Hurricane Katrina

Katrina volunteers: Dee and Jack never left

Dee and Jack Boreing are familiar sights at the Lowe's in Pascagoula. Hurricane Katrina brought the Boreings to the Gulf Coast. Their love for the community and people kept them here. Ten years later, official disaster relief is over but the couple continues to volunteer, organizing projects and helping those in need of home repairs.
AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALD Dee and Jack Boreing are familiar sights at the Lowe's in Pascagoula. Hurricane Katrina brought the Boreings to the Gulf Coast. Their love for the community and people kept them here. Ten years later, official disaster relief is over but the couple continues to volunteer, organizing projects and helping those in need of home repairs. SUN HERALD

PASCAGOULA -- When Dee Boreing turned 62, her husband, Jack, asked her not to work on roofs anymore.

"But I love roofs," she said with a grin.

She's a good roofer. She's also a good cook -- both skills that came in handy in the months after Katrina and, even today, are in demand.

The way Dee Boreing tells it, she and Jack came from Georgia to help after Katrina, and they never left. Ten years later, they are still volunteering.

They call themselves full-time missionaries to the Katrina area.

They bought a house. They belong.

Members of the First United Methodist Church of Pascagoula thank God that Dee and Jack are still here. The Boreings are very active in that church, which is their church now.

"They were just God's hands," one fellow member said. "Joyful in good times and bad ... flexible, they don't get bent out of shape."

Over the years, the Boreing's work has evolved from volunteering with the Methodist Katrina disaster-relief effort -- where they worked on thousands of homes and rebuilt 14 from scratch -- to leading a new organization born of the need that still exists in Jackson County.

Community of Hope formed in 2011 when the Methodist church formally ended its disaster response, and Dee is now the group's director of daily operations.

Her specialty is organizing and deploying volunteer teams.

In February, when the Boreings got a call from a reporter about their work, Dee was under a house in Pascagoula looking at sub-flooring that had rotted from under the living and dining rooms.

She was preparing to lead a team of construction volunteers scheduled to arrive in Jackson County in February and March.

She had four more houses to check to see if they qualified for the help. The volunteers coming were couples from all around the country who live in campers and call themselves NOMADS and a Baptist-Methodist group from Florida that specializes in roofing.

The house with the bad floors had flooded in Katrina and been repaired. It was that repair work that had rotted, becasue of inferior materials or hasty construction right after the storm.

"This one is a direct result of Katrina," Dee said. But, she doesn't hold her projects to the Katrina test anymore. It's rare when donors ask that their money go to a Katrina project.

Still, this is the second house "we've had to do this for, so I know there are more out there," she said. "Really, we're doing Katrina work 10 years later."

The Boreings have been married for 31 years with two sons and nine grandchildren.

She's 62, and he's 70, with some health issues.

How the Boreings came to land in Pascagoula is a tale all its own.

They lived in Douglasville, Ga., in the suburbs of Atlanta, on a farm where Dee grew up, in a farmhouse her grandfather had built with his own hands. They had family nearby, Jack was retired and Dee had a thriving printing and embroidery business.

They had reached a point in their spiritual journey where they knew they wanted to be missionaries and had begun making mission trips to Mexico.

They were praying for guidance and just knew God was going to send them to Mexico.

"We'd say, 'God we're ready to go to Mexico,'" in their nightly devotions, she said, but nothing really happened. Then Katrina hit and the church called Jack to Jackson County for a few weeks. Meanwhile, they were still praying for guidance about the little community in Mexico they had grown to love.

Then in October 2005, they changed their prayer to "God, we're ready to go wherever you want to send us." And the next day, they got a call from their church network asking that they commit to three months in Pascagoula.

There was just so much need there after Katrina -- 95 percent of the homes and businesses had flooded, thousands of houses needed work.

The First United Methodist Church of Pascagoula was using its gymnasium as a sanctuary and, like so many other churches along the Coast of all denominations, was forgoing repairs to its own building to house the volunteers that would rebuild the community.

