Santa. “The only real way most of us know to be obedient to God is to give back to others.”

The departure of the Fairchilds raises the issue of the continuing need for relief and rebuilding help. All observers agree that there will be work for outside volunteers in the hurricane zone for a long time to come.

While the Corporation for National and Community Service says volunteer numbers actually increased from 550,000 in the first year after the storm to 600,000 in the second, Hancock County observers all are certain that numbers fell dramatically here.

“Far more volunteers came through the first year,” says Kathleen Johnson, who organizes volunteers at Katrina Relief in Waveland. “It’s definitely fallen off,” agrees Mayor Longo.

Chris Bowers, who coordinates Katrina efforts for the Methodist group, says their first-year volunteer total of 25,000 fell by about half in the second year, leading to plans to shut two of the five camps current in operation by next spring. But he expected the decline and remains pleased by the number of volunteers who are still showing up.

Wendy McDonald, the local Habitat for Humanity program manager, is having trouble finding as many volunteers as she needs, as is Shannon Lennox at the Christian Life Center camp in Waveland.

Skilled volunteers in high demand
All of the organizations are especially eager to get volunteers with construction skills. “I need supervising carpenters,” says Johnson. “I need electricians that can work alongside youths, plumbers that can work alongside youths. They get 10 times as much work done and the kids learn a skill set and when they come back, they are better prepared.”

The Corporation for National and Community Service suggests that would-be volunteers who are looking to help in the Katrina zone start at www.volunteer.gov, which indexes a “comprehensive listing of volunteer opportunities in the gulf and across the nation.”

Asked how she would persuade volunteers to come to the hurricane zone, Donna Fairchild says, “It’s really been a blessing, it’s been a ministry to us, we’ve seen miracles. I would guarantee this would not be your last mission.”

“It has been an abundance,” agrees Phil. “And abundance doesn’t mean material things. It means how you feel when you get up in the morning.”

“High on life, you could say,” adds Donna.

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Please check out www.projecthopeandcompassion.org for more information on continuing volunteer efforts. It's a great place with great folks!

The common bond that every single one of the volunteers share, atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Humanists, Muslims, Jews, etc., is their basic humanity and empathy for others.

Whatever other ethical standards, symbols or concepts are available, it is really our common understanding that where others are in need it provides for the greater good of the human family to help in whatever way we can.

Ultimately it is the individual who chooses to do the right thing.

On the second anniversary of this horrible natural event we would like to again sincerely thank all of the atheists, agnostics, humanists and others who provided human care, compassion, donations and labor in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

We have come a very long way and have many more miles to travel...but all of you volunteers have made our burden lighter, and we will persevere.

In this one life, all that matters is what we do and where there is breath there is always hope.

Steve Schlicht and family

God bless all of you who continue to volunteer your time and energy to the rebuilding of Louisiana.

wow. now thats compassion at its best

Isn't this what life is about...if you have you share, if you can, you do? God Bless these folks and others who have helped.

If you loose your life you shall find it. You give the greater glory to God. Its God's joy that you have, keep on giving for great is your reward in heaven!

Just a note, Jehovah's Witnesses have been in Louisiana and Mississippi since the storm with a well organized response. They have built or repaired several thousand homes, and provided care and provisions for the victims. There is an arrangement to care for disasters in a well coordinated way, wherever the need. You don't hear about it much, they don't 'toot' their own horn, just take care of what is needed....all volunteers.

My daughter went there recently for volunteer work. They worked hard restoring a church then overnight someone broke in, stole their tools and the copper water pipes (without turning off the water). The next day they returned to a flooded church. This area would be further along in their cleanup and restoration if it weren't for all the crime! They're stealing construction equipment and tools volunteers are using to cleanup. This mess is not all caused by our governments lack of response.

I know my fiance would love to help out. The article mentioned they need carpentry supervisors and that's just what he is/does; however, I get the impression that volunteers need to be retired well-to-do people like the fairchilds. My fiance and I have a toddler and we live paycheck to paycheck. How can one of us afford to quit our job and head down there to help out? Where would he live? How could he afford to eat, sleep, get around down there? I think an article should be written that provides a "how to" for those who aren't rich but would like the opportunity to volunteer their time and talents to the cause.

Photographic Evidence - Notice the bald headed guy sanding the ceiling. Anonymous? Hardly. That's ME

I'm glad to read about the volunteers who have helped all of the people on the Gulf Coast. My wife and I were recipients of much needed assistance after Katrina. We weren't able to fully thank those volunteers who helped with gutting our old house.

I'm just happy to know that there are people from every walk of life and every point on the map who are willing to help those in need. It's refreshing to read something that doesn't place blame on the Gulf Coast residents for living on the coast.

It would be nice if the news would cover the work Jehovah's Witnesses have done - way more than most people down here.

You should also interview Rick Bowan at Camp Hope in Violet, LA. He's been there for more than a year and is so dedicated to that area.

As I read your article you mentionned a few religious groups but didn't mentionned Jehovah's Witnesses who where the first ones to take a stand in helping the relief efford, by being present in the few days that followed Katrina and are still there helping without letup.Just an observation,that is worth looking into.

Good people are still the majority of the population in any society. We just do not make noise

People that give of themselves in time of need of others, are truly blessed by the supreme power. We as people must return back to the teaching of Jesus Christ. I think he's trying to us tell something, that it's time to wake up and and follow him. I commend those that help their brethen in their time of need. We need to help each other in order for us to survive in this world.

Without the presence of faith based organizations, New Orleans would not have made it through the aftermath of the storm. I have lived in the area for fifteen years and worked with thousands of volunteers for months after katrina. 92 houses is a lot of work. I know that "de-mucking" a house is nothing to be excited about. I worked with a group on the northshore and we focused our work all over this area as well as New Orleans and surrounding areas including St Bernard parish for over a year and a half. Everyday, thoughts of what I have seen still cross my mind. This was a nightmare and without the help of volunteers, nothing would have been possible. God is great!!! Thank you to everyone for their help and their prayers...

This is a travisty! Do you realize that there are 300 million people in this country. If only half gave $100 each to rebuild New Orleans. They would have raised 1.5 Trillion dollars. Where's the money! Show me the money! Not including what Companies gave and Government's, local and foreign.

Bless you - I spent a week with Hope Crisis Response Network in Gulfport, MS this summer - experience changed my life.

To every volunteer to come since Katrina, thank you!!!

Thanks to God that Phil & Donna are good example of God's word. I'll follow your example very soon.

I just returned from the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, where I grew up. Two years on, miles of N.O. are untouched. It looks like the Third World. The city can't repair streets, lights, road signs, or mow the sides of the streets. Abandoned pools are full of mosquito larvae. Whole suburbs look like ruins being reclaimed by jungle. On the coast things have been cleaned up, but there is virtually nothing there for the whole 30 mile stretch. Some are trying to return, some have given up, and many poor and disabled are struggling, physically and mentally. I deeply commend the volunteers, and don't know whether to weep, scream or simply work to help remove the governmant officials who have let our people suffer and die when the money and manpower is there...just being used to destroy someone else's country rather than take care of our own.

I live & work in the Knoxville, TN area. It makes me so proud that fellow "Vols" have taken the time to do for others. God Bless you both.

With Love,

Powell, TN

Makes me proud to be from Tennessee. They don't call us the Volunteer State for nothing. What wonderful people. Great story.

If Al Gore is correct, and the sea level rises 27 feet, why rebuild anything on the coast? Don't blame Bush for slow rebuilding, it's AL Gore who is scaring people.

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