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United Methodist center takes in evacuees with special needs

 


United Methodist center takes in evacuees with special needs

Sept. 15, 2005        

By John Gordon*

PALESTINE, Texas (UMNS) — In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, churches across the South have opened their doors as shelters. But one place of refuge in east Texas has taken on a special role helping storm survivors.

More than 70 physically and mentally challenged children and adults from Volunteers of America group homes in the New Orleans area have found a safe haven at Lakeview Methodist Conference Center near Palestine. Without help from the federal government or relief agencies, United Methodists are providing food, clothing and shelter, and volunteering their time to help.

Sixteen-year-old Brittney McGee is one of those who made the journey. “It was very scary, and I didn’t want to leave home, but I had to,” says McGee, who is confined to a wheelchair.

The group fled New Orleans before Katrina hit Aug. 29, spending a week at Texas hotels before arriving at the 1,300-acre Lakeview camp. Some still haven’t grasped the extent of the devastation back in Louisiana. Others know they’ve lost whatever they didn’t bring.

“It’s pretty sad, homes and high water, the damage done to it,” says George Camp, 50, a group-home resident from Slidell, La.

Volunteers of America employees who helped relocate the residents of the group homes also brought their own families. In addition to 72 people who lived in the homes, another 130 Volunteers of America staffers, their families and volunteers are staying at Lakeview.

“These people had an enormous disruption and needed help. They’ve lost everything in their lives,” says Jo Green, a psychologist and United Methodist volunteering her time to counsel group-home evacuees.

Green and other Palestine-area psychologists are offering stress counseling for the group-home residents as well as Volunteers of America staff. In the months to come, some of the special-needs evacuees could suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, she says.

“We just want to make ourselves available to provide what services are needed,” she says. “A lot of times, that’s just sitting down and chatting with someone.”

Other volunteers work puzzles and play cards with the evacuees. Volunteer beauticians offer haircuts. Sheets are being taken to a nearby state prison to be washed.

The camp also has arranged for dialysis and other medical needs. Younger evacuees are enrolled in local schools.

“Everyone here is just blessed,” says Voris Vigee, a Volunteers of America staffer who came with the group from New Orleans.

“We love it here, and we feel as though this is a great place to heal from the horrific experience we have been through,” she says.

Lakeview administrator Von Dawson says he has not had time to contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Red Cross to see if financial help might be available for the operation of the camp. Dawson describes support from area church members as overwhelming.

“Hope and pray there is (help available from other agencies),” Dawson says. “But if there’s not, I feel pretty confident in God’s people.”

Lakeview is normally used for church meetings and summer camps.

Volunteers of America staffers are not sure how long they will stay at the camp—weeks or possibly months. Long-range plans could include moving back to homes in parts of Louisiana spared by the storm.

But while they are at Lakeview, volunteers say they will do whatever they can to help.

“It’s a privilege, it’s a responsibility, I think, that we’re all stewards of those that are not able to do for themselves so much,” says Green, the psychologist.

McGee is grateful for the Texas welcome, while admitting she is a bit homesick away from her family.

“Being here in Texas, it’s really great because these people are really nice,” she says.  “But I do miss home.”

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Jan Snider, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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