Hattiesburg, MS – For more than 30 years, Linda Gilmore lived on East 5th Street, where the Hattiesburg native raised her four children, created memories with her grandchildren, and, in the more recent years, enjoyed visits with her great-grandchildren. However, in early 2013, when the catastrophic EF-4 tornado swept through East Hattiesburg, her cherished family home was left in ruins.
Gilmore, 62, who has worked as a site manager for the Forrest County Board of Supervisors for 21 years and has given back tirelessly to her community through volunteer service, is like countless elderly Pine Belt residents who were permanently displaced by the storm.
However, today, Recover, Rebuild, Restore Southeast Mississippi Inc., which was founded by the United Way of Southeast Mississippi in 2006, sought to improve Gilmore’s life as Thomas R. Smith II, R3SM board chair, presented her with keys to a new home, located in the Woodlawn Court area of Hattiesburg, during a ribbon cutting and celebration.
The 1,040-square foot house is the second new home the local, independent organization – which provides sustainable community services to the Pine Belt area, including disaster relief – has presented to an elderly resident through its Mississippi Tornado Program.
Built on a 50-by-100 square-foot lot owned by R3SM, construction on the two-bedroom, two-bathroom house began in December 2014. With support and contributions from several businesses, including Economy Supply Company, Dirt Cheap Building Supply, Home Depot and Lowe’s, the house was constructed by 50 volunteers who donated 3,506 hours toward its completion.
The home features upgrades such as energy efficient windows and appliances; architectural shingles; aluminum cladding around the windows, fascia and doors; and an open-plan kitchen with a breakfast bar.
“I would like to thank God for this Day, R3SM, all the people (volunteers) who helped and the city of Hattiesburg that took part in helping the Gilmore’s get back in our home again!” said Gilmore, who was selected by R3SM through the organization’s unmet needs committee.
“The totality of destruction left in the wake of a natural disaster is often counted in dollars; however, as we have seen with Mrs. Gilmore, the pain and loss survivors are left with is enumerable,” said Demetria Simpson, executive director of R3SM. “To be able to provide housing for low-income individuals, especially seniors, who have been impacted by a disaster, is a core goal for our R3SM. However, we do not stand alone in this calling, as this house was also made possible by our dedicated and generous partners, including civic and government organizations as well as some incredible individuals.”
Among the organizations and individuals that assisted with the construction of the home are the United Way of Southeast Mississippi; Gulf Coast Community Design Studio; the American Red Cross of Southeast Mississippi; A&M Construction; Dillon Plumbing; Mennonite Disaster Services; NOMADS, a service organization affiliated with the United Methodist Church; Mississippi Annual Conference of UMC; Pinebelt Electric Heating and Air; John Corley, who donated toward construction costs and supplied volunteer labor; and Darrell Lewis, R3SM construction manager and independent contractor.
Since 2006, R3SM has actively engaged in long-term recovery, helping repair 450 houses and constructing 16 new homes for low-income individuals and families following hurricanes Katrina, Isaac and the EF4 tornado last year.
Recover, Rebuild, Restore Southeast Mississippi coordinates restoration, rebuilding and recovery services to low-income families and individuals living in Mississippi’s Pine Belt. The nonprofit was founded in 2006 by the United Way of Southeast Mississippi as a long-term recovery agency to assist and support victims of Hurricane Katrina. An affiliate of the Mississippi Case Management Consortium, the independent organization’s work continues by assisting residents affected by 2012’s Hurricane Isaac and 2013’s EF4 tornado. Recovery work begins by delivering high-quality disaster case management to low-income individuals and families who meet eligibility criteria by focusing on the processes of assessment, planning, advocacy, linking and monitoring. Through partnerships with numerous community organizations, R3SM has repaired more than 450 homes and built 16.