By Ed Fanselow
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Monday, June 05, 2006
The sound of hammers clanging against two-by-fours echoed through the parking lot at Willow Creek Community Church on Sunday.
Volunteers had begun forming the framework for seven new houses and the church’s latest outreach effort to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
More than 400 church members — many of them swinging a hammer for the first time — turned out to help prefabricate dozens of walls and roof parts, which will be shipped today to the tiny coastal town of Bay St. Louis, Miss.
In seven weeks, the pieces will be joined there by some 200 Willow Creek volunteers who’ll spend five days constructing new three-bedroom houses for seven families that have remained homeless since the hurricane made landfall nine months ago.
The trip is co-sponsored by Habitat for Humanity.
“We wanted to let the congregation know that we’re still doing this — we’re still on the Gulf Coast,” said Susan Demel, the South Barrington-based church’s outreach director. “We wanted to generate some energy for this project.”
The forthcoming “blitz build” — as church leaders call it — will mark the latest tour of duty in Mississippi for the Willow Creek congregation.
Last September, more than 400 volunteers descended on the nearby town of Waveland to offer free meals, clothing and comfort to victims of the deadly storm. In the intervening months, hundreds more followed to help clear away the mountains of debris that still stand in the way of progress.
Much of that work should be completed by late July, when the “blitz build” volunteers will arrive for their weeklong stint.
Among them will be 19-year-old Dan Grothe of Rolling Meadows who, like the others, shelled out $500 to reserve his seat on the bus ride south. Grothe, who will soon become a union carpenter’s apprentice, said he’s eager to use his skills for such a good cause.
“When I heard about this, I knew I wanted to go,” he said. “My dad’s a firefighter, so it’s just in my blood to want to help people.”
Another volunteer, retired car dealer Fred Iozzo of Wayne, has participated in several other Habitat for Humanity projects, including last year’s Willow Creek-led trip to Benton Harbor, Mich.
He said the feeling of creating a new house from scratch in less than a week’s time and then turning it over to a grateful family is something he can’t quite explain.
“You’re not just giving them a house,” he said. “You’re giving them a whole new life. That’s really incredible to me.”