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Thank You Ridgefield, Connecticut

In addition to the City of Ridgefield, Connecticut forming a Katrina Relief Fund called "RIDGEFIELD RESPONDS," an ongoing fund that has raised more than $35,000, another $20,000 was given anonymously, $5000 each to four separate Pass Christian families.   A driving force in "Ridgefield Response" follows:

WTNH-TV - Connecticut
Friday, Sept. 9, 2005
Pass Christian "wiped clean off the map"
(Pass Christian-WTNH) _ One resident summed it up this way to me; "Pass Christian has been wiped clean off the map".
There are no words that can describe what I saw today. Trees probably 2-300 years old thrown about like tooth picks.....the small amount of homes that still stand suffer severe damage.....roads are impassable, police cars stacked 2 high in trees in the middle of a cemetery.....and the town's bank vault stands naked on a slab, even the church could not fend off Katrina's power.
I stood in the middle of a 4-way intersection, turned slowly 360 degrees and could not see a single structure left standing...some say the only way to recover is to have bulldozers start at one end and push it all away, maybe they are right, but I ask that we all can take one minute out of every day and pray for the souls of the once spectacular picturesque Golden Gulf Coast.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

     Ridgefield Selectman Di Masters was also visiting the meeting, and said her town had adopted Pass Christian, Miss., a small community outside of Gulfport, one of the communities that had taken a huge hit by the hurricane.
     “We have a convoy of trucks with goods going down Friday and next Friday,” she said. “We’re hoping we can help them cut the ribbon on a new school and library next year.”
     Other communities throughout Mississippi and Louisianna are looking for help and for others to adopt them, she said.
     Finding a contact to adopt the community was difficult, Masters said.  “The mayor was unaccounted, and a young firefighter was running things,” she said.   “It was a local NBC correspondent that called me about their needs over the weekend.”
     She said she envisions her name and cellular phone number written on a piece of wood somewhere because she has gotten a number of phone calls from people with needs, including shoes.


