By Vanessa N. Glavinskas Rotary International NewsPhotos by Miriam Doan/RI Images
18 May 2007
Almost two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast, Rotarians are still on the scene, helping communities rebuild.
In Long Beach, Mississippi, Rotarians from districts 6440 and 6450 (Illinois) and 6360 (Michigan) are working together with Mississippi Rotary clubs to construct a 30,000-square-foot recreation center that will double as an emergency shelter in the event of another Category 5 storm.
"Today, both District 6440 and 6450 are giving $50,000 each to the project," explained Jack Blane, a member of the Rotary Club of Wheeling, Illinois, and past governor of District 6440, on 16 May. According to Blane, the amount will be matched by Mittal Steel, one of his club’s partner organizations. Other groups have also made contributions, including a $2 million grant from the South Mississippi Planning and Development District.
"It will be a place for first-responders and a place of last resort for those who don’t evacuate in time," says Bob Kranz, of the Rotary clubs of Gulfport and Long Beach, Mississippi, USA. He says he realized that a venue for first-responders was desperately needed when his local police department was destroyed during Katrina.
After the 2005 storm, almost every structure up to a half mile inland from the Mississippi shore was destroyed. Thousands of homes were washed away, and Long Beach lost its recreation center, fire station, two schools, and hundreds of businesses. Because of changes in building codes to make structures more weather resistant, recovery has been extremely slow, nearly eliminating the tax base in many communities.
"You can see in the people who still live there that their spirit is gone," says Brian Andersen, a member of the Rotary Club of Darien, Illinois, and chair of District 6450's fellowships committee. "Rebuilding this recreation center will give them some encouragement that the community is coming back," he adds. "It's a star that people can hang their hat on."
The center, named the Long Beach Senior Recreation Shelter, is scheduled for completion in June 2008 and will house areas for craftmaking and meetings, as well as a cafeteria, basketball courts, and a gym for seniors and local residents alike. It will be a gathering place and emergency refuge for the communities of Gulfport, Long Beach, Pass Christian, and Pineville.
"With the Boomers coming along, there's a need for recreational areas for this age group," explains Kranz. "However, we also expect community youth will use the basketball courts and running track."
"Were it not for the Rotary network, this project would not have worked," adds Blane. "We estimate the project will be worth $6 million, with zero long-term debt when we're done. And there will be a 60-foot Rotary wheel painted in the parking lot."
How you can helpIf you'd like to contribute to this project, contact Rotarian Bob Kranz at email@example.com.
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