Volunteers come from far and wide to assist Ocean Springs veteran

pochs@sunherald.com Twitter: PatrickOchsJuly 16, 2014 

OCEAN SPRINGS -- Melinda will hardly recognize her family home when she moves back in a couple of weeks.

Late last year, a green CONDEMNED sign had been stapled to the front door of her one-story house. Her house deemed unsafe to live in, Melinda -- who requested her last name be omitted for personal reasons -- was evicted.

That's when the Back Bay Mission in Biloxi was contacted in January to help the Air Force veteran. Seven months later, Melinda is almost ready to get her keys back.

She visited the home last week and the progress almost brought tears to her eyes.

"I can't wait to get into the home," she said. "I think it's beautiful what they're doing."

Except for the foundation and framework, the home will virtually be brand-new. Craig Steenkamp, Back Bay Mission Associate for Housing Recovery and Volunteer Programs, said that was the only option.

"It was in deplorable condition," he said. "She became a hoarder, walking in things knee-deep and waist-deep in some places.

"We just gutted the whole house down to the studs. We took out all of the wiring, all of the plumbing. We took out everything. We gutted the whole thing because we wanted to bring it up to code so it will be safe for her whenever she moves back in."

Church groups from around the country, as well as several spring breakers and school groups have done much of the labor.

"It's overwhelming. I know a group came down, when they first started, from Wisconsin -- they came all the way from Wisconsin to work on my home," Melinda said.

As of Wednesday, there's just a little work left to do.

Nine volunteers from Valspar and 12 from Lowe's in D'Iberville were working on the house Wednesday. While the Valstar employees applied paint inside, Lowe's employees created a large flower bed out front.

Lowe's employees also dug up a bush that had grown almost as tall as the house itself.

"We definitely wanted to do something where we could make an impact for somebody," said Mike Pitts, a manager at the D'Iberville Lowe's. "You can't discount what people go through and when you're fortunate enough to help people out, that's the best part.

"That's what we're here to do."

Anyone who wants to sponsor the project or pitch in labor is asked to contact Back Bay Mission Community Relations Director Derek Eady at 432-0301 or deady@thebackbaymission.org.

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