Ridgefield Press
Oct 19, 2005
Pass Christian schools will get Ridgefield aid
By Locker McCarthy
     Answering a direct plea from Pass Christian, Miss. schools, passed on to Ridgefield Responds by the Good Morning America television show, more than $26,000 in school supplies are on their way south.
     Also, $20,000 has been donated anonymously by one woman to four needy Pass Christian families, and the Ridgefield Fire Department has sent its Pass Christian counterparts $5,000.
“We’re not done, yet,” vowed Selectman Di Masters this week. “I’m hoping it will get to the point where if there’s a special need in Pass Christian, we can fill it quickly. We are in partnership with Good Morning America.  Ridgefield Responds is far from done.”
Ridgefield social services Director Mary Ann Baldwin said Tuesday that the office supply mail order company Quill not only quickly filled the order but offered free transport and delivery of the materials to Pass Christian.
     Ms. Masters said Pass Christian school administrator Kay Renfrey composed the list with help of teachers, many of whom are living in the same kinds of trailers that have been set up for student classrooms at Delisle School in Alexandria, about 10 miles inland from Pass Christian.
On Monday, Good Morning America broadcast a segment from Pass Christian, featuring anchor Robin Roberts who, she happily remembered, “was a Pirate” on athletic teams of the Pass Christian High School Class of 1979. It was mostly interviews with children who were happy to have their first day of school just six weeks after the schools in their town had been wiped out by Hurricane Katrina.
     The supplies going to Pass Christian are: 100 bookcases, 100 folding tables, 152 folding chairs, four storage cabinets, four magazine racks, and four clothes racks. The order actually came to almost $30,000, but Quill gave a 10% discount in addition to the free delivery.
     Also on Pass Christian’s wish list are 154 locking cabinets.  “But we can’t afford those right now,” said Ms. Baldwin. “They’re about $300 apiece.”
     Yesterday, Town Treasurer Maureen Kiernan said $$$ remained in the approximately $35,000 Ridgefield Responds account, money raised in bits and pieces all over town, including the sale of rubber bracelets designed by fifth grader Danielle Lecher of Branchville School.  Now the Lecher family is donating 2,000 of the bracelets to Pass Christian, and Danielle’s mother, Nicole, is hoping parents might buy some to give out at Halloween (she is at nlecher@comcast.net).
     Last week, it was thought the money might go to stocking as a library a portable classroom, given anonymously to Good Morning America.  The program’s producers had hoped Ridgefield, which had transported two tractor-trailers full of new clothes and medical supplies to Pass Christian in the two weeks after the hurricane, might help get the large item down to Mississippi.  “But the Federal Emergency Management Agency has brought in a bookmobile, so maybe they don’t need that, now,” said Ms. Masters. “We’ve still got the portable and we’ll take it one step at a time with Pass Christian people.  Maybe it’ll go to Waveland or Bay St. Louis.”
     Among the families designated for personal aid are a father who just lost his wife to cancer and has now lost his job while trying to raise a teenage son, and husband and wife teachers. Said Ms. Baldwin:  “The response has been glorious.  We raised all kinds of money in all different ways, and we sent down two gigantic trailers full of things, and everything is going to people who need help, who are devastated.”
     Ms. Masters said that one of the things Ridgefield Responds might help with in the near future are musical instruments for middle schoolers in Pass Christian, who somehow have been overlooked.
     “It’s a logical need,” she said. “If middle schoolers don’t have instruments, the high school in a short while won’t have music.”
     Also, said both Ms. Baldwin and Ms. Masters, kids need toys.  Ms. Masters said she is in touch with scouting organizations and churches who are gearing up for a toy drive even before the Holidays. “Maybe an adopt-a-family or adopt-a-child kind of thing,” she said.  “I know a lot of stuff will be going down.”
Photo Info:  Drew Arcoleo, lead guitar, and Richie Hume, lead singer and guitar, are members of the band, Element, one of several musical groups that performed last Thursday night at East Ridge Middle School in a concert to help Katrina victims. A total of $2,878 was raised
     Ms. Masters said that other towns in this area, notably Weston, have become aware of the Ridgefield Responds concept of comprehensive relief and assistance targeting one town, and want to follow suit.  “It’s what we had hoped,” she said.  “That we set an example in our town for others to follow, and we can help them do that.”  “But we’re going to focus on Pass Christian until the end,” she asserted. “Until the work is done – until it’s reborn.”

Ridgefield Press
Oct 24, 2005
Girl Scouts seek musical instruments for Pass Christian
By Rhonda Hill
Ridgefield Girl Scouts are seeking donations of musical instruments for the Pass Christian Middle School, wiped out by Hurricane Katrina.
     The Ridgefield Girl Scout Service Unit in coordination with the Girl Scout Council of Southwestern Connecticut is working with Girl Scouts along the Mississippi Gulf Coast to assist as possible and as a result has identified the music program in the Pass Christian school district, and most specifically the middle school as one of the many casualties they can address.  Unlike Ridgefield, where many families own their student’s instruments, the schools in Pass Christian owned the instruments for the bands.
     Joe Nelson, assistant principal of the Pass Christian Middle School verified that “the storm destroyed all of the instruments and music along with the middle school.”   Since much of the business along the coast is now gone, he said, the tax base has been severely hit, making the funds available for replacing music program essentials scare and competition for the funds plentiful.
The school district has had some support for the rebuilding of the elementary and high school music programs, but the middle school programs have not had similar volunteers. In their school district, middle school represents the beginning of band and choir, thus the loss of this program will have long term effects into high school for these students.
     Girl Scout Troop 828 has volunteered to lead an effort to collect gently used band instruments for the middle school in Pass Christian. Sue Gross, the troop leader (and middle school band director in Ridgefield) will test the instruments and make minor repairs, as needed, to assure that the instruments are in good condition. The troop will also be the focal point for donations for the purchase of music for the band and choir.  The estimate is that $50 will purchase one piece of music for the choir.
     Instruments can be dropped off at the Veterans Park office during office hours, or you can contact Mrs. Gross to arrange another time and place (sgross@ridgefield.org).  Donors will be asked to indicate whether their contributions can be sent to another coastal community once the Pass Christian ‘wish list’ has been filled.  If so, Troop 828 will coordinate the needs with the appropriate people in Pass Christian and surrounding towns.

