They lost their home to Hurricane Ida. The volunteers built them a new one

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Nathan Billiot de Dulac has suffered a lot of drama in recent months. In August, Hurricane Ida destroyed the house he and his father lived in. After the storm, three of his relatives died and his father, John Earnest Trosclair Sr., required major surgery.

“It’s like looking through a tunnel and still not seeing the light,” Billiot said. “It felt like every day after the storm I asked [God], ‘Where are you?’ “

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Hope arrived on Wednesday, when he received the keys to a new home built by Mennonite Disaster Service, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit. This is the last of six homes built since October, with more to follow this fall.

“It’s wonderful,” Billiot said at a groundbreaking ceremony for the house. “Really, really amazing.”

Overall, Mennonite Disaster Service is building 10 homes and repairing 40 others in southern Terrebonne Parish, one of the areas hardest hit by the Category 4 hurricane. The group also completed about three dozen of house demolitions.

The effort is funded by an $850,000 grant from the Bayou Community Foundation’s Bayou Recovery Fund for Hurricane Ida Relief. Grant money is used to purchase construction materials and construction labor is provided free of charge by volunteers. Homeowners also contribute insurance or money received from FEMA for construction costs, and appliances are donated by the nonprofit group Rebuilding Together Bayou.

The two- and three-bedroom homes in Dulac were designed and built to withstand storms as part of the Federal Safe Homes Alliance’s Strong Homes initiative, officials said. The homes, which average around $112,000 to build, are designed for 160 mph winds and are elevated well above FEMA requirements.

The Amish who volunteer for the program live simple, agricultural lives and schedule their work hours in Dulac around their home life. They returned home to Pennsylvania on Friday and plan to return to Dulac in October.

Nathan Billiot of Dulac and Elvin Shirk sign the documents to transfer the house built by Mennonite Disaster Services to Billiot on Wednesday, June 1, 2022.

“We care about people,” said Chris Stoltzfus, 48, an Amish volunteer from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “And people who hurt are usually open to the gospel message.”

The association rotates 35 people to help rebuild homes. The Amish don’t use modern technology like cars or electricity, so other volunteers help with those aspects of the job.

About 35 families are waiting for new homes or a return to their old homes once repairs are completed, said Mike Balog, 65, project manager at Holy Family Catholic Church in Dulac.

Amish and other volunteers sing "No, not one" at a dedication ceremony on Wednesday, June 1, 2022, for a home they built for Hurricane Ida victims in Dulac.

Many people initially applied for the houses. A checklist was created to prioritize who needed the most help. The criteria included whether the person was disabled, homeless, displaced, widowed or elderly. From there, a social worker met with the claimants.

The Amish volunteers divided the work into seasons so they could return home for the summer when farm work was busiest. In winter, it is really cold, so it is more pleasant to work here, which defines the construction season from October to May.

“You tell someone when it’s 10 degrees in Lancaster that they can come here and work here where it’s 70 degrees, it’s not hard to find volunteers,” Stoltzfus said.

Anyone, including local residents, can volunteer through the group’s website, MDS.org.


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