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Center Workers Assist in Gulf Coast Recovery Efforts
Coming to the aid of those in need, several civil service employees from Kennedy Space Center in Florida enlisted in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) volunteer program to help with recovery efforts in the storm-ravaged areas of the Gulf Coast. Currently, 26 workers have been trained and sent to disaster recovery centers to assist victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Dennis Armstrong, Kennedy's Web site manager Dennis Armstrong, Kennedy Web site manager for the External Relations directorate, helped in Wiggins, Miss., about 40 miles north of Gulfport. Though the area wasn't directly hit by Katrina, it was affected by multiple tornadoes.

Image left: Dennis Armstrong, Kennedy Space Center's Public Web Information, Media Services and External Relations manager. Image credit: NASA/KSC

"These folks didn’t have much to begin with," Armstrong said. "It's a rural area with a poverty-stricken populace, half of whom lived in mobile homes. Now many of them have nothing."

Armstrong and fellow workers interviewed people affected by the storms and helped to identify what FEMA benefits may be available to them. They also referred people to other organizations and services such as the Red Cross, crisis counseling, Internal Revenue Service for disaster tax deferments or rebates, the Hope Coalition and many others.

"FEMA has a big job and it can be frustrating," Armstrong said. "But everyone here knows that we are helping people who really need it, and bottom line, that's what really matters."

"I am extremely proud that KSC is going above and beyond the call of duty to assist the devastated areas of the Gulf Coast following both hurricanes."
-- Center Director James Kennedy
Brian Rutkowski and Juan Gordon of the Spaceport Engineering and Technology (SE&T) directorate aided at several disaster recovery centers in southern and central Mississippi. They helped to discern needs and refer people for a range of services from food, shelter, grants and hazard mitigation, to small business assistance, aging services, temporary housing and trailers.

"We've been doing our best to help the victims of this tragic disaster," wrote Rutkowski in an e-mail sent from the area.

Rutkowski and Gordon helped in Pass Christian, a disaster town which suffered intense damages from Katrina's eyewall. Rutkowski wrote the two of them were living in tents, and most of the people were homeless and living in tents or shelters while waiting for thousands of trailers to become available.

Rutkowski and Gordon were selected by the head disaster recovery coordinator in Mississippi to become part of a task force. They moved into a new recovery center, set up the infrastructure, trained the new employees and moved on to a new assignment.

Meredith Chandler, also from SE&T, worked 12-hour days inside a large warehouse in the town of Waveland, Miss., which also was severely hit by Katrina's eyewall. While working in the town, she had the unexpected opportunity to meet former Pres. George Bush as he visited the area to observe recovery efforts.

Former President George Bush and volunteer Meredith Chandler Chandler signed people up to receive trailers and checked on the status of their FEMA accounts. The recovery center moved from a large tent in a K-mart parking lot to the warehouse. The area was under more than 20 feet of water during Katrina, according to Chandler.

Image left: Kennedy volunteer Meredith Chandler talks with former President George Bush.
Image credit: FEMA

Every person who comes in has a different story and they want to be heard," Chandler said. "We spend a lot of time listening, and trying our best to understand, although we'll never be able to fully understand what they have been through."

Other KSC workers helping in the Gulf Coast included Johnny Nguyen, Bradley O’Toole, Andres Adomo, Stephen Pilkenton, Melissa Clevenger, Kristen Luther, Ella Kinberg, Thomas Lippitt, David Robertson, Pamela Bohn, Donald Hammel, Stephen Swichkow, James Silviano, Kenneth Williams, Khoa Vo, Thomas Ford, Julianna Tassy, Curtis Williams, Janet Letchworth, Glenn Rhodeside, Robert Parks and Barry Bowen.

Many other workers signed up to participate in the volunteer program.

Linda Herridge, Staff Writer
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center