Compass News 360 May 31, 2012:

Pamlico County: A place filled with Hope

By Dawn Baldwin Gibson | Special to The County Compass

EVERYWHERE — This week a wonderful phenomenon has been seen throughout Pamlico County. It looks like a sea of blue T-shirts almost everywhere, worn by volunteers from as far away as New Hampshire, Iowa, Texas, Florida, Mississippi, California, and about 40 other states in between.

These people represent what Pamlico County has been longing for! 8 Days of Hope is here!

For months, many of us have been anticipating the arrival of more than 1800 volunteers. With so much work having gone into the planning and organizing of this event, yet there were times that it was hard to imagine how it would all come together. Nevertheless, the Pamlico County Disaster Recovery Coalition continued its work in preparation for the coming of 8 Days of Hope. Although this was an uncharted area for the less than four month-organized Coalition, our case workers met and visited applicants; the fundraising committee sent letters and made calls for resources; and, board members along with in-county and out-of-county partners worked tirelessly to accomplish this goal.

Among these partners was the experienced and competent staff of Camp Seafarer that readied itself for the volunteers that would arrive on May 25. Under the leadership of Lynn Moss, Director, and Elayne Steinman, Associate Director, Camp Seafarer opened its doors and hearts to the volunteers.

Last Friday, we began to witness the reality of our work and our hopes. As we watched the first of many volunteers begin to arrive and register, it was evident that the work had come to fruition. It was as tangible as the family from Pennsylvania who had driven 15 hours through the night with their five children to get here. It was as real as the youth groups that came after sponsoring various fundraisers to pay for their trip to Pamlico.

I was moved by a young woman from Iowa who had cleaned houses to get a seat on the bus coming to Pamlico County and by the ladies from the Midwest who came with quilts they had worked on for months to present to local homeowners. With the many heart-warming stories are the many people whose goal is to serve the people of Pamlico County by being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.

As gratified as I was when I left Camp Seafarer on Friday night after meeting so many wonderful people, my day was not yet over. When I returned home, I received an e-mail from a young woman in New England whose father had left home and had forgotten the name of the camp and its location. She wanted me to check if he had arrived. Upon checking, I found out he had arrived in New Bern and would later spend the week coordinating jobs.

Saturday was equally gratifying with some rewarding challenges. I awakened to an early morning text bearing great news with a challenge. Happily, even more volunteers had arrived, but we needed additional lodging. Pamlico Community College immediately came aboard, providing us the much-needed space. This team effort took place in a matter of hours, and we were able to place scoresof volunteers at the college by 3 p.m. with the generous assistance of Dr. Cleve Cox, President; Jamie Gibbs, Vice President of Student Affairs; Bruce Lupton, Maintenance Director; and the entire Board of Trustees.

Amazingly first day orientation established on Saturday morning began the efficient process that would be the week’s hallmark for 8 Days of Hope. Job coordinators began the process of surveying which jobs they would be working on. Job sheets went up for workers to fill the needed number required for the jobs listed. Hundreds of people gathered at a time to see where to go, and who they would serve. It was incredible to see. People moved in, signed their names to the sheets, gathered with their groups and loaded up in vehicles and were off to various points throughout Pamlico County.

Blue shirts with the 8 Days of Hope logo had converged, and now were dispersed across the county to start work on more than 60 homes initially. This would mark the largest first day volunteer number with approximately 1100 people on board..

On Sunday many gathered at local churches to worship. We had a group join us in New Bern at our church. One group in Vandemere created a makeshift church where about 120 volunteers worshipped at a work site with some local community members. By noon, however, volunteers were back on roofs, repairing floors, tearing out, and rebuilding. They were now in more than 90 homes and some jobs were already nearing completion.

Having been to more than half of the work sites in the county, I am in awe of all the work the volunteers are accomplishing. The homeowner stories of this experience coupled with those shared by volunteers are simply moving. There is the homeowner who after having her roof repaired declared, “Now when it rains, I won’t get wet.” An elderly homeowner had been afraid she would fall through her bathroom floor that had been severely compromised after Hurricane Irene. A volunteer verified how dire the need when the volunteer almost fell through the floor. Concerned about the danger, the volunteers tore out the old floor and replaced it. Now the homeowner walks in her bathroom feeling safe.

One thing that I learned from numerous conversations and meetings with the Executive Leadership of 8 Days of Hope was the importance of giving back to the community. This was already evident, I thought, in the work that they were doing in homes, but they wanted to go beyond that. When thinking of a great place to start, Pamlico County Middle School was an obvious choice.

It has been a challenging year for the school system as a result of Hurricane Irene. With the displacement of students, faculty, staff, and administration from the middle school, all schools have been affected. When we initially made contact with Dr. Wanda Dawson, Superintendent of Pamlico County Schools, and Ms. Lisa Jackson, Principal of Pamlico County Middle School, it was not yet clear what could be done with so much work at the school already completed. But the 8 Days of Hope leaders were committed to doing something for the school. It has been awesome to see the work they have done on the exterior of PCMS.

In all the work that 8 Days of Hope has been completing, there has been a solid working relationship with the two main disaster relief organizations that have been on the ground since Hurricane Irene: NC Baptist Men and United Methodist (UMCOR). All of these volunteers are working to help restore the county.

At the writing of this, it is only Day 5, and there is still work slated to be done. Many volunteers did not want to leave jobs in the midst of a storm because they wanted to complete what they had begun in a timely manner, but safety first.

As the final few days of 8 Days of Hope come to a close here in Pamlico County, publicity about this unprecedented event for North Carolina will surely focus on rebuilt homes and the economic impact to the county. However, the real story is one about hundreds of people who came from all over the United States and unselfishly brought hope, joy, and the love of Jesus Christ.

Many months ago, Steve Tybor, 8 Days of Hope president, told me this would be a life-changing event. He was absolutely right

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