Unlikely Heros and Honorary Slabbers: DeLisle’s Marsha Barbour Community Center

Katrina made for several unlikely combinations such as a Baptist Church in Texas pairing up with the Rainbow Family to feed the people of Bay-Waveland for months after the storm. For most of the locals it was a broadening experience that also illustrated that the desire to help cut across every imaginable social strata.

Having lived the Katrina experience I’m not surprised to see Fox news analyst Ellen Ratner pair up with Marsha Barbour to help the hard hit community of DeLisle. Robin Fitzgerald at the Sun Herald sets up the story:

Ellen Ratner’s generosity will help pay for a community center in the Pass Christian/DeLisle area and a transitional workforce center in Gulfport to house homeless men and provide them job training.

Ratner is Washington bureau chief of the Talk Radio News Service and a political commentator for FOX News Channel, among other roles as a news analyst and correspondent.

The center, slated to open on the 4th anniversary of Katrina traces it origins to a chance meeting with a local attorney:

Ratner said any credit for the start of both projects goes back to Nicks, whom she met on an airplane after Katrina. Nicks, her children and husband Myrick Nicks, principal of Gautier High, were seeking refuge in Washington, D.C., after Katrina. The family lives in Gulfport.

Ratner said she was moved by compassion as Nicks told her of the struggles of Pass Christian/DeLisle residents who survived Katrina but lost all they had.

The Nicks family cut their visit to D.C. short after Ratner said she wanted to visit Pass Christian to see the damage. Nicks took her to a tent city set up in the Pass. They met a woman with an 8-year-old autistic grandson who were living in a car.

Ratner said meeting the woman and her grandson had a profound effect on her.

“That’s the crux of all of this,” Ratner said Monday. “People need help to recover.”

Ms Fitzgerald story was sanitized a bit thereafter no doubt in deference to the conservative nature of her local audience. As the late Paul Harvey would say the rest of the story is Ms Ratner and her life partner Cholene Espinoza worked tirelessly helping out the people here after the storm including raising over $800,000 for the community center in DeLisle. The proceeds from Ms Espinoza’s book were key to funding construction. Her personal account of how working here after Katrina changed her is well summed up by the teaser on her website:

Cholene Espinoza—Air Force Academy graduate, former U-2 reconnaissance pilot, and embedded Iraq War journalist—rediscovers hope and purpose in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. With her partner, a close friend, and a U-Haul packed with supplies, Espinoza drives into the Deep South with misgivings and self-doubt. Once in DeLisle, Mississippi, she meets Reverend Rosemary Williams, pastor of the Mt. Zion Methodist Church. Williams is at the center of local Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, and from her damaged church she gives survivors comfort—not just spiritual comfort, but food, shelter, clothing, and love. Espinoza finds her own struggles overwhelmed and transformed by the stories of Katrina’s survivors.

I always said Ly Le’s shrimp was good for the soul. 😉 An account from 2006 that was no doubt part of the book’s PR rollout can be found here.  Their story, one of a multitude that is woven into the fabric of the Katrina experinece is the reason we celebrate diversity here at Slabbed.

I’ll conclude this post with an embed from Sun Herald TV and Ellen Ratner on the new community center.

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