When Hurricane Katrina hit the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH) in Gulfport, Miss., everyone's first inclination was to stay where they were. However, once the generators were destroyed and power was lost, it was clear that an evacuation would be necessary.
"That created some significant hygiene problems, and that's when we knew we had to get out," said Gulfport AFRH CFO Steve McMannus.
Amid heavy flooding and chaotic conditions, the facility promptly evacuated most of its residents to the AFRH Washington D.C. campus. It was a long and arduous process — one that McMannus says would not have happened without the invaluable assistance of rescue workers and the cooperation of the residents.
"The residents made a lot of difference in terms of their support and their focus on what had to be done," said McMannus. "As long as the residents knew what was going on, they were more of a help than anything."
Last Thursday, Oct. 13, approximately 20 residents of Vinson Hall, a McLean-based military retirement community, paid a visit to the AFRH Washington facility. While there, they met with AFRH residents and listened as McMannus told the tale of the Gulfport evacuation.
"It's kind of funny, but in tragedy you see so much goodness," said McMannus at the gathering. "When we left Gulfport there were a lot of sad faces, but when we got off the bus in Washington D.C. there were a lot of smiling faces because there were so many people here to welcome us. Throughout this, there have been moments of just total giving."
Kathleen Martin, the new CEO of Vinson Hall, said that she had a particular interest in the arranged visit between the two retirement homes because her husband and his entire family are from Gulfport. At Thursday's event, Martin commended the residents for being part of a special generation.
"Your generation is the most incredible generation that we've had for many, many years," she said. "You have all pulled together through thick and thin."
VINSON HALL RESIDENT and Chapel Board Chairman David Chewning helped to organize Thursday's "Project Friendship Across The District," and at the event, Chewning presented a check for $6,000 to the Gulfport residents. Chewning said that he got the idea to try and arrange a visit and collect donation money because when news of the tragedy arrived "the first thing we remembered is that it's military tradition that we help each other."
Claire Behrmann, Director of Health Services at Vinson Hall, also presented a check to the Gulfport residents. Behrmann and the other nurses organized a bake sale and raised $560 for the cause.
"We were devastated when we saw what you all had been through," said Behrmann as she presented the donation.
After a few welcoming words, AFRH residents and Vinson Hall residents mingled over snacks and refreshments.
"I think this is a great idea," said AFRH resident Carroll Harding. "Any time you have the opportunity to socialize, I think it's a good thing."
Vinson Hall resident Thomas Donnelly was particularly pleased to meet AFRH resident William Abernathy, as he inspired him to start a walking program at Vinson Hall.
"I'm the chairman of the Health and Fitness committee and this made me realize that we need a walking program at Vinson Hall," said Donnelly.
Abernathy has just recently completed 10,700 miles in the walking program at AFRH. It took him four years to log in that many miles.
"I started three months of being 88 and I finished up three months of being 92," said Abernathy.
That fate of the AFRH facility in Gulfport is still being decided.
"We are waiting on Congress to tell us what they are going to do with the building," said McMannus.