Ridgefield Press
Children seek books to give to Pass Christian
Oct 26, 2005

     With a poster for the book drive to help rebuild the Pass Christian school libraries are, from left, standing in back Kyle Robertson, directly below him, Ethan Quinn; on bench Emily Robertson, Brendan Pallant, Austin DeMartine.  All are from Barlow Mountain Elementary.
Linda Robertson knew as soon as she learned of the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina what would be needed.  “School books,” she said.
     “I remember when we built Barlow Mountain School that we had the library and shelves and no books, and how hard it was to get the shelves stocked.  And I worked specifically on that part of getting Barlow going.  “So I knew what it involves, and I knew whenever their schools were up and running there would be no books except textbooks from the state.  “And my kids wanted to do something for other kids,” said Ms. Robertson.
     Her instinct was to send a late night e-mail call to the Mississippi superintendent of education, telling him of her idea to pick a town and start a book drive for its school library. “Twenty minutes later he got back to me. He said, ‘Yes!’ and I got started.”
Rockfield     The drive, which so far involves students, parents and teachers from begins today and will last for two weeks, until Nov. 10.  So far, students are collecting books at Barlow Mountain School, Branchville School, Landmark School, St. Mary’s school, East Ridge and Scotts Ridge middle schools and the high school.  Along with the schools, the two drop-off points in town are the Recreation Center at 195 Danbury Road and Galleria D’Arte, 3 Bailey Avenue.
     It is by pure coincidence that, when the superintendent gave her a list of schools and their conditions and needs, that she picked Pass Christian.  
Photo Info:  With a poster for the book drive to help rebuild the Pass Christian school libraries are, from left, standing in back Kyle Robertson, directly below him, Ethan Quinn; on bench Emily Robertson, Brendan Pallant, Austin DeMartine. All are from Barlow Mountain Elementary.
She was not aware of the Ridgefield Responds initiative which has adopted the coastal town for direct aid, and has just spent more than $26,000 buying basic school supplies such as tables, chairs and cabinets.
     “So our kids know about this, and we want every Ridgefield student to donate at least two new or lightly used, hardcover fiction and non-fiction books suitable for kindergarten through 12th grade,” said Ms. Robertson.  “And we’re hoping for 10,000 books.  We will take paperbacks in excellent condition.  People of Ridgefield prize education and have been so generous with Pass Christian that we think we’ll reach the goal,” she said.  She noted that the Pass Christian students are going to school outside town, and that only 1,200 of the 2,000 students have been able to register.  “Many are now living elsewhere, so these are kids living nearby, but in trailers,” she said.  “And teachers are in trailers, too.  And they have no books.”
     Dara Quinn, owner of Galleria D’Arte, a book drop-off station, added, “We want them to have things to read other than homework.”  
     Through her contacts with Pass Christian Director of Curriculum and Instruction Kaye Rendfrey, Ms. Robertson found out that two of the four local schools are deemed irreparable, and the high school, which had 18 feet of water, is questionable.  “And this is hardly a wealthy area,” Ms. Robertson continued.  From the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau report, she found out the median income for Pass Christian’s 6,758 residents is about $40,000, compared to $107,000 for Ridgefield.  “I am so impressed with Kaye and others,” she said. “They have this natural sense of courtesy and southern gentility in the midst of chaos. Kaye is completely organized.  “I can’t imagine not having a school or a home to go to.”
     The question of how to transport the books was solved “thanks to the great generosity of Two Men and a Truck in Norwalk.”  The moving company not only will take the books down, but will box them and make the total 5,000 mile run at no charge.  “How about that?” said a smiling Ms. Robertson. “Incredible!”  The Two Men and a Truck journey begins Nov. 11.
     Ms. Robertson and Ms. Harris are both mothers of Ridgefield elementary school students. Ms. Robertson has a son, Kyle, in Barlow’s fifth grade and a daughter, Emily, in second grade. Ms. Harris has two sons at Barlow, second grader Ethan and kindergartner Julian.  “My kids pulled 160 books off their shelves for this,” said Ms. Robertson, wide-eyed in wonder.
     Ms. Robertson especially noted the support of First Selectman Rudy Marconi and fellow mother Joanne Acquadro of Farmingville. “She has been tireless.  “There is a mommy network, here,” she said. “And it is a wonderful thing.”
     Those interested in doing their own direct aid to any Mississippi town should check the state’s Department of Education’s Hurricane Katrina Recovery Web site at www.mde.k12.ms.us. It has a link to schools’ needs listed by every afflicted town.  And Ms. Robertson will be answering questions and arranging drop-offs until Nov. 10. She is at linda.robertson@comcast.net.

