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June 20, 2006

Ed Hale Lends a Hand in the Gulf Coast

On Friday June 30th, TRANSCENDENCE lead singer Ed Hale boarded a plane headed for Gulfport, Mississippi. This isn’t unique. Entertainers travel. A lot. But the reason for the trip was not for a concert with his band, nor for the recently launched new TV series, Transcendent Television. Rather it was for a week’s worth of manual labor in the hot Mississippi summer sun on a home rebuilding mission trip. He would spend seven days helping to rebuild homes of victims of last year’s devastating hurricane Katrina. This was the second trip he has made this year.

Ed writes in from Biloxi, Mississippi:

“In the simplest terms, since I have written about it a lot already, America’s Gulf Coast still looks like a giant bomb went off there. Tens of thousands of people are still without homes. Living in trailers or family’s homes, or in shelters, or nursing homes. Buildings and restaurants are demolished or gone entirely… very devastating to behold your first time here. Looks like a third world country down there. If there is money coming in from the government to help, you don’t see it down there yet. Perhaps they are still building infrastructure, I don’t know.

“That’s the bad news. But the good news is that every week tons of new groups fly down there from somewhere in America to help those people rebuild. When you are on the plane it is literally filled with people from all over the US who are flying in to help for a week. I have made two trips so far. You meet people from all over the US on these planes. You usually can stay somewhere for free and your food is also provided. All you have to do is work all day.

“All over the region you see groups of people of all ages building homes or clearing rubble of some kind. All volunteers. You can jump on a group through the Red Cross, UMCOR, Hands On America, or Habitat for Humanity, or through other groups as well I am sure. I go through UMCOR, the group which trained me. I have also been trained through the Red Cross. You can look up any of these groups online to find a trip down there to help. There is always one leaving every week.

“Normally you sleep at a hostile or a church on an air-mattress on the floor which you bring yourself so the accommodations are pretty sparse but you get used to it pretty quickly. The fact is that after a day or two on the field helping these older people rebuild their homes so they can move back in them, you forget about your sleeping arrangements or the fact that you may be sharing one bathroom with twenty other people and you just get really focused on helping all these poor people get their lives back as best they can.

“Their stories break your heart and you cannot believe sometimes that it is really happening. It is the looks on their faces as they come to their house every afternoon to check on the progress that keeps you going. It is so heart warming and inspiring that you don’t ever want to leave… you just want to stay till the job gets done. But the truth is that it will be years before this region is rebuilt and all these people are back in their homes. So you just play your little part for that week and go back to your life. But the gift that you seem to receive is immense. A very powerful experience. It is truly a ‘service to others’ experience. That’s the new “hot thing” now it seems, service to others. Because it feels so damn good. Bout time. Once you go down there once, it is almost as if your whole life changes forever. The mission of your life seems to change. Your focus changes. It is very humbling. And perhaps you repent and cry a bit as you come to realize how selfish and self obsessed and materialistic you have been throughout your life.

“As painful as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina were, I truly believe that these tragedies somehow changed us for the better. America seems to have woken up to a new sort of giving mentality… People from all walks of life are filling planes headed for the Gulf Coast taking their vacation time from their jobs to lend a helping hand for a week to do hard labor in the hot sun for no apparent material gain but just to help. It is truly awe inspiring.

More comments on some of the photos:

“This particular house like most of them was filled to the ceiling with water during the storm. Everything these people owned in the world was gone, destroyed. The couple that lived there woke up to the water and ran upstairs to the attic. And that’s where they stayed for the night and the next day and the next. Without food or water. Horribly sad. Their whole house had to be gutted. They lost everything. The house was completely gutted from floor to ceiling. The house had to be re-studded, re-insulated, re-wired, re-drywalled, re-floored, re-ceiling… everything… and we tried our best to get a little portion of that done. A group of twenty of us did a good portion of that to four different houses in a week for people too poor or sick to do it themselves.

“In a few of the pix you will see us with some older people. These are the actual home owners. Every few days, sometimes everyday in some cases, they would stop by to check on the progress of their home. In one of the pix you see this old lady crying because she is trying to express how shocked and happy she is that strangers keep flying down to help her rebuild her home and don’t ask anything in return. You feel blessed to be one of those strangers.

“And yes, I would be remiss to not mention that it occurs to one more than once that all the people flying down to help are young and white and the people needing the help are old and black. It tugs at one’s soul subtly and unceasingly with its implications.

“They were calling us angels, because we came when no one else would. These people are mostly old poor people in their sixties or seventies, mostly sick people with no money and no where else to turn, and all of them are African American. The looks on their faces everyday when they come into their house to check on the progress… man no words can describe the joy in their faces when they see walls going up or roofs being put back on their destroyed houses after so many months… and no words can describe the feeling we have as the blessed souls who are so privileged to be allowed to be a part of it…


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