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Aug 10, 2017 | Stephanie Townes

Spotlight on Missionpalooza 2017

Over four days in August 2016, Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas received more than 50 inches of rain. Despite no named hurricane associated with the rain, the fluke rainstorm created a 1,000-year flood. While a few Baton Rouge neighborhoods escaped the floodwaters, many homes were filled with six feet of water or more.

Eleven months later, the Baton Rouge area is still recovering. FEMA trailers still sit in front yards. Debris is still stacked along sidewalks. Over 400 homes remain full of mud and mold, as they have yet to be “mucked and gutted,” the term for the process of stripping a home down to the studs and foundation to begin the process of rebuilding. Leaders estimate Baton Rouge will be rebuilding for another three to five years.

On July 16-21, the Diocese of Texas took 196 youth and adult volunteers from 18 different parishes to help Baton Rouge with their recovery from these historic floods. The parishes represented were: Calvary,Richmond; Christ Church Cathedral, Houston; Holy Spirit, Houston; Palmer Memorial, Houston; St. Catherine of Sienna, Missouri City; St. David’s, Austin; St. John’s, La Porte; St. John’s, Sealy; St. John the Divine, Houston; St. Mark’s, Bay City; St. Mark’s, Houston; St. Matthew’s, Austin; St. Paul’s, Katy; St. Stephen’s, Beaumont; St. Richard’s, Round Rock; Trinity, Baytown; Trinity, Galveston and Trinity, Marshall. Volunteers hung sheetrock, painted, caulked, put down flooring, helped with a summer camp, packed food at the food bank, and even created a mural.

None of this mission work would be possible without one outstanding woman from St. Mark’s-Bay City: Kathy Westmoreland. 2017 marks Kathy’s 12th Missionpalooza. While Missionpalooza lasts for just one week each summer, Kathy starts planning Missionpalooza in the fall, when she begins by selecting the site for the event. She tries to focus each year on disaster relief, like Bay St. Louis, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina in 2006-2008, Beaumont after Hurricane Ike in 2009, Bastrop after the fires in 2012-2013, and San Marcos/Wimberley in 2016. Kathy’s heart for helping those affected by disasters was inspired by her own experience with Hurricane Celia as a teenager, when her own family’s home was damaged in that storm. Now, her deep faith and her desire to share that faith with the youth of the diocese keep her coming back to lead Missionpalooza each summer.

During the annual trip, the youth learn skills like basic carpentry and how to use power tools. However, as Kathy is quick to point out, Missionpalooza is more than just helping fix up damaged houses. Missionpalooza gives the youth an opportunity to hear the stories of the people they are helping. This year, the youth heard about the devastation of the floods, how neighbors came together, and how scary the rescue efforts were. Drawing on the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10, Kathy underscores how during each trip, both the work and the listening to stories are important.

Kathy’s favorite part of Missionpalooza is seeing the youth realize their own value as they make a difference in these communities. She loves watching them strengthen their faith and learn about the sacrifices they can give to those in need. She loves seeing the youth come year after year, building a foundation for a love of service to Christ.

Even after over a decade of doing Missionpalooza, Kathy has no plans to step down from helping. She has already begun thinking about the plans for Missionpalooza 2018.