Bay St. Louis — Foundation Hope is living up to its name. Formed after Hurricane Katrina, this nonprofit organization is leaving its mark on the devastated Mississippi Gulf Coast, proving that committed individuals can make a difference.
Shortly after the storm struck, three Coast natives who are Hattiesburg neighbors solicited supplies from friends and distributed them in the Hub City. With Hattiesburg up and running in a short time, Tricia Bayles-Myrick, Jessica Beane and Michael Smith headed south to help.
“The roads into Harrison County were closed, so we came to Bay Saint Louis, arriving on September 8,” Myrick said. “Once we got here, we realized this was where we were needed most.”
The situation was so dire, they delivered emergency supplies using Smith’s all-terrain vehicle and a trailer. The huge piles of debris and impassable roads made any other form of travel impossible. The trio even took spare parts with them because the ATV kept tearing up on the rough terrain.
“We delivered water, food and medical and hygiene supplies to keep people going to they could come and pick up more,” she said. “People wouldn’t take a lot because they wanted us to have enough for others they thought might be worse off than them.”
Moved by the plight of residents, the trio set up a point of distribution (POD) in a vacant building at Zuppardo’s Bay Plaza after Mayor Eddie Favre gave them imminent domain. “We initially slept in our cars and later on the floor of the building,” Myrick said. “The three of us came together to help. We know that God wanted us to do this.”
The threesome also opened their Hattiesburg homes to hurricane evacuees. Myrick says God is taking care of them and they must live their faith consistently.
Once the POD opened, they were amazed at how people traveled there — on bicycles and riding lawn mowers, walking and with many people crammed in cars that would run. “We saw an 11-year-old boy come on a bike he made out of salvaged parts, PVC pipe and duct tape,” she said. “It was incredible that a child would be that creative to come get stuff for his family.”
Myrick describes the way residents live as “guerrilla conditions” and feels that things aren’t getting better but people are adapting better, doing things to get by.
Residents, too, volunteered to help, finding helping contagious. “The graciousness and spirit of the people to survive is phenomenal,” she said. “If they’re fighting, we’ll stay and keep fighting.”
Along the way, Smith had to return home, but Ryan took his place. Ryan, a Brandon native and environmental scientist, was living and working in Illinois until she read about Foundation Hope and called to volunteer. Myrick had her own business as a financial planner and Beane worked in the grants department at the University of Southern Mississippi. All three gave up their jobs and registered Foundation Hope with the Secretary of State’s office as a nonprofit organization to continue disaster relief work.
Being located near Brett Favre’s hometown brought attention to Foundation Hope from the Lake County Rotary Club in North Lake, Wis., and a strong relationship has developed between the two groups. The Rotarians continue to send truck loads of clothes and supplies. They even awarded Rotary’s highest honor, the Paul Harris Award, to Myrick, Beane and Ryan. The trio went to Wisconsin for some much needed rest and to accept the award.
“They have not let this go and are staying involved,” Myrick said of the Rotarians. “They are personally involved and two of their members are on our board.”
Foundation Hope moved to another building, just across the highway from their old location, to be able to set up an office with computers as it moves into a different phase of relief efforts. That move brought the necessity of paying rent.
Myrick feels securing a place among so few standing buildings and the funds to pay rent were further evidence of divine intervention. An answer to prayer came in the form of a $12,000 check from a group in Chicago who delivered supplies to the area and met the ladies of Foundation Hope.
From its new quarters, Foundation Hope will administer a $5- million grant that came from an anonymous international donor. “We would not have gotten the $5-million grant without that $12,000 check that allowed us to rent a building and set up our organization as a nonprofit,” Myrick said. “The grant is to purchase supplies to rebuild homes and has the potential to change the lives of at least 200 people.”
Working with insurance adjustors and FEMA, Foundation Hope has developed spread sheets of homeowners needing help to rebuild. Recipients must be residents of Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District.
Foundation Hope is also working with the Brett Favre Fourward Foundation, the Steve McNair Foundation and the Gulf Coast Rebuilding Organization started by John Grisham to rebuild the Coast and restore hope to communities.
“We will stay here till we get the job done,” Myrick said. “We want this area to come back stronger. Our purpose keeps us going.”
She and the others have a passion for what they’re doing, believing they can make a difference. “We couldn’t listen to these stories of heartbreak without maintaining that passion for what we’re doing,” she said. “We want to be an extra set of hands to get the work done.”
They have a multi-focus as efforts shift from distributing supplies to long-term solutions. They have done a lot of research into Florida storms and how to deal with insurance matters. They will also campaign for funds and volunteers to help rebuild houses.
“It takes some leg work and digging but we come with the approach to be very educational and informative,” Myrick said. “The name of our organization is vital because we always have hope. That foundation of hope must be there.”
The group’s Web site address is www.foundationhope.net.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.