The rebuilding of homes in the New Orleans area is still underway following the devastating hurricane and flooding nearly two years ago. Even though it is not in the headlines daily, volunteers are still working in an all out effort to get people back into their homes.
Mother and daughter, Kris and Lindsey Stankiewicz of Manila, recently returned from an eight day missionary trip in New Orleans.
"There are more homes unoccupied than not," Mrs. Stankiewicz said. "It really breaks your heart. We were working basically with people who had no insurance or not enough insurance."
Mrs. Stankiewicz and Lindsey, 14, heard about the mission trip through their church, Central Baptist in Jonesboro. They joined a group of 10, three from New Antioch and seven from Central Baptist.
Mrs. Stankiewicz said the missionary trips are organized through the Arkansas Baptist Builders, one of the many volunteer organizations still working with the people in New Orleans.
"People come from everywhere," she said. "Every week for two years there has been an average of 250 workers joining in the effort through the Baptist Builders. The need is ongoing. Right now there are 330 homes in the system. Since February 2006 the organization has managed to get 92 families back in their homes. There are 45-50 residences under construction at all times.
Mrs. Stankiewicz said they did not know exactly what they would be doing when they arrived.
"The volunteers are split up into teams," she said. "Lindsey and I joined an electrical team helping wire a house that had been cleaned up and gutted by previous teams. The electrician, Tom Adams, has been working one week each month for a long time. Like the other experts, he knew what he was doing and taught us how to pig tail wires and pull wires. I think we pulled wires through every board in the house."
Mrs. Stankiewicz and Lindsey were proud to say the house they helped wire passed inspection the first time.
"It became personal," Mrs. Stankiewicz said. "It was more than just working on a building. We met the owner of the house. He was 89 years old and had lived in the house for over 50 years. The neighbor brought us refreshments every day. We exchanged names and addresses with people so we can stay in touch."
The group stayed in a local Baptist church set up for the volunteers.
They were up at 5:30 every morning and worked until 4:30 p.m. They did take a half day off on Sunday following church services to do a little sight seeing.
"We slept on cots and air mattresses. Volunteers were there to cook for everyone, and Mt. Zion Baptist Association had their mobile shower trailer set up for the workers," she said.
Mother and daughter both agreed it was a rewarding trip. Volunteers make up teams from demolition, foundation, painting, wiring, plumbing, dry wall, roofing, finishing, yard work, kitchen, evanglisism team, and clean-up teams.
Mrs. Stankiewicz and Lindsey emphasized the need for volunteers.
"You don't have to be a licensed electrician or plumber to assist in the work," she said. "We had several young people Lindsey's age working on our team and they did a great job."
In addition to wiring, the two helped distribute food to contract workers, Lindsey enjoyed playing football and other games with the neighborhood children, visited with people and made many friends.
"When people saw our yellow shirts, they came up and gave us hugs, thanked us and expressed their appreciation," she said. "Everyone is working hard to meet the deadlines that have been set. If homes aren't on the way to being rebuilt by the deadline, they will be bulldozed and the FEMA trailers where so many are still living will be removed."
"There is urgency for volunteers and funds. If anyone does not want to give cash, they can go to Lowe's locally and purchase items and have them transferred to the Lowe's Store in New Orleans for the Arkansas Baptist Builders. There may be other stores doing the same but I know it can be done at Lowe's. I had several local businesses donate supplies for our trip including Barton's, D&K Hardware, Pro Hardware all of Manila, Vineyard Plus of Leachville, Ginger and Michael Stracener. Paul and Leann Bell of Manila have helped me with all the mission trips I have taken part in and I appreciate all of them."
Mrs. Stankiewicz said all funds donated go to the rebuilding.
"There is no administrative fee and none of the workers through the Arkansas Baptist Builders get one penny," she said. "Anyone wanting to make a donation can do so through the Arkansas Baptist Builders, P.O. Box 375, Jonesboro, AR 72403. There is still a great need to help get the people back in their homes."
Mrs. Stankiewicz will be joining a mission group in May to return to New Orleans. The entire family is planning to go in July including Her husband, Stanley, and in addition to Lindsey, other children are Stanley, 15, Spencer, 12, and Olivia, 7.