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Locals build hope in Mississippi

COAST CITIES — Mike Branon of Carlsbad, Jamie Durward of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Christine O’Brien of Encinitas and Kathy and Steve Perkins and Steve Walsh, all of Vista, were part of an International Relief Team of 20 volunteer construction workers who headed to Mississippi on March 20 to repair homes of the poor and elderly damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The team includes carpenters, drywall specialists, roofers and handymen.
This is the 32nd team IRT scheduled for deployment to Mississippi. The team is working primarily in Eastern Mississippi, in the towns of Moss Point, Pascagoula, Ocean Springs, and Gautier, where homes have been prepared for rehab work. Since March 2006, 486 IRT volunteers have repaired/rebuilt more than 195 homes in these areas.
More than 20,000 homes in Mississippi were badly damaged or destroyed when the state took a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina. “Five years on there are still many displaced families,” said Barry La Forgia, executive director of International Relief Teams, a San Diego-based nonprofit relief agency. “Many are poor and elderly living on low and fixed incomes. They cannot afford to repair or rebuild their homes without help.”
IRT is working collaboratively with the Mississippi United Methodist Conference, which is providing case management, prioritization of work, and delivery of construction materials to the various locations where the team will be working.
The cost to send a team of 20 volunteers to Mississippi for a week is approximately $14,000. Donations to support the relief effort can be sent to International Relief Teams, 4560 Alvarado Canyon Road, Ste. 2G, San Diego, CA 92120 or, made through the website, Additionally, IRT is looking for skilled and semi-skilled volunteers to join future teams. Interested persons can contact the office at (619) 284-7979 or submit an application to volunteer online at