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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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I love the article, I would hope that more people read this and what to do something right in their own neighborhood. I think its great that people are helping there, but what about the people they are helping, what are they doing? I think that the people complaining about nobody doin notin should get out and help and not want it all for nothing.

Two wonderful human beings. Words alone cannot describe my admiration for them.

I think it is great that these people were able to serve for that period of time or that anyone can serve any length of time. The past two summers our church youth group has been a part of restoration projects. First in Gulfport, MS and this year in New Orleans. It was a blessed experience each time in different ways. It does help put things in perspective when you see what someone else has suffered and know that you have helped provide them with some hope for the future.

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I don't think people realize the impact two years later that this storm still has on our every day lives. Without people like you there would be no hope. All of you volunteers are truly special people and be assured that we are forever grateful for your helping save our beloved city.

How blessed we are to be Americans.This country of ours is the best thing going. The very best are her people. From the on set of our country, until now, with even more destruction caused by rain,no rain winds, and hurracains,the list goes on and on. It's the people who come out to help. Not our goverment. Without the love and caring of one person to another, well, we'd be like other third world countries. From the giving of a few cans of food for food pantries here at home,To finding shelt for homeless. Our peoples have always been willing to lend a helping hand. Our Goverment knows this also. They relly on this, It makes them look good when things get taken care of, as if they had this done. Lately I answered a survey about tv programs and what I thought about the new ones. Not much good to say about these so called programs. I was wondering just how meany people who bother with much tv any more, would rather see live programs on the saving of homes and the putting back together of folks lives. Every once in awhile you might catch such a program on tv. Instead of cop's, coldcase files,morges,murder, and other hate full subjects. What a wonderfull change it would be for us and our children to watch something with an up-beat.Something that showed hope instead having us running out to by bars for our doors, and windows. I know several people that got to go down the fist year after Katrina hit. They still can tell of all the good that was passed around from one person to another. God still loves his people, and he does give us the chance to return a little of his love for us by helping others. There is alot of good to hear about in this land of ours,Thank You for printing this News letter we need alot more like this.

What a wonderful, wonderful story. My daughter was with her Methodist youth group for mission trip in 2006 at Biloxi, one short week deeply touched her, I can only imagine what has happened with the Fairchilds during all this time they gave. Time to take a break, recharge and thanks for doing what you do!

What a wonderful, wonderful story. My daughter was with her Methodist youth group for mission trip in 2006 at Biloxi, one short week deeply touched her, I can only imagine what has happened with the Fairchilds during all this time they gave. Time to take a break, recharge and thanks for doing what you do!

First of all, my heartfelt thanks goes to all those who assisted, volunteered or otherwise came to the rescue of those affected by Katrina.
However, having been to both New Orleans and then down to Mexico after Katrina, I have to say that Mexico has done a much better job of rebuilding and getting on with things than we have here in the States. The drive and determination of a country who had to get things built back up for their pure survival was incredible. And they did it without the aid of money, volunteers or heavy equipment. We could all take a lesson from a humble people who did what they had to do to make sure their families had a meal on the table and a roof over their heads.

Volunteers like these are wonderful. They have truly "stepped into the breach." For isn't it true that our country's National Guard would be able to do much more for disaster relief if we had not sent so many guardsmen to accomplish our president's goal of bringing democracy to Iraq? I have to say, in my heart, I think the National Guard could accomplish many more tangible goals if they, like the wonderful people in this story, were working at the Gulf Coast in our own United States

As a resident of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I also want to thank the oh so many people that donated items to our children @ Christmas. Many items were sent to the one school remaining in our town- and distributed amongst the students. If we had money to purchase gifts- it mainly had to be on the internet- as so many stores absolutely GONE. And mail was, and still is a joke. My daughter only wanted Mall Madness game-and actually got it from some caring American out there. Thank you. (too bad volunteers cannot rebuild schools- as we still have not seen a school even START to be rebuilt 2 years later--kids still going from trailer to trailer in a field) Again, Thank you America

I am a little ashamed of the several Jehovah's Witnesses that wrote in asking for their "due recognition" as there are many Faith's and groups as well as individuals that have put their entire lives on hold asking nothing in return and have sent numerous volunteers...I always thought we should give because it is God's work and his swill and the right thing to do not because there is a tally sheet somewhere. DD

This is a wonderful story but it brings other emotions to my heart as well. Joy and hope come first due to the phenomenal efforts of the volunteers from around the nation and the world who have helped in La. & Mo. (across the gulf coast affected by hurricanes).
Then despair sets in when I think of the many other communities that do not get the attention recieved in Waveland. The real reasons are still not clear to anyone. However, the US Govt has provided more manpower and resources to rebuild IRAQ than to La. or Mo. and that is the alarming fact. The money that was donated by millions of Americans seems to be stuck within the bureaucratic channels due to either the disconnect between Louisiana state law and Federal govt protocols or the bickering between the various communities about who gets what share of the monies.
Depending on which source you talk to both sides are to blame and neither side seems to want to discard the differences and move forward.
The true victims in the entire situation are the homeowners and residents who did not have adequate insurance due to cultural norms or ignorance. Even those who had paid for insurance, many did not have the 'right' insurance to cover their losses.
We need an accurate, clear plan on how to provide support to La. & Mo. if we do not live in those states. This plan should detail where the money we donated has been lodged and how can we get it to the communities that still have no water, lights, roads, homes, and other types of infrastructure. We have hundreds of churches and personnel who want to do something but the how is the major hurdle.
I urge each of you to have your community 'adopt' a community in Louisiana or Missouri. If we all do our part to help our adopted community then we can rebuild all the communities through our efforts and no community will be forgotten.
If you live in La. or Mo. and your community has not been helped yet, please contact me so that I can attempt to link you with a 'sister' commmunity that can help you. I cannot promise anything other than I will do whatever I can to help you try to move forward.

