In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina’s battering storm smothered Bob Flowers’ Gulfport, Miss. home. The flooding and winds left the structure unlivable, forcing Bob and his wife to reside in a FEMA trailer for the next four years and 10 months.
Desperate for some helping hands, the couple applied for relief with Mission on the Bay, a ministry of Lutheran Episcopal Services in Mississippi. The organization provides volunteers who help families rebuild post-Katrina homes.
Mike Conte, assistant director of mechanical trades, and his daughter, Megan Nicole Conte, 17, are among 1,800 volunteers from across the country and Canada who joined the organization in 2010.
In mid-April, the father-daughter duo and eight other members of the Saint Lames Episcopal in Glastonbury, Conn. traveled 1,390 miles to the Flowers home. They teamed up with a youth group from Duxbury, Mass. to work on the structure.
“The Flowers’ home had to be completely gutted in order to make livable,” Conte says. “Volunteers before us had already put on a new roof, did most of the rough electrical, plumbing and framing. It still needed insulation, walls, floors, a kitchen, light fixtures, all kinds of finish work, air conditioning, heat, electrical and plumbing fixtures.”
Conte, who served as a Mission on the Bay construction supervisor, oversaw all phases of the job. With his leadership, the volunteers were able to finish the home’s framing, insulate the walls and ceilings, sheet-rock most of the house and complete some electrical work.
Nevertheless, the State of Mississippi will not allow the Flowers to move back in until they have a completely functional kitchen and bedroom. The couple has until August to leave their FEMA trailer and avoid severe financial consequences.
Bob Flowers, a retired carpenter, worked alongside the volunteers. Since Mission on the Bay only provides labor aid, Flowers needed to purchase all the material and equipment with his own money and funds borrowed from government loans. In addition, his home-owners’ insurance sky-rocketed to nearly $4,000 a year.
“The Flowers were wonderful people and extremely appreciative of the work we did,” Conte says. “The experience left me feeling many emotions: sorrow for those affected and still affected, awe at the ridiculous power of a hurricane, humility at seeing how people in situations far worse than any I have confronted handle a situation like Katrina without giving up, satisfaction at helping others and getting nothing in return (monetarily), and the feeling we all have when we experience commonality with total strangers and become close as a result of sharing an experience like this.”
Saint Lames Episcopal asked Conte to return as a leader with another youth group next February.
“I can’t think of a better way to spend a week, or two. Having 30 young folks look up to you as their mentor for a week, and sharing in their activities was great too,” he says. “Got my butt kicked in basketball a few times, but kept right up with a bunch of 16 year-olds. Also, I promised Bob Flowers I would come visit.”