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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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This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

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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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And they aren't the only ones. I grew up in this area and still have family there. It is meaningful to the people of the Coast that volunteers actually choose to come live in the same conditions as they are. If it weren't for the faith-based volunteers the majority of folks would still be living in deplorable conditions. Thanks to all of them.

Everyone in the USA tried to help and more money was donated than the US budget Deficit and then the US Government sent 40 Billion. And we are all searching for any signs of any of that money. Seems (We Suspect) the politicians shoved it into a black hole called a personal off shore bank account or some such action as the money is gone. Because of this we, as Americans will never (ever) give to these causes again. No accountability = no more money.

Thank you for your service to our Nation. There are milions of US citizens who volunteer to help other Americans. Glad to see a story about some of them. I was there for nine months helping out and have seen the devastation. There are tangible things that can be done. Sure beats TV... and you know you have done something good. Americans helping Americans... nothing better.

This article proves ther are wonderful,big hearted people in this world. That is what I like to read and turn my thoughts to. Thank you!!

My son is very blessed to be able to join his youth group from Bryan Texas (St. Anthonys Youth Group) and travel to New Orleans the last 2 summers to help restore the aftermass of Katrina. The teens and youth leaders work hard in helping retore the church and community, we thank Fr Joe at St.Maurice for his love and kindness. We look forward to returning next summer to assist. Im very blessed to have such a wonderful youth group for my teens.

Volunteers are "GOLDEN". I have had the fortune to work with my volunteers and have thank heavens for each and every one of them. I too have volunteered and do so every chance I get, I work in a not for profit organization and know first hand what effects a volunteers has. Please treat all VOLUNTEERS with loving and open hands. To the individuals who decides to time to volunteers, "YOU ROCK"

God Bless the volunteers!! I spoke with a friend from NOLA telling me that parts of NOLA are DEAD. No life, no light, no fight!

I asked him about the levies??? He responded : sorta repaired but NOT fixed or ready for a category 3/4/5 hurricane!!!!

I asked him if everyone had come back? He said NO. Gone but not forgotten.

Why is that city not protected from another hurricane???? He said POLITICIANS!! The government!!!

Well, it is a shame. The "city that care forgot" is actually forgotten.

Isn't it a shame? What a beautiful City and terrific people. Shame on POLITICS! Shame on our government!!

Donna and Phil, MERE WORDS ARE NOT ENOUGHT TO SAY BLESS YOU AND THANK YOU FOR YOUR SELF-LESS EFFORTS TO HELP RESTORE AND REBUILD OUR BELOVED MS GULF COAST! Having lived on the coast for 8 years and survived 2 previous hurricanes in Pascagoula MS before Katrina, I know first hand what volunteering can do for not only the ones helped but those helping others! And as fellow Methodists, you have shown and proved the love of God to others that transcends time, distance, work and money. Your efforts cannot be applauded more greatly here on Earth than in Heaven. Send us your email address and we'll keep in touch. Tom and Judy Waller, Columbus MS

MSNBC, what a great story to run on your home page...Americans volunteering & sharing their abundance with people in the USA. We need more stories like this one!

I agree with M Payne. Millions have gone into the area and where has the money gone. Thanks and bless the volunteers that have gone into the area to work. I feel sorry for those who have lost everything. But if you live in an area that is below sea level, you should expect that Katrina was always a possibility. I don't want any of my tax money going into rebuilding anything that is belwo sea level and I have shared my opinion with our government leaders.

These people are a blessing. Anyone that would give their time and talents to help are number 1 in my book. Many of us, because of physical reasons or financial reasons can't go and help, but we can help with donations and most of all with prayer. God bless each one of you for giving of yourselves. God will bless you in ways that you may never know.

Our A/G church sent a group to the Pascagoula, MS area in January after the storm and again this past March and it was truly a blessing to us as well to put hands to work helping those in need

It is such a blessing to see such wonderful people spend a whole year of their life working for others. It makes the two trips I made there seem like nothing. I helped rewire a church on first trip. And helped rewire a personal residence on second trip. I feel so blessed to have had a small part in the recovery effort. God bless all volunteers . Frank Foerman Lawrenceville, Ga.

As Jennifer T. said above, there's lots of us that aren't retired, have to have a paycheck come in every week, don't have months of vacation time saved up, who would be overjoyed to be able to come in on weekends, from Friday evening to Sunday evening, to do whatever needs doing, even if it's just pushing a broom. I understand completely that a lot of reconstruction efforts need people there 12 hours a day for weeks on end, but surely some good could be accomplished with weekend volunteer labor. I have searched and searched trying to find any of the relief organizations that could use someone like this, but have never received any response. If someone could coordinate this, there's a huge untapped pool of volunteers who would be willing to donate our weekends to do whatever we can.


A great big Thank You to each and everyone that has volunteered their time, effort, and yes...money to the recovery effort.