Darien Times — posted Oct 5, 2005
Residents deployed down south
Inspiring. Exhilarating. Moving. Eye-opening. Frustrating. Sad.
     It’s hard to imagine all these words tied to one experience — unless you’re imagining volunteering for the Red Cross in the hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast region. These words have be used to describe the experience by several volunteers from Darien who have been trained by the Darien Red Cross.
     One of those volunteers, Avery Finch, who has been in Tylertown, Miss. for a week and half, has described the experience as “eye-opening.”  Avery, who was part of a second group of trainees at the Darien chapter, is 18 years old and has a couple of months until she begins her freshman year of college at Middlebury, which accepts first year students for a semester starting in February. She is a Post 53 EMT worker in town, and, as her mom said, she’s just “one of those kids.”
    “Like a lot of these Post 53 kids, her first instinct is ‘What can I do to help?’” Kathleen Finch said.  Taking a quick break from her truck run to deliver staples to those homebound in the small town of 1,800, Avery said by phone that most people in the town did not lose their homes, luckily.  “But there are a lot of people traveling for miles from small coastal towns in Louisiana who have lost everything — and they didn’t have a service center closer,” she said.  As an EMT, Avery is in Mississippi as a medical volunteer, but most people don’t need extensive and immediate medical treatment at this point.  “They need aspirin and things like that,” she said.
     Avery is one of only two 18 year olds in her group.  The rest are at least ten years older or more.  “They have kind of taken me under their wing, knowing I’m younger and far from home,” Avery said.  Her mother said the volunteer who traveled south with Avery pulled her aside at the airport when Avery wasn’t looking.  “She said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of her,’ which made me feel better,” Finch said.
     Although Avery was enthusiastic about going to the south to help, both mother and daughter found the list of required supplies for the trip “sobering.”   “They said she had to bring two days’ supply of water, wet naps for bathing, and non-perishable foods,” Finch said.
     While her daughter was nervous, Finch said that she had no doubts about going.  “Avery feels like she’s doing the right thing,” she said.
     Avery has slept on a cot in a little Baptist church during her deployment.  “The people there are so great, and so welcoming,” she said. She’s coming home on Saturday afternoon, and the service center in Tylertown is closing since the need has slowed down in that area. Avery has not ruled out returning to the south.  “I’ve thought about it, and they are setting up service centers in the hardest hit areas in and near New Orleans — I’d love to be able to work in those — I really want to continue my work as a Red Cross volunteer,” she said.
     The Darien Red Cross has trained more than 50 volunteers for disaster relief. So far, 13 have been sent to states recovering from hurricane damage. Jeanne Yusko, who works with the Darien chapter, just returned from a two week deployment in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The standard deployment is two to three weeks.  “I did the staffing and coordinating of all the shelters, family services center, financial assistance centers and office staff — I basically coordinated to make sure there was enough coverage for four shelters,” Yusko said.  Yusko said it was interesting to observe how grateful all the people were that the Red Cross was down there.  “They couldn’t thank us enough for what we were doing,” she said.
     Darien resident Sue Schell just returned home after two weeks in Jackson, Miss. as a mental health volunteer.  Schell, who is a mental health professional, worked primarily in shelters, providing support for those who came in for meals.  “Many people came in with a deep sense of desperation and hopelessness, lots of sadness and sometimes anger,” she said.  Schell said that some people were in middle to late age and had lost absolutely everything.  “I met a 92 year old woman who had to begin all over again,” she said.  According to Schell, the response to the Red Cross was gracious and grateful.  “I’ve never felt so welcomed in my life,” she said.
