Paying it Forward
January 14, 2006 - When the levees in Arboga broke in 1997, members of churches in Santa Rosa came to aid those affected.
Even though they had to sleep on the floors of churches in the area, they still helped those in need.
Acts of kindness like those inspired the Craftsmen For Christ to help areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina, said Bob Ouzts, the group's founder and director.
“They really made us want to do the same thing for other organizations and ministries,” he said. “We decided to pay it forward for those suffering in Mississippi from the hurricane.”
Craftsmen For Christ is a nonprofit agency that aids widows, the elderly, the disabled and the fatherless by building items such as wheelchair ramps, and repairing problems in homes such as leaks, roofs and fences.
The group was founded in 1990 and has 12 chapters in three states.
When the Gulf Coast suffered the
effects of the August hurricane, the Craftsmen For Christ were all drawn to wanting to respond. “God gave us the ability to help and we want to share that,” Ouzts said.
The group organized an effort to assist those affected, traveling to Mississippi to rebuild houses with other churches and organizations. The trip was financed through donations. Volunteers began leaving the week around Christmas, some spending their Christmas in Mississippi. Most volunteers returned Monday.
During that time, 100 volunteers - most of them members of churches in the Yuba-Sutter area - worked at four sites along the coast of Mississippi: Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Ocean Springs. The repair crews worked on many different homes and churches, completely rebuilding some and remodeling others.
“We had 100 people pulling together and becoming selfless,” said David Ernstam of Yuba City, one of the volunteers. “They saw a need and they dealt with it.”
“We helped anyone who needed it,” said Bruce Ramos, 48, of Yuba City, another volunteer. “We did just about anything that God led us to.”
The devastation that resulted from Hurricane Katrina is “hard to describe,” said Ouzts, a resident of Yuba City. “It's so vast and so wide. You can't escape it. You can drive for a hundred miles and it's all the same.”
The area is scattered with destroyed homes, stores and business, all torn apart by wind and flooding.
“People are very impacted by this,” Ouzts said. “They were very happy that we were coming to help them out.”
Those affected by the hurricane “welcomed us with open arms,” said volunteer Andrew Valdez, 18, of Newhall. “They were grateful for any small thing we did for them.”
Ouzts recalled the Grafemeyer family, who decided to stay in their home during the hurricane. They retreated to their attic as their house was flooded. Once the waters had cleared, their house was heavily damaged.
The Craftsmen For Christ helped rebuild the home, installing new sheetrock.
Boyd Grafemeyer, the father, was so affected by the example they set, he returned to the Christian faith and decided to become the spiritual leader in his home, Ouzts said this week.
But the volunteers didn't just rebuild houses, they helped others financially many times.
“Whenever we went to a gas station or supermarket, we paid for everything that the person in line behind us had,” Ouzts said. “Everyone was always surprised. They couldn't believe it.”
In East Biloxi, the volunteers rebuilt the house of a disabled woman named Laura. She was living there with her children and grandchildren.
“We had to reframe every wall in the house, and when we go back to finish, she'll be the only one in East Biloxi with a home,” Ouzts said.
“Everyone there became our friends,” he said. “We said a prayer before we left and they were crying because they thought of us as family, and it was hard to let go of family.”
Rebuilding homes in Mississippi was phenomenal, Ramos said. “I haven't had the same experience since I first accepted Christ. We were serving God out there.”
“It was a real eye-opener,” Valdez said. “It was reaffirming for my faith to see that every little thing counts.”
The experience was life-changing for many who went, Ernstam said. “In a sense, it was a spiritual rebirth. I hope this isn't something I will forget.”
Craftsmen For Christ plans to return to the area to continue aiding those in needin the coming months, although nothing has been planned as of yet.
“These people have been hit hard, but we'll give them the strength to move on,” Ernstam said. “When the area is cleared up, they'll be able to start over.”