Two upstate New York churches adopt Mississippi family
Aug. 25, 2006
|A UMNS photo courtesy of Angela Cole
Lisa, Darrien and Destin Swanson show off their new school uniforms.
A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Lisa, Destin and Darrien Swanson are wearing big smiles and new school uniforms
for their first day of school in Pearlington, Miss., thanks to two United Methodist
churches in upstate New York.
A chance meeting of three women in a New York pizza place led to the Swanson
family in Mississippi being adopted by the Red Hook and Rowe United Methodist
churches in Red Hook and Milan, N.Y.
Cable News Network will carry a feature on the family of Denise
Swanson, a single mother of four who lost everything in the Hurricane
Katrina, and two United Methodist congregations. The program will be
cablecast on Aug. 29, the one-year anniversary of Katrina making
landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Meeting through a waitress
Angela Cole, a nurse from Tivoli, N.Y., and sisters Deborah Lamb and Jude
Polotaye happened to be in a neighborhood pizza place at the same time. The
waitress knew the sisters were planning to go on a mission trip to Biloxi,
Miss., and she knew Cole had been to Mississippi several times. She introduced
Cole to the sisters.
Cole has made helping the people of Pearlington her personal mission. Her
efforts have grown into a national, grass-roots campaign, and she is hoping
to get more families adopted.
One year after the community of 1,700 was leveled, the approximately
800 persons who have returned live their lives in limbo not knowing when — or
if — their tiny community will fully recover,” Cole says. The people
refer to themselves as “forgotten,” she says.
On the day they met in the pizza place, Lamb and Polotaye were days away from
going on the mission trip to Biloxi.
“She told us the story of Pearlington, Miss., in the southwest corner
of Mississippi that directly got hit by the hurricane,” Polotaye says
of Cole. “Pearlington is in the backwoods and is really struggling. The
more she talked, the more excited we got.”
The mission team made the trip to Biloxi and still had a little more than
$800 that was not spent on the trip.
A short time later, Lamb heard Hancock County,
where Pearlington is located, was requiring all children to have uniforms
for the school year.
team had not visited the forgotten Mississippi town, she remembered Cole’s
stories and thought the money would be put to good use by the Swanson family.
“We didn’t want to just buy clothes for the children; we wanted
them to be able to pick out what they wanted,” Lamb explains.
“What makes the way the church did this so special is they sent the
money so Denise could buy the uniforms with the kids,” Cole says. “Darrien
is 12, and that’s a tough age. He wants to wear a certain type of khaki
pants, and by sending money Denise could preserve his sense of self and dignity
and buy him what he wanted.”
“It means so much because I can’t get my kids all the things I
could before, and that hurts,” Denise says.
Churches plan baby shower
Red Hook and Rowe United Methodist churches have
decided to adopt the family and send more support. Already the churches are
a baby shower for
Denise’s oldest daughter, who is pregnant.
“We plan to have the shower in our lounge and take pictures and send
the gifts. After that, we are planning to do Christmas for them,” Polotaye
says. The churches also want to send a mission team down to Pearlington.
“I am just so proud of what these two lay people have done,” says
the Rev. Dave Jolly, pastor of both New York congregations. “We are too
small to be doing this, but we are doing it. Any time they have encountered
roadblocks, they have built bridges over the roadblocks.”
Cole has formed the Pearlington Project Katrina Foundation Inc., a nonprofit
organization, to fund the building of permanent houses for families and individuals
whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
She is painfully aware of the looming deadline of February when the Federal
Emergency Management Agency has said it will reclaim the trailers it has provided
to those left homeless by Hurricane Katrina. For more information on how to
donate to the foundation, go to www.pearlingtonproject.org.
Jolly says it is amazing what churches full of spirit-filled people can do.
“One leap of faith has just led to another.”
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville,
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or