Town manager Steve Owen recently celebrated his 48th birthday by bringing Christmas to one family in Biloxi, Miss. a month early.
And, while he is humble about his trip to rebuild their home, his impact made its mark not only on the Gulf Coast family, but also in Herndon.
"He used his vacation time to do that, he wasn't on paid leave," said Mayor Michael O'Reilly about Owen's trip to help the Hurricane Katrina victims.
"He demonstrates the kind of employees that we have," he said. "We are a service-oriented town."
Owen learned of the family in need from a good friend in Richmond, Va., he said. Through a church connection, Owen's friend heard that the Church of the Redeemer, an Episcopalian Church in Biloxi, Miss., was wiped out because of the hurricanes that hit the region this year. And although the priest said they would be able to rebuild the actual church building, it was his parishioners he was most concerned with, said Owen.
"He was especially worried about the church leaders because they had lost a lot," he said. "He knew if they couldn't get back on their feet, the church would not get back on its feet."
That's when Owen and his friend decided it was time to take a trip.
In the car for 16 hours, the pair drove without stopping until they reached the town. Once there they stayed in a neighboring church's day care center, sleeping there at night and showering at the local YMCA each morning.
Working with other volunteers, Owen, who admitted he knew little about remodeling a house, helped transform the once-flooded home into something the owners could be proud of.
"We did basically an extreme makeover in three days," he said. "We brought with us two trucks of supplies filled with kitchen cabinets, drywall materials and we still had to go to Lowes three times a day."
Owen and his friend were in town from a Monday to Friday. When they arrived Owen said he could not believe the devastation that still remained.
"There are still shrimp boats in the woods," he said. "I don't know how they're gonna get them back in the canals."
Residents who cannot move back into their homes are now living in tent cities and out of trailers or similar set ups on public yards, he said. Most of the houses have spray-painted symbols on them indicating whether there were bodies inside the homes, said Owen. Even with all of the devastation and the eerie sensation of seeing boats in the woods and abandoned homes, Owen's trip was enjoyable.
"Everyone was very positive," he said. "When we got there we saw a bunch of wall studs, and when we left it was a brand new home."