I live on the Mississippi coast and have had the privilege of seeing (and in some cases working with) these wonderful people that have come here to help us.

We have so many elderly and handicapped people that do not have the finances available to rebuild their homes. Many of them do not have family in the area. These wonderful volunteers are the ones that have given these people the ability to rebuild.

The people of this region will never forget your kindness and generosity. We know that we as a community could not have come this far without you.

Thank you seems so inadequate. It is all I have to offer at this time.

This storm taught me many things. Tough lessons indeed but lessons learned none the less. There was a point in time that I would see a report about floods, tornadoes, and such on TV and would think to myself…those poor people. I’d change the channel and suddenly they were out of sight, out of mind.

Now when I see such reports, I find out just how I can help out. Whether it be money or needed supplies I try my best to contribute. That is partially because I know what it feels like to find yourself suddenly homeless due to a situation that you had no control over. But it is also because of the amazing example the people of our magnificent country set for the world as a result of this storm.

I just wish you all knew how much it has meant to us.

This is what America is about!!
Despite what you may here from the media, faith in God is a driving force in the USA, even today.
Bless all of you who sacrifice their time, money and efort, and remember:
" Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
We will be there for you!

My husband, son and daughter have had the opportunity to serve twice in the Biloxi area, thru the Nationwide Mennonite Church. It has been a wonderful time, and they have made it very affordable for us Canadians to be able to help our friends down south of the border. We paid our travel, took some vacation time, and they housed and fed us while there. Us, and many others! It is about the people, so devasted by this hurricane. When my family returns they just talk about the wonderful people they were able to serve while down there, and how uplifting it is to be able to do a small part. My 18 year old son so moved after meeting a particular family with three young boys whom lived very differently from us, because of the devastation of the storm. In the evening the group were are able to go and sing at nursing homes and to those they have helped during the week. We have been so blessed by the friendships, and the hope, the love of Christ, that we can share in a practical way. We hope to be able to go another year, and we want to thank all of those who have helped/served us as volunteers, through the time we were helping out!

The Nunn Family. Salmon Arm B.C. Canada.

Thanks to all the volunteers who responded to hurricane season 2005. I went to Florida as a Red Cross Worker and I have volunteered in NOLA (my favorite vacation destination) two visits since Katrina. I'm in awe of those of you who are still there volunteering.

Regarding comments on Bush and Gore: If we don't do something about global warning RIGHT NOW; change things in our daily lives TODAY, make some sacrifices in terms of using gasoline and electricity, shop locally, stop factory pollution - more catastrophies are certain to occur and this planet will be irrepairable for future generations. I could go on for volumes but perhaps you'd be willing to do some research on your own. Here's a good place to start: http://www.voiceofthewetlands.com/

these comments above all worry more about religion than the people that are breaking their backs to help out I am a religious person but it is not the name of the group doing the work it is real live loving people from all walks of life .

Someone asked how the adverage person plug in. Many churches, all donominations, have been helping. Most churches pay the expenses of getting down to the coast& back home. Then the base church feeds & probides sleeping for the volunteers. A person just has to be willing. Many groups are down only on the weekend and others take their vacation time.
You don't have to be rich but you will be richly rewarded for your time.

It was be interesting to read a report on what Jehovah's Witnesses are accomplishing in the Gulf Coast region. They have repaired *thousands* of homes, and I find little press coverage about it. Everyone who is dedicating their time as an individual or a group deserves the highest commendation. I just find it interesting that the news reports very seldom on the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses. Volunteers are being sought in all of the 10,000 congregations nationwide. It's amazing coordination that is occurring.

As a volunteer who has spent a total of four weeks in Waveland helping rebuild lives on the Gulf Coast, the one thing I hope everyone understands is that there is still a great need. I had no construction experience beyond painting before going down to serve. If you don't know how to do something, someone will show you. If you are not able to help because you are not physically able to build, most voluteer organizations need helpers to take care of the cooking and the cleaning for the volunteer who go out in the field - something I did on three of my trips. Also, keep in mind that the locals don't just need people to rebuild their physical lives, they need people to rebuild their emotional lives as well. The willingness of people to travel, sometimes thousands of miles, to help assures those living on the gulf coast that they have not been forgotten and that people care. I can say whole-heartedly that all you have to do is go there and you WILL contribute in some way. The people in the Waveland/Bay St. Louis area are some of the nicest people I have ever met and so are my fellow volunteers from around the country. Waveland is my second home now. If you have even slightly considered going down to volunteer, I urge you to act. Best vacations I have ever taken!

Phil and Donna Fairchld are truly missionaries in every sense of the word. Prior to relocating to MS to help Katrina victims, they organized a prison minstry in Tennessee. The goal was to provide food, friendship, hope, and the word of God to the hundreds of prisoners in Brushy Mountain Prison. God bless the Fairchilds!

I'm reminded of what Roger Babson said: "A truly spiritual man's creed is not live and let live, but live and help live."

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