Back Bay Mission ~ Bill & Ellen Matten

Back Bay Mission ~ Bill & Ellen Matten

Our first week at Back Bay Mission has passed very quick. We arrived at BBM on Sunday afternoon, 01/01/12 late in the afternoon after 1,200 miles of travel from our State College home. When we arrived at BBM we were greeted by 40 volunteers from First Church, Glastonbury, CT quite an amazing way to start our two month volunteer period at BBM. We quickly unpacked our van and went right to work settling into our temporary Mississippi home and volunteer responsibilities. Our old friend Marilyn DeTizio who has worked with us in the past here at BBM, drove from her home in Florida to help Ellen with the first week of 2012's scheduling for the year 2013 and to help get the new year off to a good start. For Marilyn's help last week, both of us are ever so thankful to her for her generosity!

Monday, morning at 7:30 a.m. we gathered in the Mission House with the 40 volunteers from First Church, Glastonbury, CT, the BBM Volunteer Coordinators and the BBM Construction Supervisors. The week's volunteers were welcomed, the year 2011 at BBM was quickly reviewed, a work site safety lesson was presented, and then the week's work site schedule was presented. To start the new year of 2012 two new homes that that been framed by local contractors for the Biloxi group called HOPE were turned over to BBM for completion. The two new home builds required Hardie siding installation ( ), insulation, drywalling of the entire interior, painting inside & out, tiling installation in the kitchen & bathroom areas, hot water heater installation, completion of the electrical system, cabinet & appliance installation in the kitchen area, and completion of the the bathroom areas. The 40 volunteers from Glastonbury, CT split into two groups and went right to work on the two new uncompleted houses. It was a very busy week for all and by weeks end a great deal of work had been accomplished at both homes.

On Wednesday evening we went with the short term volunteers to The Main Street Baptist Church here in Biolxi and attended the 7:00 p.m. service. The Main Street Baptist Church's Congregation has aways been open and welcoming to anyone from BBM that attends one of their services.

Later Wednesday evening we welcomed into the volunteer housing here at BBM, Ms. Doerte Hesselman a young 19 year old women from Germany. Doerte will serve as a long term volunteer in the MICAH Center until the end of August 2012. Doerte has been in the USA since last August, she was first assigned to a volunteer position in Elkton, Maryland, but found that assignment unacceptable and asked Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss at the UCC Offices in Cleveland for another assignment. So, for the next two months we kinda have a 19 year old daughter or granddaughter living with us here in the volunteering housing at BBM.

Our first week at was busy, exhausting, rewarding, satisfying, challenging, but very, very, uplifting!

P.S. The 926 pairs of socks from St. John's UCC, Boalsburg were turned over to the staff of the BBM MICAH Center on Tuesday, 01/03/2012. The socks are greatly appreciated by the staff of BBM and some of them have already been given to a number of BBM's clients.
P.S.S. The following message was seen by the two of us as we drove to Bioxi painted on the back window of a passing van carrying a group of volunteers to the Gulf Coast: "The distance is worth the difference".



Week #2 ~ for us here at Back Bay Mission saw 16 volunteers (8-women & 8-men, ages 15 to 72) come to BBM from Palm Schwenkfelder Church, Palm, PA and Pilgrim UCC, Duxbury, MA. These two groups joined forces for a really good week of work at one of the two new houses that are currently being built by BBM and HOPE Community Development Agency ( ) for a Vietnamese man and his son who lost they home to Hurricane Katrina back in August 23, 2005. Six and one-half years is a long time to be without a home, but if all goes well, these two men who have lived with other family members since 2005, should be able two move into their new home within the next two to three months. Last weeks outdoor temperatures in Biloxi ranged between 27 through 72 degrees F. The cold days provided challenges for the volunteers as they worked both inside and outside of the unheated house. The paint was a bit stiff at times, hands were a little cold, but the volunteers hearts were warmed as they worked through and moved the house closer to completion.

Ellen in her work as BBM's Volunteer Coordinator has been kept very busy since we arrived at BBM on 01/01/2012. Ellen's daily responsibilities are to provide support to the short term volunteers currently working at BBM, to communicate with the short term volunteers that will be coming to BBM later in 2012, and to communicate with all the short term volunteers that are currently registering to come to BBM in 2013. On Saturday's Ellen must make sure that the departing volunteers have cleaned and left the Mission House here at BBM in good repair. Then on Sunday Ellen greets and meets with each new group(s) as they arrive at BBM and helps get them off to a good start for their week of volunteering. Ellen is very much enjoying her work at BBM.

We have been joined here in Biloxi at Back Bay Mission by another long term volunteer. Doetre Hesselmann, is 19 years of age, she is from Dinslaken, Germany, and her sponsor organization in Germany is called Evangelische  Kirche im Rheinland, here is the link to the volunteer website: Doetre graduated from High School just before coming to the USA in August of 2011. She spent her first four months volunteering at a Women's shelter in Elkton, Maryland and then asked the UCC Church Offices in Cleveland, Ohio to transfer her to BBM where she is now severing until August 2012. Doetre is working as the intake person at BBM's Micah Center which helps serve the homeless population here in Biloxi. Doetre is staying with us in the Long Term Housing here at BBM. We have taken her under our wings and are helping her with transportation, shopping, local activities and adjusting to working at BBM & living in Biloxi, MS. Doetre is a strong young German women who is a most pleasant, capable, and willing worker.