Howard Haley
18 Oak Shade Rd.
Gaithersburg, MD 20878

Hats off to the Fairchild's. It's surprising how many people who volunteer do so time after time. It's no unusual to have groups returning 5 or 6 times. Relations and friendships are made. Departing many times is very emotional. If you haven't been part of the recovery effort- GO- you'll take away more than you could ever give!

This just goes to show that we dont need the care of the "mommy/daddy" government to help and aid the people of our nation; as the efforts and mobilization of private charity are far more effective, and driven with a passion that government workers will never have.

A group of ten from, Zion and Bethleham Lutheran churches, went to Biloxi the week of June 9. We worked with Habitat for Humanity. Bart Tucker is the coordinator in Biloxi. It was a working vacation for all of us. The fellowship amoung the volunteers was Wonderfull. It is a vacation we will remember for the rest of our lives. I will be organizing another trip to go back in 2008. It ws wonderfull to use our talents to serve the lord. As you looked around you could see the faces of god everywhere. There is a huge need for volunteers along the whole Gulf Coast. It will take many years to repair the destruction done by Katrina. You can see that we can't depend on our government or the insurance companies for assistance.
I would say that most of the houses damaged or detroyed will not be habitable without the volunteer organizations.

Interesting that this article would be published now, just as the incompetent, lying Michael Chertoff is being considered for the now vacent position of the incompetent, lying under oath, criminal, Alberto Gonzales.

The federal government BLEW every aspect of the Katrina recovery effort. This administration has no sense of decency at all.

I have lived in Louisiana all my life. I went through Betsy, Andrew, Katrina and Rita. All I can is thank you from all of us. We are truly blessed in this nation with so many caring citizens.

Kudos to MSNBC for continuing coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the ongoing recovery efforts. In June, Lakeside UMC completed its 2nd trip to Biloxi and Gulfport Mississippi. Twenty-seven high-school aged youth and nine adult volunteers traveled over 2,400 miles to assist in the recovery. We plan to return again next year. There remains so much more to do in healing the hearts and homes of Katrina’s victims. Our "Follow the Son" mission has resulted in repairs to 9 homes and we are in awe of all groups and faiths that continue to make the commitment to help those in need. Well done!

Rejoice in what people have done. While Katrina was a disaster, it brought out the best in some, and allowed many to serve. This ariticle and Katrina should not be used as a bandstand to say "Me Too", or blame people, or a forum for global warming. Celebrate the time and effort of all who helped, with Fairchilds being a point of light, among many. God Bless whomever gave the volunteer there Humanity.

I whent to Waveland with the Mobile Hospital and NC SMAT II Team. I was amazed at the devistation, but more amazed at what the church group beside our camp was doing. Every day I saw this church group grow. I have never seen such a well organized relief effort. If the Government were only half as efficient as this church group beside us was, then I belive things would have gone a lot smoother in the recovery effort.

This is one story of many amazing stories that have come as a rsult of a tragedy. For them to be so giving knowing that the only reward was a an abundance of good feelings and knowing that you are doing what god has called you to do. For those who keep writing in about the Jehovah Witness's contribution, remember it's what God knows that counts, it's not important that we know.

Thanks to all the volunteers who came together to help rebuild our communities,if only our U.S.government cared as much as you the people of this great nation did. Two years have past since Katrina and my home of St.Bernard Parish is still looking like a bombed out war zone,sure there is bits and peices of homes and bussiness slowly sticking their heads from the ruins but until you drive the streets of St.Bernard do you get the magnatude of the enormus task at hand.

Thank you, all of you. I worked for one of those faith-based non-profit organizations that pooled volunteers from all over the U.S. who worked hard at gutting homes, among other things. You know, there are some non-profits in other parts of the country who have criticized our efforts-despite the fact that many hurricane-affected non-profit leaders and their staff were also evacuees who lost everything-their homes, family members and friends, their office buildings, etc.-yet continued tirelessly to help fellow evacuees? It is so refreshing to hear that people are actually grateful for the efforts of volunteers and non-profit organizations.

Anyone can help out the Gulf Coast. Someone mentioned only well-to-do and retired types can help...I'm neither, but I found a way. I have personally spent 3 weeks of the last year helping rebuild houses in NOLA through Operation NOAH Rebuild. Just this one orginization has hundreds of volunteers each week. I have given up all my vacation time to go down there and work for free. Actually, we pay NOAH a small daily fee for a place to sleep/shower and food...it's the cheapest vacation around! And the most worthwhile!

God Bless you MSNBC for sharing a positive story. We the American people need to see and hear more about the good things that go on in this country. God Bless "all" of the volunteers who gave of themselves selflessly. My two children and my three grandchildren were displaced by Katrina for 5 months.
Although they were not helped directly by the people who volunteered they knew others who were and were blessed by that. Yes, New Orleans still has areas that still need help. The 9th Ward and Lakeview areas and I know there are others to name a few. There are
many unsung heros that prefer to remain that way and
I know GOD knows who they are and will bless them for
what they have done and are doing. Volunteers are the
best of the best!

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