A local optometrist, a financial planner, an insurance worker and a mechanic will make up a some of the volunteers from the Herndon Rotary Club heading down to Louisiana this weekend to help reconstruct homes devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
The team of 11 volunteers will leave Herndon for Gulfport, La., Saturday to assist in the final steps of the construction of a number of homes for citizens with little to no insurance left homeless by the hurricane.
"From what I've heard Gulfport took the brunt of the storm ... it was pretty much just wiped out," said Bob Benedict, a member of the Herndon Rotary Club and the organizer for the trip. "These are people with a real need."
The team will work to install insulation, hang drywall and paint the inside of the homes which have already been under construction through labor and materials organized by the Trinity United Methodist Church and local Rotary Clubs, Benedict said. The team is scheduled to work for five days of about 11 hours each.
While he said he wasn't sure how many houses the group would be able to complete in the time they are down there because he didn't know their size, Benedict said that the group's main goal is to make a positive contribution to the area.
"We're talking about a number of people who just lost everything," he said. "I just want us to make sure that we can make a valuable impact for the folks down there."
THE VOLUNTEERING mission started when Herndon Rotary Club member and former president Richard Downer sent an email about a week and a half after Hurricane Katrina to a local Rotary Club affiliate in Houma, La.
"The Rotary Club, our whole motto is service above self," Downer said. "Everyone here is watching what was happening and wondering what to do, so I thought we should get involved in whatever way we could."
When an email from one of their members was sent back requesting that they send assistance down to help with the clean-up efforts, Downer connected him with Benedict, a Rotary member and a contractor.
While the original trip never came to fruition, Benedict remained in contact with the Rotary Club in Houma. This spring, he received an email asking for the assistance they had originally planned last year.
"Someone in that group had gotten wind of the fact that there's a bunch of guys up in Herndon who were interested in coming down and helping out," Benedict said.
After some planning and searching for willing volunteers, Benedict assembled his team of 11 workers. All are Rotary Club members or family of Rotary Club members.
"Just to have people using their vacation time to come down here and help, it just means so much to us," said Tim McNabb, president of the Huoma Rotary Club. "There have been so many people who have responded to what happened down here and doing their best to get these communities up and running again."
"WE'RE NOT just writing a check and walking away and hoping that the money goes to something worthwhile," Benedict said. "We're getting involved in the process. We're putting our work and our time into it."
The work does not come without some sacrifice. To make the trip, Benedict is leaving the management of his contracting company in Herndon for the week.
The volunteer effort is more about retribution for Tom Finley, a Herndon Rotary Club member and optometrist in Herndon who is on the team of volunteers. Finley said his decision to go with the group was based on his family's experiences following Hurricane Agnes in Northeastern Pennsylvania in 1972.
"There were tons and tons of groups that came marching down the street and said 'how can we help?'" following the hurricane, said Finley. "We needed help then and now these people need help too."
But it's more the heat in southern Louisiana that has Benedict concerned.
"Me being in the construction business, I know what we're getting into — I just hope that the other guys will all be able to keep up," he said. "It'll be a long couple of work days … but in the end I think we'll do all right and help out some people as well."