Week #3 ~ All of us here at Back Bay Mission saw 21 volunteers come to Biloxi from South Church, Kennebunkport , Maine (ages 14 to 75) plus a husband & wife volunteer team from Michigan and a UCC Pastor from Spinnerstown, PA. These 24 volunteers worked on the two new houses that are currently under construction for two different Vietnamese Families here in Biloxi that lost they homes 6&1/2 years ago to Hurricane Katrina. Both houses were completely painted inside and both homes had portions of their outside surfaces painted. Ladders and scaffolding were used throughout the week to help the volunteers reach the surfaces that required painting. Scaffolding was erected outside one of the homes to help the volunteers reach 18 feet into the air with their paint brushes. The sun shone brightly all last week in Biloxi allowing the volunteers to work both inside and outside of both homes. On Monday, 01/16 the volunteers were able to celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday by attending a parade and a Battle of Bands held at the Biloxi Coliseum. This activity provided the volunteers a wonderful opportunity to see how some of the citizens living along the Gulf Coast celebrate Mr. King's life, birthday with music and parading. Wednesday the group worked in the morning and then drove the 90 miles to New Orleans where they explored and enjoyed some Louisiana cooking and local specialty foods.

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings members of the group volunteered to work at Back Bay Mission's Micah Center and Food Pantry. BBM's Micah Center is a day use center where the Biloxi homeless can come to take a shower, have their clothing washed, receive a pair of new socks and/or underwear, use a telephone, use a computer, receive their mail (since they do not have a home, they do not have a mailing address), talk with the staff & volunteers, play table games, receive information about other agencies and other services that they may be eligible to receive.

The BBM's Food Pantry provides food items to those who have a need in the Biloxi area. If a person meets the qualifications through a needs assessment, they may receive food from the Food Pantry once a month. The food distributed by BBM, comes to BBM through direct donations of food and/or cash from individuals, churches and by donations from local agencies and the USDA. The Food Pantry typically has more requests for food items, then the inventory can provide for. Donations to BBM's Food Pantry are always welcome from individuals, groups, private or government agencies at anytime.

Twenty of the twenty-one volunteers that came from South Church, Kennebunkport , Maine last week, came to BBM for the first time. Before leaving Biloxi last Saturday the group made a reservation for a week in April 2013 for their next volunteer period. It would appear, that, both young and old had a wonderful week of volunteering and personal growth.

Week #4 ~ During 2012 Back Bay Mission is celebrating it's 90th anniversary. "Back Bay Mission was born in 1922 as an outreach effort of the First Evangelical Church of Biloxi (later United Church of Christ) whose members responded with compassion and service to the needs of poor shrimpers living in deplorable conditions along Biloxi’s Back Bay. Since then, Back Bay Mission has continued to expand its ministries to those who have been put at risk by social injustice issues. Although by the early 1970s, virtually no UCC congregations remained in Biloxi or the state of Mississippi, Back Bay Mission has continued to offer a witness of the of the United Church of Christ through its commitment to be faithfully responsive to the emerging and critical needs of God’s people, ever seeking a day of greater justice and peace" ( ).

During week four at BBM we had two different groups join forces, bringing their total number to fifteen volunteers. First Congregation located in La Grange, IL and Open Prairie, located in Princeton, IL. blended together very nicely, they fellowshipped, worshiped, billeted, shared meals, and worked together for seven days. Also, during week four, a UCC Minister from PA joined the two Illinois volunteer groups while enjoying a week of sabbatical leave. This mighty force of sixteen had a very good week together. The two new houses which currently are under construction moved towards completion through the group's good efforts. They painted the exterior of one of the homes, trimmed out the windows, installed ceramic tile floors in the kitchens, bathrooms, utility-rooms, hot-water heater closets. They installed laminate flooring in the living rooms, bedrooms, and hallway areas. Several  of the volunteers worked in the MICAH Center and the BBM Food Pantry on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. On Wednesday evening both the short term and long term volunteers attended church together at The First Missionary Baptist Church of Biloxi, this is always a very special experience for all. Thursday afternoon the short term volunteers traveled the 90 miles to New Orleans where they enjoyed some good food, music, and explored the French Quarter together.

Week four's group had four ministers participating, a husband, wife, and son ( the wife & mother has suffered from Alzheimer's [Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.]for the past seven years) and a mother who's (son while severing with the US Army in Afghanistan during the Fall of 2011 had his left foot blown off by an IED while on patrol). Week four for all of us here at BBM was a very special week of sharing, caring and learning!

Both, First Congregation La Grange, IL and Open Prairie Princeton, IL signed up for a week at BBM in 2013 before they left to return home.

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Contact Info

Mary Schaller Blaufuss
Team Leader, Global Sharing of Resources
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115