Jack came first, and reported back to Dee: "Baby, it's a mess. But you're going to love it. These are the most awesome people. They have dug their heels in and they're working."

"We had a business, we had a farm. We had all kinds of stuff," Dee said, "but I knew that was God calling."

They decided to make a total commitment, and asked God to show them how.

That same week, a neighbor, out of the blue, asked Dee if she would consider selling the 17-acre farm. She had it appraised and got the asking price without haggling.

"We started calling everyone in our family, giving things away," she said. "We didn't want to sell anything . We had three generations of stuff and farm equipment. God took care of it."

But, Dee thought she might hang onto the embroidery business, just in case.

"We were 'relying on God,' but we might need this," she laughed. They planned to put it in storage, but God took care of it too, she said.

A friend who had heard they were going into missions scoped it out for his daughter. When Dee told him they had decided not to sell the business, it was as if he didn't hear a word she said.

The daughter shadowed Dee for a week and gave Dee her asking price for the equipment.

"We didn't have a house and we didn't have a job," Dee said.

"But we didn't owe anybody anything. We paid everything off, bought a camper and a used truck to pull it," she said. "Our church gave us a humongous send-off. And we left with me not having a clue where Pascagoula was or what to expect when I got here."

They planned for three months and ended up volunteering for eight.

Dee then got a job with the Methodist Disaster Response and had a stipend, received insurance and a place for them to stay. Jack had always had his retirement.

During those early months, Dee cooked for the Pascagoula church.

Ten years later, she still cooks on Wednesdays for the evening social and service. Sometimes it's 200 cinnamon rolls on Sunday morning with her Sunday school class of 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-graders.

"I'm teaching them missions," she said.

She learned how to cook rice for a crowd -- 2½ quarts of boiling water and 5½ cups of rice sealed in a pan with butter and salt in the oven -- by feeding crowds of volunteers in Vancleave.

But it's their work with Community of Hope now that keeps them focused.

Dee lines up groups from all over. And when they arrive in their campers, she and Jack pull out their camper and travel up Mississippi 63 to the Caswell Springs UMC grounds to stay the week or two with them.

The people who come for Community of Hope are seasoned volunteers.

Sam Small, 68, from a town of 15,000 in Kentucky, has known and worked with the Boreings for five years. He was with a group in February who helped roof a trailer in Gautier and install a shower for a wheelchair-bound woman in Pascagoula.

Dee's gift is logistics, inventory and putting together work crews. They both enjoy people -- the visiting, the food and the work. But the jobs get done.

Dee wrangles the straightest boards from Lowe's. The guys at the counter know her like family. She calls ahead and they fill her orders while she's en route.

Dee said if there's a need and a family can't afford to do the work, Community of Hope will help. They must meet certain requirements. But often it's friends of a family who contact the organization.

A crew of couples from the East Coast and Canada with mixed skills tackled the house with the rotten floor. It was a small postwar house on a street off Ingalls Avenue in Pascagoula.

They came the week before Mardi Gras and pulled the floor out -- joists, sub-floor, all the way to dirt. When they replaced it, they added extra moisture barriers to prevent rot.

A friend of the homeowners said, "It's the first time I've seen smiles on that family's faces for years. Their floor was falling out from under them. It cut them out of 60 percent of their house and they were washing clothes in a sink. They're just thrilled."

Community of Hope is a sanctioned public charity. A group of churches supports it and it holds fundraisers.

Founder Marley Paul Walker said it came about when they found elderly and poor who didn't fit the criteria for other assistance, didn't contact anyone for help or thought they "could just live with it."

"It's only been a few months since I took the remnants of a blue tarp off a roof," Walker said, referring to the waterproofing sheets the Corps of Engineers tacked on thousands of roofs after Katrina.

Dee and Jack plan to stay with this work for years to come, running crews not unlike the days of Katrina, though not as intense or stressed.

"It's been a good trip," Jack said. "It's lasted 10 years, and I see it lasting until I'm gone. There's still need here."

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