Gulf Coast still 'devastated'

Sherwood's Marilyn Yordy said nonprofits and businesses are making strides, but the area is still in ruin
by: Submitted, Marilyn Yordy sits on a bar stool, almost all that remains of a Waffle House in Mississippi that overlooked the Gulf Coast.

Sherwood resident Marilyn Yordy returned to the Mississippi Gulf Coast last November for her second stint doing post-Katrina recovery work and saw a glimmer of hope: things were improving.

Some stores had come back, a few beaches were open and some homes were rebuilt.

Unfortunately, that glimmer was overshadowed by the ruin that remained.

"Yes there was improvement, but it's still devastated, even 14 months after the hurricane, she said.

On that second trip, Marilyn brought her daughter Hannah. Marilyn works for Weyerhaeuser, which granted employees time off and paid for them to travel to the Gulf Coast while helping in the relief effort. Her first trip to Gulfport, Miss., in April lasted three weeks, while the November trip to McComb was 10 days. She didn't think twice when her company offered the program.

"I had donated money at the time of the hurricane, and then you listen to all the reports of how the money didn't make it. It was a big deal to go down there and do things hands-on, that was a great feeling," she said. "You don't know that your money really helps people, so to do hands-on work and see the owners' faces is just beyond belief."

Marilyn is actually a software engineer at Weyerhaeuser, but along with her husband, she refurbished their home in Sherwood. The construction skills came in handy. Among their tasks in Mississippi was to rebuild a garage from the ground up.

"The man we were building the garage for, he stood up when we got the garage done and he just cried," Marilyn said. "That's what it was all about. It was a big difference from sending money to an organization."

Hannah also gained a valuable experience. The Yordys stayed in 8-foot by 8-foot particle board huts in an ethnically diverse, rural neighborhood that was much different than her home in Sherwood, Marilyn explained. She said it gave her daughter an appreciation for how ethnic minorities in predominantly white Sherwood might feel. The presentation she gave her class when she came back to school made her teacher cry.

Marilyn traveled to New Orleans on both of her trips, and she said there is widespread frustration with the response of the federal government among residents of the Gulf Coast. But she believes many companies and nonprofit groups have made a positive change.

"You hear comments from everyone down there about the private organizations that are helping," she said. "These private organizations and public companies are making inroads, where [residents] are not getting any satisfaction or help from the government."

The Yordys were two of 260 Weyerhaeuser volunteers who traveled at company expense to help co-workers, Weyerhaeuser retirees and others in the community repair, rebuild or replace homes that had been damaged or destroyed by the storm. Marilyn said she was working alongside a retiree who was 86. The last of the Weyerhaeuser families affected by the hurricane will be back in their homes this month.

Weyerhaeuser also donated those 8x8-foot huts, which they also sent to Pakistan after the staggering earthquake there in 2005. These and other efforts earned the company the Ron Brown Award for Corporate Leadership, presented Nov. 29 at the White House in Washington, D.C. The Ron Brown Award recognizes companies for the quality of their relationships with employees and communities. It is named for the late Ron Brown, former head of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Marilyn was happy she could help in any way, but believes she can make an even greater contribution by moving others to do the same.

"My hope is that other people would consider doing this or helping in some way. There's still tons of work that needs to be done down there," she said.