Back in 2005, Burners flocked to Mississippi to help with the disaster relief effort following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. After rebuilding a Buddhist temple and helping with demolitions in Biloxi, MS, this crew moved on to help another hard-hit town: Pearlington, MS — through which the eye of the storm traveled. From this effort, Burners Without Borders was born.
Today, Pearlington continues to rebuild, and the town and its wonderful people still hold a warm place in our hearts. We got word earlier this year about the reopening of the new Pearlington Library, and we thought we’d share an email we got from Patty Furr, Executive Director of the Hancock County Library System:
Thanks so much for replying to my email. We are so proud of the wonderful progress in Pearlington. I think some of your wonderful volunteers might have trouble recognizing the place. The dual library/gym renovation project costing 2.1 million dollars has not only allowed us to rebuild the library in the four rooms left over from the school, but in addition the money has paid for a complete and amazing renovation of the old “Pearlmart” gym into a modern sports facility with professional flooring for basketball, showers, lockers, offices and even an arcade for the teens to use. A further project will also soon be funded by the county which will provide an outdoor pavilion with a full-scale concession stand and covered picnic table area as well. All of the plywood “shacks” used by volunteers are gone to be replaced by an open green field for organized outdoor sports.
The new 1.2 million dollar Charles B. Murphy Pearlington Public Library is truly remarkable, especially since it was built for this small, impoverished community of about 600 families. Our old one-room 2000 square foot library space was shared by both the school kids and the adults who used it as a public library. It was crowded and noisy and did not suit either the kids or adults. We now have expanded the library to include all four school rooms that survived the storm for a total of 7598 square feet. We have a computer lab, a full-sized meeting room that can seat up to 60 people, a large children’s library space with a teen area and finally a main adult library space with room for up to 15,000 books. The community chose the theme of “Space, Sky and Sea” for their library in order to reflect their relationship with the nearby Stennis Space Center. We hope to have a space-themed children’s library with a wonderful solar system mobiles hanging from the ceiling and wall murals as well. NASA has already committed to doing a quarterly exhibit space within the children’s library and they are also interested in sending their scientists to do a “Science Smarts” program that will involve mentoring of the children to pursue a career in math and science, as well as doing hands-on experiments.
The need for library services is very real as demonstrated by a waiting list of 25 young adults who are asking for GED classes and some way to get trained on computers so that they can work at the nearby space center. Most of those jobs are closed to those who cannot read well, use a computer competently and/or have a GED. This is a real mission field for a librarian, as we don’t have a big pool of money to furnish the space and provide programming, but we are doing the best we can to help the families of the community begin to rise out of poverty. In the afternoon, the school bus lets off 35-40 children and teens who have no one waiting to greet them at home. I want to see some future scientists, doctors, engineers and even maybe an astronaut come from this pretty little town on the Pearl River, and the new library and gym will set the mark for a new generation of educated persons who can work at the huge government base where rocket testing will continue for decades to come.
May I extend my thanks on behalf of the community for the wonderful help that your organization gave to Pearlington? I would love to show the [Burn on the Bayou] film to the community because many residents have never seen it. If you would like, I would be pleased to send you an invitation to the ribbon cutting, which has been scheduled tentatively for April 25th, 2011 and we should have pictures up on our website in early May.
Thanks again for sending us a copy of the movie. It will serve as a reminder of how very far the community has come in the first five years after the horrific storm.
Hancock County Library System
312 Highway 90
Bay St. Louis, MS 39520″
The library is still raising $25,000 to buy furniture and other necessary items. If you’re inclined to help, donations should be made out to The Library Foundation of Hancock County, which is their 501(c)(3) vehicle for accepting tax deductible gifts.
For more information, contact Mary Perkins at ismmperkins here: ismmperkins (at) hancock.lib.ms.us.