HJ/EDApril 3, 2006

Waverly man volunteers time, skill to help rebuild Mississippi

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

Months have gone by since Hurricane Katrina ripped through the coast, but as far as Jody Kust of Waverly is concerned, it happened yesterday.

“People are kind of over it, but there are literally whole cities where nothing has been done,” Kust said.

Kust joined a group of 30 college students and five chaperones from the University of Minnesota who joined together to help pick up Katrina’s mess March 10 through 19.

The group was part of the Christian Student Fellowship at the University of Minnesota, which met up with the Christian Organization for Relief Efforts (CORE) in Mississippi.

Kust first heard about the trip from a friend at Watertown Evangelical Lutheran Free church.

After he decided to go, he found out his friend was not going, and he would be shipped off with 35 other people he had never met before.

But that did not deter Kust, it only added to his excitement.

And a trip where he thought he would be rebuilding houses, turned in to a chance to build special friendships.

“Although it was a Christian group, not all the students who came along were Christians,” Kust said.

The opportunity to witness about his faith and talk with students he would have never met otherwise, was as unexpected as the damage he witnessed in Mississippi.

Life beyond New Orleans

New Orleans has grabbed most of the headlines following Katrina’s deadly rampage.

But that is not where the worst part of the hurricane hit.

Kust remembers preparing for the trip, wondering what he could do to help.

It became clear when the group arrived in Ocean Springs, Miss., a few miles away from where Katrina let out her worst.

“It was like driving through Minnetonka and seeing nothing but devastated neighborhoods for miles,” Kust said.

Driving through the cities at night, an eerie feeling set in as there were no lights or electricity, and rumors swirled that dead bodies haven’t even been collected from many areas.

For Kust, the eerie feeling was not conjured from wild ghost stories, but from the hard truth that only months before, these places had been vibrant communities, just like his.

About a block away from the home Kust was to work on, a whole family had drowned in their attic. Trying to retreat from the rising flood waters, they never dreamed the attic wouldn’t be high enough.

Yes, there was plenty to do.

Going over the edge

Kust, who owns a roofing company in Waverly, Kust Services, had agreed to lead a team of students in re-roofing some houses.

There were 10 students in Kust’s roofing team, many of whom who had never been on a roof, and all of whom who had never roofed before.

The group arrived in Mississippi March 12 10:30 p.m. They set to work at 6:30 a.m. March 13.

“It was hot and we worked,” Kust said, with a laugh.

Even with a team of young, inexperienced roofers, Kust was pleased with what they accomplished in their five days there.

They worked on two roofs, and completely finished a 3,500-square foot roof with several valleys, nooks, and crannies.

The only mishap came when Kust had an unprecendented incident.

“In 15 years of roofing, I have never fallen off a roof. On the first day in there, I fell off the roof,” Kust said.

Although Kust wasn’t hurt, the crew did get a good laugh out of the experienced roofer being the only one in the group to fall off.

By the time the group had finished the roof, Kust didn’t know if he was more moved by the homeowner in tears, or by the look of accomplishment on his young apprentices’ faces.

“They were so excited they had roofed a whole house,” Kust said. “And the homeowner was just ecstatic.”

Not your typical vacation

While Kust led the roofing crew, other students helped paint, drywall, and clean up.

Kust was impressed with the work ethic of the group.

“It wasn’t like a half-vacation,” he said. “We worked the whole time we were there.”

Students would come in from working to eat supper, and then go back out and work until midnight.

The group met with several others in the CORE group at the St. Paul United Methodist Church there.

There were rows of tents for them to stay in. Businesses donated trucks of food for the workers, which were served by volunteers and ladies from the church who cooked homemade meals for Kust and the others.

“It was an awesome feeling of unity,” Kust said of coming together with all of the different churches who had come to help.

More to do

Even though Kust and his group worked hard, there is still a lot to do.

Kust predicts groups will be heading to the area for years before it is restored.

He might even go back again, but he’s bringing his own crew this time.

He is hoping his wife, Faye, and their children, Corrina, 9, and Simon, 8, will be able to go back with him someday.

“It would be a good way to do a family vacation, to see the country and still help out,” Kust said.

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