February 14, 2006—Voice of Calvary Ministries (VOCM), a NeighborWorks® affiliate in Jackson, Mississippi, had reason to celebrate. The faith-based organization had turned its study center into temporary housing for 15 families who were uprooted by Hurricane Katrina. As of February 12, when the last family moved out of the study center, all of the families had found long-term housing.
“We probably should have celebrated, but we didn’t have time,” said Erma Driver, VOCM’s chief operating officer. “Now we’re focused on McComb.”
Some might know McComb as the Mississippi town that spawned two famous singers, Britney Spears and Brandy; VOCM, however, is more interested in the 500 families from New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities that had evacuated there after the hurricane. VOCM is working with the Evangelical Association for Disaster Relief, a new ecumenical, multiracial organization that was founded to assist the evacuees who came to McComb and surrounding areas. In January 2006, VOCM broke ground in McComb to develop 16 new units of owner-occupied housing. On February 17, VOCM will visit McComb to provide more than 35 one-on-one counseling sessions with potential homebuyers.
Financing for the new homes was provided by a group of 15 churches in California with whom VOCM had forged partnerships. The churches agreed to supply 100 to 125 volunteers to help with the construction in early April 2006. The housing units will be completed by September 2006, with NeighborWorks America providing a $250,000 grant toward their development.
VOCM began working with the evacuees immediately after the hurricane. Hundreds of people received support from VOCM—everything from money and food to a sympathetic ear. Looking beyond Jackson, VOCM began reaching out immediately after the storm to heavily flooded communities in the Gulf Coast region and identifying outside partners to support relief efforts.
Now the organization is providing comprehensive services to Katrina evacuees who are resettling in Mississippi. In fact, five people from New Orleans now work for VOCM. Through an ongoing partnership with NeighborWorks America, Sears provided appliances for five families who found housing through VOCM. The organization received a grant from World Vision to purchase furniture for the evacuees that moved into permanent housing.
“Our greatest joy is working directly with people in need—not just helping to provide basic necessities but also human support,” said Driver. “Many came here with nothing but the clothes on their backs. We’re helping to bring back their dignity. It’s about much more than the furniture or clothes or coordinating food.”
The Rotary Club of Modesto, California, donated an RV that VOCM will use as a mobile medical clinic. Such “partnerships allow VOCM to bring services to people who need them and provide capacity to communities in true need,” says C.J. Jones, director of new initiatives at VOCM. The RV first operated in East Biloxi, and moved to Bay St. Louis, a town that had been hit hard by the hurricane. Bay St. Louis officials had requested in late 2005 that the RV come to their town because their city had no functioning medical care facilities. Between 120 to 140 patients are now being served per day.
“It’s hard to put into words the devastation,” said Driver. “When you go down to Biloxi and to the entire coast and you see that it’s gone…it’s hard to put it into words.”
Driver said she is grateful for the resources contributed by VOCM partners, including NeighborWorks America. “NeighborWorks has been super-supportive to us,” she said. “They were the first to respond with financial support, and without them, we couldn’t have done all that we have able to.”