Mission trip helps Hattiesburg residents rebuild after tornado
By Caitlin Bittner
On June 8, Bridget Achenbach, Mariah Schwager, Courtney Pattison, Claire Stoeffler and their chaperone Mary Stoeffler left La Crosse for Hattiesburg, Miss. where an EF4 tornado had struck on February 10, earlier this year. When they left, however, they had no idea what kind of adventure was waiting for them.
Traveling south via Coach bus, they were given the opportunity to get to know youths and chaperones from all over the La Crosse Diocese. The group reached its destination around noon on June 9, and made its way to an old train depot, where they would sleep during their visit.
The group from La Crosse was sponsored by St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church out of Hattiesburg. The church provided the group’s meal, as well as a construction company.
Capital Enterprise LLC is owned by one of the church’s parishioners, Matthew Hall, who donated both his time, materials, profit and overhead to the rebuilding effort. With all of that up for grabs, the project only needed the manpower to get the repairs underway.
The group worked on four different properties while they were there, becoming acquainted with the proper techniques of dry-walling, painting and siding. Claire Stoeffler said that one day a smaller group of the volunteers was sent to screen in a porch, clean up the backyard and dig up a waterline. “The homeowner was having a $900 water bill, so we needed to find the leak.”
Unfortunately for the group, it was determined that the leak was under the house, so they just had to fill the trench they had dug back in again.
During the trip, the girls also found out about their previously unknown love of power tools. “[We] learned how to use a table saw and a nail gun to build door frames,” commented Claire.
The group was also very fortunate to meet the homeowners of the properties they were helping to rebuild and repair. “One day while working, one of the girls found a Christmas ornament with the name ‘Erin’ engraved on it.”
Upon showing their find to the homeowner, the group found out that the homeowner’s stepdaughter had died of cancer when she was 16, so the family had been hanging it on their Christmas tree as a memorial every year.
When evening came and the group stopped work for the day, the group would celebrate daily Mass as well as reflect upon their experiences. The group members were also able to have some fun amongst all their hard work, spending some time soaking up the sun at Biloxi Beach, eating pizza, playing laser tag and ending their journey with a night at the Heartbreak Hotel in Memphis, Tenn.
The group from Prairie du Chien returned home on June 14, with a lot of new memories and friends.