So ravaged in spirit were the first refugees to the converted Vermilion Parish recreation center that few were expecting much attention, let alone actual help, according to Marie Pace, Lafayette native and coordinator for the Volunteer Ministers in Vermilion Parish and Lafayette.
HELPING THE HELPERS included assisting disaster officials (top), makingmedical services available (bottom) and providing inoculations for NationalGuard and law enforcement personnel to prevent the spread of disease.
"We'd set up showers, washers, dryers, beds and clothes at the shelter — all of it donated by local residents and businesses," Pace said. "And, with just about everyone coming from New Orleans being rattled and scared, we first provided assists called 'locationals' to help them orient themselves to the present, non-threatening environment."
Pace told of a New Orleans computer programmer who arrived at the Vermilion center. "He was beyond the edge by the time he got here — barefooted and without a shower for four days. We gave him an assist that calmed him, then we got him showered, put him in clean clothes, got him on the phone with his mother, helped him get a plane ticket to her home in Oklahoma, and arranged for the Vermilion Parish tax assessor — a volunteer — to take him to the airport. The man was in utter disbelief that he'd been able to get any help at all — he kept asking, 'Is this for real?' and saying, 'This is miracle work!'"
Fagerman's team in Baton Rouge also quickly showed their trademark "Something can be done about it" drive and determination.
In one instance, an 11-year-old girl named Andrea arrived with evacuees from New Orleans without her parents and with nothing more than the clothes she was wearing. "She had been in grief for days, so we helped her immediately with assists, and they calmed her down," said Fagerman. "Then we set about solving her parents' whereabouts."
Fagerman continued, "Shortly after I learned of Andrea's plight, I was interviewed by Fox reporter Molly Henneberg, who had heard lots of good reports about our relief work. I told Molly I had a young girl separated from her family, and asked her if she could assist by announcing separated family members so they could be identified on the air and, hopefully, reunited. 'Absolutely,' she said.
"Molly interviewed Andrea and, in a moving plea, asked for her parents to contact her. The piece aired immediately. Later in the day, Andrea came up to me, grabbed my arm and, with tears of joy in her eyes, said, 'I just got off the phone with mom and I'm moving to Dallas.' Her parents had been relocated to Texas and saw her on Fox News. Twenty minutes later, an elated Molly called me on my cell, 'That family is going to be reunited,' she told me. 'Together, we helped to reunite a family — thank you!'
"There couldn't have been a better way to end the day."
A Lafayette community leader who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the Volunteer Ministers wrote to Marie Pace, "You and your entire group will leave a lasting impression of compassion and goodwill in our community. I served in the Church of Christ ministry for several years, and have been active in my community for my entire adult life, and have never met any group of people more dedicated to ... giving assurance, hope and calm to people who in many cases have lost everything, including human life. I personally knew relatively nothing about Churches of Scientology, but in just a short time, have developed a deep respect and admiration for its philosophy and its members."