New Coalition Brings New Hope to Storm-Ravaged Lake Charles

Mark Lambert
November 17, 2021

The Louisiana Conference is leading a new disaster relief coalition to rebuild homes of people in southwest Louisiana who have endured two major hurricanes, a winter ice storm, and a flood during a worldwide pandemic.

The coalition of the Louisiana Conference, Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders, and Mennonite Disaster Services will identify people of need; develop estimates and work plans; order supplies; provide case management; and house, feed, and manage volunteers from across the country as early as January.

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey says the coalition will serve as a model for future recovery work, "The Mennonites, long known for their excellent work in recovery, the Fuller Center’s reputation for reaching into our communities and the United Methodist Church’s ability to manage and help connect and resource this much needed and overdue recovery will make a difference in Southwest Louisiana."

Bill Howell, Director of Missional Engagement and Outreach, has convened several meetings in Lake Charles with local United Methodist church leaders and community groups to identify resources and organize logistics. Each of the three coalition members has its own resources and expertise that will complement the assets of the other groups, Howell explained.

“Our role is not construction. We’re not equipped to do that,” he said. “That’s why we’re engaging the Mennonites and Fuller. We went in and asked, ‘What are you good at?’ The conference is good at managing issues.”

The Conference will provide organizational and financial support to the coalition; the Fuller Center brings its construction management expertise to the table, and the Mennonites will supply the volunteers.

Fuller Center volunteers work in south Louisiana


“Bill Howell came up with the idea of the Methodists’ providing resources and homeowners of need,” said Phil Helmuth, who coordinates the work of the Mennonites in Lake Charles. “The Fuller Center puts together a scope of work and budget, that’s their expertise. We wait on the sidelines for jobs to fit our mission, and we bring folks to do the labor.”

"I am thankful to Bill Howell and his creativity and his heart for helping people and most especially for being a 'get it done' leader," said Bishop Harvey. "The coming together of like-minded organizations to work toward a common goal, helping those in greatest need, is truly Holy Spirit inspired." 

“We’re all serving the same God and driven by the same motivation,” said Bart Tucker, chairman of the Fuller Center. “We all have our definition of what we do best. When we come to the table, we say, ‘we rebuild homes.’”

The urgency of recovery in the Lake Charles area is reflected through the speed at which the coalition was created. Howell ran into Helmuth, where he was organizing relief volunteers in Lafayette. Howell invited him and Turner to an October 20 video call, just to discuss how the groups might help each other. Before the call was over, a coalition was born.

Bill Howell, Director of Missional Outreach
and Engagement, Louisiana Conference
 
“I’m not sure how things happen sometimes,” Helmuth laughed. “We have conversations, we do networking, and now we’ve got this coalition. Let me give Bill Howell credit for reaching out and pulling this together.”

Howell, who was retired in Florida and answered the call of God to come to Louisiana, isn’t interested in credit. He’s interested in helping the people of Lake Charles get back on their feet.

“The need is overwhelming. For a long time, not a lot was done, and that was because of Covid,” Howell said, explaining that bringing in volunteers to work on houses has been complicated and, usually, unsafe. “There’s a lot of frustration in the area, and that’s understandable. Here we are, a year later, and they still have blue tarps on their houses.”
 

"A Sign of Hope"


Rev. Angela Bulhof, who became senior pastor at University United Methodist Church in Lake Charles just weeks before Hurricane Laura struck, sees the blue tarps every day. She and other local Methodists have worked tirelessly to patch together people’s homes and lives, but the train of weather disasters during a pandemic has been nearly too much to bear.

“Between Covid and storm after storm after storm, it was impossible for the conference to do what it did before,” Bulhof said.

Today, she sees the coalition as a “sign of hope.”

“Our prayer has been, ‘God send someone to help us,’” Bulhof said. “To have someone like Bill, who is a newcomer to Louisiana, figure out a way to make things happen…I think it shows that God is always in the business of making things new. There’s a lot of excitement here that, finally, maybe all the groundwork that has been laid will show fruit.”

Howell hopes the coalition will be a Louisiana model for other disaster responses, including the Hurricane Ida relief effort.

“We have the other side of the state, too,” he said. “We’ve done an excellent job with the response teams, and we’re doing good work in places like Dulac, Golden Meadow. So, I want to emphasize that it’s not that we’re not focused on other areas. But for right now, Lake Charles really needs to be energized, and I feel like we’re getting to a point where the momentum is coming back.”
 

If you would like to help the relief efforts in Louisiana, please visit www.la-umc.org/relief or text RELIEF to 800-500-5858

 
 

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