The devastation of Hurricane Katrina is still evident in New Orleans and caring people from the area and the nation continue to lend a hand to those who are still jumping FEMA hurdles and have no where to live.
Joyce Rydstrom, Alta, was among a group of 10 from Summit Church that recently returned from a week-long trip to the city. This is her second time making the trip and if there is work to do next year, she said, she will go again.
"When I went last year, I saw so much devastation. We all wanted to go and help put people back in their homes; we are the light at the end of their tunnel."
The Summit group traveled by bus to New Orleans and worked with Urban Impact, an organization that comes up with projects for the many volunteers that come to help the families in New Orleans. A house is provided for the volunteers to stay at during their time in the city; Rydstrom said there were other groups from Connecticut and New Mexico helping and staying in the large house at the same time the Alta group was there.
One of the first things the volunteers are given when they arrive to help are t-shirts with "I Love New Orleans" printed on the front. The people living in the city can easily spot who the volunteers are. "They are glad to see us," said Rydstrom. Many of the people waiting for their homes to be refurbished are present at the sites and are friendly with the volunteers and so grateful for the people they are receiving.
The first project the Summit group worked on was a downtown three-story building which is being turned into an art center. Much of the two days was spent repairing the roof.
The group then moved to a neighborhood where they worked on gutting a house, preparing it for the next group of volunteers to come in and complete another task.
Fridays are known as "Super Friday" and consist of the volunteers coming together to clean the streets and picking up trash. The Urban Impact organization comes out on Fridays with their van equipped with a hot dog griller and people of the neighborhood are invited to come out and visit with the volunteers and eat free hot dogs. It is a special time, bringing everyone together.
The experience has made Rydstrom appreciate all that she has.
"I realized I have way too much." She is saddened by those that lost so much but has learned by talking with those who have been effected by Katrina, "When God is all you have, that's enough. Many people lost most everything. I talked with one lady who was on her roof for three days (following the hurricane due to the water levels.) She said, 'If I'm rescued, that will be a good day and if I perish, it will be a great day.' We all should have that attitude - if we have faith, that's all we need. What a neat attitude."
She shared that no special talents or skills are needed to go to New Orleans and help the people rebuild their lives - the only thing needed is the desire to help others.
"You get in and do your best. We were all filthy (after working) and that was ok," she said.
From her trip last year, the Alta woman said she has seen "progress" but she realizes, sadly, that there is great deal left to do.
"One of the things we heard a lot while we were there is, 'Love God with all you've got and love people 'til you drop.'"
And that's exactly what they did.
Rydstrom said that anyone can volunteer to help - not only in New Orleans but at home, too.
"There are people who need help everywhere. You can help your neighbor, that's good, too. You don't have to go across the country to share God's love."
Members of the group besides Rydstrom were Pastor Kevin Mahr, Heather Nyren, Brian and Jean Bickford, Nate Braselton, Kevin Scott, Al Phipps, Dennis Julius and Bruce Edwards.