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The Pueblo Chieftain Online

September 6, 2005

Tiffany Sterner, a member of the Family Worship Center, helps to clean up a house at 2701 Withers Ave., which will house a family evacuated from the Gulf Coast.

Home of Heroes effort lends hand take action

Pueblo provides help in accommodating families displaced by Hurricane Katrina.



The bathroom was stocked with fresh towels and toiletries.

In the refrigerator sat full gallons of milk, packets of cheese, peanut butter, bread and other donated foods. Each of the three bedrooms had mattresses, and rooms even featured a couple pieces of furniture and decorations.

And all through this North Side home, teenagers on Monday were finishing last details before a family of Hurricane Katrina victims arrive today.

"That's the goal," explained Andee Ames, 19, a member of Home of Heroes Relocating Project, a local effort recently created to help find homes for people fleeing the Gulf Coast area.

"We want these people to have more than what they left with."

The incoming family of seven that will live in this gray corner house with a well-kept yard - rent-free for six months - has been torn apart since the wicked winds of Katrina hit their Gulf Coast home.

Project members said the family's 16-year-old daughter, once lost, has been found in Houston. She's been living in the Astrodome with other evacuated residents but has yet to talk to family. She is expected to join loved ones in Pueblo.

A son, 20, who would not be expected to live here with his family, is still missing, however. And their 23-month-old daughter has developed an alarming cough from living in horrible surroundings.

The family of seven was expected to land Sunday night but were delayed until today. They're passengers of Angel Flight, a national organization of about 100 private pilots, Ames explained, that responds to emergencies.

Ames, who graduated from Pueblo West High School last year, also is part of the religious program, Youth With A Mission, and has been communicating via e-mail with connections in Houston and New Orleans to try and relocate people to Pueblo.

"We are having tons of trouble logistically" in relocating, she said.

Ames added: "(The American Red Cross) has been telling us 'Well, you don't have this paperwork, and you can't do that...'"

Local families on their own have already helped Gulf Coast relatives find dry and safe accommodations in Pueblo. Posada sheltering agency and the local Red Chapter also are working together to provide a temporary shelter for at least 10 Gulf Coast families that arrived on their own. Other efforts are likely under way.

Meanwhile, more of the hurricane-displaced are on their way.

Doug Sterner, initiator-organizer of the Home of Heroes relocation project, said Sunday at least 30 refugees will be placed in homes in La Junta and Pueblo starting today.

Todd Clevenger, owner of GBSynergy in Denver, and his neighbor, Eric McGough, left Highlands Ranch at 9 p.m. Saturday, and drove directly to Alexandria, La., to round up victims.

Clevenger and Sterner met through relief Web sites on the Internet.

"I posted a notice in a Houston newspaper that we would host a family and I tell ya, not even 10 seconds after it went up on the Internet, Doug called me," Clevenger said Sunday.

Thirty people of nine different families, led by Clevenger, are driving in a caravan to Colorado. The group stayed in Amarillo, Texas, Sunday night and are expected to arrive in La Junta around 3 p.m. today, and in Pueblo a couple hours later.

In a phone call from Alexandria, Clevenger said La Junta City Attorney Phil Malouff and organizers have already arranged jobs, and well-furnished houses for the Southerners.

Kareem Nelson, 31, used to live in New Orleans. Now, he and his fiancee and four children are headed to La Junta.

Nelson's house in New Orleans, where he grew up, is gone. He and his family fled before Hurricane Katrina hit but encountered chaos on highways and interstates packed with cars fleeing New Orleans.

"There's actually 15 of us," Nelson said Sunday via cell phone from the back of Clevenger's Lincoln Navigator.

"We got my mother-in-law and everybody. It's a blessing where we are going right now. I'm just happy to be getting out of (Louisiana)."

Ten additional families were supposed to make the trip to Colorado, but weren't ready to leave, according to Kathy Noe of Alexandria, La., who with the help of Home of Heroes Relocation Project arranged for the families to travel here with Clevenger.

"We put great-big hearts on the back of everyone's cars with the letters 'CO' in the middle," she said. "People were asking me, 'Why CO?' I told them because your heart is going to Colorado."

Many of the houses and apartments the incoming refugees are heading to are owned by Chris Swank and Lucia Hipp.

Swank, owner of apartments and duplexes in the Mesa Junction and North Grand areas, said she couldn't resist helping.

"I have eight vacancies, and I don't see any reason to have vacancies if people need them."

She added: "If only landlords around the nation would open up their units, we could certainly offer some immediate assistance, if not long-term."

Swank's problem: Her apartments are unfurnished.

People willing to donate food, clothes, house items and other goods are asked to call Doug or Pam Sterner at 564-1755.

Hipp knows the pain of the hurricane victims, being she was a Polish refugee during World War II.

"I am overwhelmed that these people were just like me," Hipp said. "I was a homeless refugee, and I could only watch so much TV. I can't take it anymore."

So the house she bought a block from her home on Elizabeth Street on Dec. 19, 1995, will now be home to strangers she knows all too much about.

"I finally understand why I bought that house," she said. "That dump which is now a home, will be a refuge."

Hipp said she has received backing from parts of the neighborhood, and plans to welcome the family of four to their new two-bedroom home with food, drinks and balloons today.

Publish Date Thursday, September 6, 2005
1996-2005 The pueblo Chieftain Online



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