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A strong sense of connection

Katrina counselor's loss connects her to others affected by the disaster

By Major Frank Duracher

Southern Spirit staff

In a way, Jenny Zufelt can say she lost her home when Hurricane Katrina slammed the Mississippi Gulf Coast - but then again, she also can say that the contents of her home remained intact only because of what she describes as a miracle.

Zufelt's apartment, located just a few blocks from the beach, was the "center square" of a building that resembled a tic-tac-toe diagram - with apartments on each side, and both above and below hers, Zufelt's home was actually somewhat insulated from the destructive havoc throughout the area.

"The entire third floor above me was taken out by the wind, along with the two apartments on either side of mine," Zufelt said. "Meanwhile, the entire first floor below me was gutted out by the surge of floodwater."

Photo, above right: Jenny Zufelt, long-time Biloxi area resident, evacuated just before Katrina struck. Her apartment complex was demolished and two people lost their lives. Now she serves her neighbors as the Army's case management supervisor.

Except for broken windows and some water damage to some of her things inside, Zufelt was able to salvage most of her belongings. In fact, she said, theoretically she could have eventually moved back in - had the rest of the building not been condemned.

"I'm definitely blessed, especially considering that most of my neighbors lost everything and that two bodies were later recovered in what was once my building," she said.

When Katrina struck, Zufelt was a state employee for an agency assisting elderly and disabled people. Her experience as a case manager was a good fit for a position later opened by The Salvation Army for a long-term recovery specialist. She later became supervisor for 13 case managers working at the Army's Southern Mississippi Area Command.

"It is so refreshing to work for a faith-based agency, and I love working with people. In fact, some of the folks we're helping in the rebuilding effort are those that I worked with before," she said.

Regardless, Zufelt's experience was sobering and frightening, and she calls the disaster "a world-changing incident" for those affected by Katrina. In effect, she was homeless for many weeks post-Katrina, staying with family and friends until she could re-establish permanent accommodations when she returned to Biloxi.

"Now that I'm working with families recovering and rebuilding, I know a little of what they're going through. It helps me relate and keep everything in perspective," she said.

Zufelt and her staff help Katrina families connect to various resources, process paperwork and work on case plans to eventually complete their rebuilding phase.

Zufelt said that the hardest part of her job now is to look into the eyes of children and realize the fear that is still there. She's made it her goal to reassure those kids that things are getting better.

"I've never worked for a group or organization that is so willing to help as I'm seeing here at The Salvation Army," Zufelt said. "I don't want to work any place else!"


Angel Tree

Erin Eberhart, Miss Jonesborough 2006, joined 9-year-old Noah Trivette in the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Angel Tree program in Johnson City, Tenn. They joined Jim Richardson, advisory board chairman, and Captains Todd and Wilma Mason, commanding officers in Johnson City, to commence the program benefiting hundreds of needy children this Christmas. 


Friendly rivalry

During the past 10 years the Hendersonville, N.C., Kiwanis and Rotary clubs have raised just over $180,000 in the Christmas Kettle appeal. Members of these two organizations enter into this friendly competition competing for the "Bell Ringing" trophy and at the same time helping those in need. Tom Cooper and Kenneth Swayze (below) have been heading up the effort for the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs. Captain Gary Sturdivant, Hendersonville corps officer, says that it is encouraging to see 70 to 80 Rotarians and an equal number of Kiwanians volunteering.



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