Stronger than the storm: Eight Days of Hope brings 1,500 volunteers to rebuild local homes

Published 3:22 pm Monday, April 11, 2022

LAPLACE — Approximately 1,500 volunteers with Eight Days of Hope have joined forces with the St. John Parish Long-Term Recovery Group and Marathon Petroleum’s Garyville Refinery to rebuild homes in a community devastated by Hurricane Ida.

Volunteers arrived April 9 and will depart the evening of April 16 to celebrate Easter with their families. Those eight days are expected to culminate in more than $3 million worth of roofing, painting, carpentry and drywall work completed at absolutely no cost to families.

Marathon Petroleum Corporation announced a donation of $400,000 to St. John United Way to pay for materials associated with the Eight Days of Hope rebuilding effort. This is on top of Marathon’s September 2021 commitment of $2.5 million to “celebrating resiliency and a brighter tomorrow,” which included the following: $1 million for Hurricane Ida disaster relief; $275,000 to strengthen the coastal landscape and for updates to five local parks; $450,000 for education initiatives; and $200,000 toward workforce development opportunities.

“One thing I’m very proud of is that no matter how strong the hurricane is, our partnerships and relationships are even stronger,” said Iman Montgomery, spokesperson for Marathon Petroleum.

Eight Days of Hope founder Stephen Tybor said community partnerships are critical to recovery efforts. Volunteers with EDOH are stationed at New Wine Christian Fellowship and were welcomed with open arms by the St. John Parish Long-Term Recovery Group.

“These volunteers came from 42 states and two different countries to serve LaPlace. They’ll go home, and they’ll never be the same, because they met people like you,” Tybor said. “We knew we had a partner in the St. John Long-Term Recovery Group. This week, there will be around $3 million to $3.5 million worth of work done for free. We can’t do something like that by ourselves. We need churches, businesses and other nonprofits alongside us because we’re better together.”

Eight Days of Hope began in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A phone call between a father and son led to 684 volunteers traveling to Bay St. Louis to rebuild 84 homes in eight days. Since then, 43,736 volunteers have served with Eight Days of Hope. More than $59.4 million worth of work has been completed, reaching more than 7,780 families.

This week’s Hurricane Ida response in St. John Parish marks the 17th rebuilding event. Since 2014, the organization has also conducted 44 rapid response events to assist with gutting homes and tarping roofs 24 to 48 hours after disaster strikes.

In 2013, Eight Days of Hope served more than 200 St. John Parish families impacted by Hurricane Isaac. While here, volunteers fell in love with the community and the local faith-based leaders. The EDOH Rapid Response team returned to LaPlace in February 2016 within 48 hours of a tornado outbreak, helping families gut homes, sort debris, tarp roofs and remove trees.

Eight Days of Hope mobilized in LaPlace for a third time in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ida. In addition to tarping roofs, the rapid response team committed to feeding and providing free laundry services to the community during a time when power was out and food was in short supply.

Volunteers currently aiding in rebuilding efforts in LaPlace represent 14 Christian denominations.

According to Tybor, people who may agree to disagree on some things can agree on one thing: “When there are people in need, God has called us to be the hands and feet, to love, and to serve.”

“My hope is that when we go home Saturday night to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, about 150 families will sense that there’s a new beginning,” Tybor said. “Even though we will be leaving Saturday night to celebrate Easter with our families, we’ve already communicated to the 1,500 volunteers on how they can bring possibly new volunteers and small groups back to LaPlace.”

Approximately 50 employees from Marathon Petroleum joined the Eight Days of Hope volunteers to help with rebuilding efforts on Monday. Additional groups of employees are assisting with roofing and other recovery needs this week using skills they have gained from their employment.

Mike Henschen, plant manager of the Garyville refinery, said the energy of the Eight Days of Hope volunteers was infectious. He added that rebuilding efforts go hand-in-hand with Marathon’s commitment to investing in the community and its future.

“Not only do we work here, but the majority of our employees live here,” Henschen said. “It’s very important for us to have a good community relationship.”

As a lifelong resident of St. John Parish, Montgomery said it brought her great joy to witness the love, passion and empathy that relief groups like Eight Days of Hope are bringing to the community.

The Marathon family had a chance to work alongside site manager Preston Smith Monday morning as a team of volunteers worked on a home on St. Andrews Street in LaPlace. Job duties included replacing a roof, installing a small handicap ramp, drywall repairs, and laying down vinyl flooring.

A volunteer with Eight Days of Hope for the past 16 years, Smith is in LaPlace this week along with his father, his wife, and his four children.

“I hope that my kids see the church in action. I hope they see willing men and women, and I hope they see that our lives are meant to serve other people. It’s not just about us,” Smith said. “When we take time out of our schedule to do this, it’s addicting. We get more out of it than what we put in.”

Jacob Rilling was among the group of volunteers with the Eight Days of Hope Rapid Response Team that visited LaPlace immediately after the storm.

“It’s an amazing difference from then to now,” Rilling said. “There was so much garbage piled up on the curb, furniture, everything you can imagine. The houses were in total disarray. Slowly but surely, they are coming back together.”

Over the past six years, Rilling has rebuilt homes in Houston, Lake Charles, LaPlace, and Buffalo, New York. He never misses a chance to serve disaster impacted communities when a need arises.

“I love to look at it as being the hands and feet of Jesus,” Rilling said. “I got a part-time job when I retired and as they hired me, I said I’m part of Eight Days of Hope, and when they call, I go. That’s part of the deal.”

Members of the St. John Parish Council met with volunteers during an assembly early Monday morning.

District 3 Councilwoman Tammy Houston was pleased to see so many people who have a heart for helping others.

“When we see this large crowd, we realize how much people care,” she said. “We were at our lowest, and today, we are at our highest.”