     The work was very moving for Schell, but frustrating as well.  “There was always so much more we could do,” she said.  As a mental health professional, Schell did a lot of one on one counseling to those who had waited on lines for hours in the blazing sun. “By the time they got through the process, they were pretty drained,” she said.  In helping those who had lost everything start to work through the healing process, Schell compared the experience to losing a loved one.  “These people have lost everything in their lives, homes, schools, some had never left the area of their homes within a few blocks’ vicinity,” she said.  Schell said she would talk to the evacuees about their inner strength and resiliency.
     After long days of counseling, the Red Cross volunteers would rely on each other or their own therapy.   “I’ve never seen a group of people more serious and dedicated in my life — a group of us would just sit and talk about our day at the end of each one,” Schell said.  
     Coming home has further put the plight of those she counseled in perspective.  “I’m fortunate to come back to this community, and a very supportive family — all the resources we have, so many don’t have that,” she said.
     While the Red Cross office has quieted down since the initial impact of Hurricane Katrina, the Darien chapter warns that we are still in the middle of hurricane season.  “The goal throughout the country for the Red Cross, to train 40,000 new volunteers — not just based on Katrina and Rita, but for the rest of hurricane season — we still have something like 42 days in hurricane season,” said Patty Burke, executive director of the Darien Red Cross.   She said the volunteers are not only training for what the south is dealing with now, but what could happen in the future.
“Our goal, and the goal of the National Red Cross, is to be better prepared, with the ultimate goal to not have to do this spontaneous training, instead if we could go immediately to a list of people who are already prepared,” Burke said.  She said next time around, the Red Cross will have people who are already trained.
     Yusko also pointed out that having local people trained in disaster relief would prove beneficial in case Darien was ever faced with an emergency.  “If something were to happen here in Darien, these people would be ready to respond,” she said.  
      “Whoever who has gone out on assignment or just on the training that that will be helping on our local disaster services, which Jeanne heads up,” Burke said.
     When Darien resident Bill Bosies heard from his son, Patrick, who is at a military base in Biloxi, Miss., this past Sunday, he sounded “exhilarated.”   “He’s driving this Emergency Rescue Vehicle (ERV) out to areas and delivering staples as well as something they really need, tools, and he said the response has been overwhelming,” Bosies said.
     ERV’s can ride in deep puddles as well on land, which helps volunteers to reach those in remote areas.  Patrick told his father that people have been running to embrace him with tears in their eyes, and he’s completely overwhelmed by the reaction.  As a member of the Darien Fire Department, a lifeguard, an Eagle Scout, and EMT training, 23 year old Patrick seems to be prepared for almost anything.  “He’s staying in the hangar of a naval base staying with 800 other people, and four phones,” so Bosies doesn’t expect to hear from his son very often, especially with the hours he’s working.  “He’s putting in 12 to 15 hour days,” Bosies said.  Bosies said for the most part, people need tools.  “They’re rebuilding now,” he said.
     Bosies said his son has expressed a tremendous respect for the people he is helping.  “It continues to be an amazing experience for him — he admires their courage and fortitude, and people are handling it so well,” he said.  Patrick will be in Bilxoi for three weeks.  “He feels like he’s really making a contribution and think it’s terrific that he’s doing it,” Bosies said.
     Burke and Yusko said the Darien community has been extremely responsive to hurricane relief over the last two months.  The Darien chapter is still looking for more volunteers for their preparedness measure rather than immediate training and deployment to the Gulf Coast.  “That is really slowing up, so right now we don’t have anything on the calendar for disaster training, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t going to be,” Burke said.  Health services is a consistent need for the Red Cross, but it requires licensed volunteers.
     “With the health services, they have to be a nurse or an EMT,” Yusko said.

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