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By Connie Leinbach
John Simpson is humbled that he is getting a brand new, hand-built house by volunteers with Christian Aid Ministries.
Simpson’s house along Irvin Garrish Highway was flooded when Hurricane Dorian inundated the island on Sept. 6, 2019, and had to be demolished. Since then, he’s stayed with friends on the island and earlier this year moved into a temporary trailer on his property to await his new home.
Christian Aid Ministries out of Berlin, Ohio, on Monday began building Simpson’s one-bedroom home thanks to a $850,000 grant that Hyde County obtained recently from the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management and will be administered through Ocracoke Interfaith Relief & Recovery.
The Hyde County commissioners approved OIRRT’s management of the grant at their Oct. 5 meeting.
Simpson says he’s almost embarrassed at times about the charity shown him following the Dorian disaster.
“I greatly appreciate it—the whole thing, community-wise,” he said. “It’s very humbling. This whole community bands together to help.”
CAM, as it is known, is one of several Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOADs) that have aided Ocracoke since Dorian on rebuild projects.
The first group of about 12 CAM workers and supervisors arrived on Ocracoke Island over the weekend and began building Simpson’s home on Monday.
“We expect to get it under roof on Friday,” said Larry Strite, who is supervising the crews of young Mennonite men building or rebuilding homes lost or heavily damaged.
If you go by one of these projects and can’t understand what they men are saying, that’s because these young men from Illinois and Kentucky are speaking Pennsylvania Dutch, a dialect of German that’s spoken in the Mennonite and Amish communities.
Another crew was tearing out insulation at a nearby house in preparation for rebuilding the interior. As Strite watched the young men haul away the insulation damaged in the storm he noted that he was in one of the first group of volunteers to arrive on the island after the storm.
“I was here for 32 days as one of the rapid response teams,” he said, which did initial muck outs and tear outs of damaged buildings.
And the home where the crew was prepping was the first place where he helped.
“I cleaned this place,” he said. “I gutted it.”
So, he appreciates that he can take off from his own job to oversee rebuilding.
“This to me was a big thing,” he said about getting this particular house done. “I hope to have it done in four weeks.”
Strite, also a Mennonite from Pickens, South Carolina, said the young men working on the island for the next four weeks on four projects are volunteers with the Conservative Anabapists Service Program, which operates under CAM and provides alternative places of employment for conscientious objectors to serve should the U.S. government activate a military draft.
Strite was thankful to Blue Heron Vacations, which obtained houses for the crews.
“They went above and beyond,” he said.
Ivey Belch, chair of the OIRRT, stopped by Simpson’s to view the work.
“We’re glad they’re here,” he said about the volunteers. “We’re very thankful for their time and effort to be here.”
The OIRRT, which is the long-term recovery group formed after Dorian devastated the island, is in the process through casework of identifying client homeowners most in need of rebuild assistance.
“Our top priorities are those with homes which have been totally demolished, and who have not received adequate assistance from other disaster relief outlets such as NCIA, SBA, or rebuild partner groups/VOADs,” said Alicia Peel, OIRRT administrative assistant.
The process considers each individual homeowner’s financial situation, including fixed income, in addition to a multitude of other extenuating circumstances on a case-by-case basis with a seven-tiered system that prioritizes medical needs and the elderly as the top two tiers.
Over the last year, the OIRRT has participated in the management of over $2 million in recovery funds, has distributed truckloads of furniture and appliances, and has disbursed several truckloads of donated food and supplies to the community.
This has been done through casework to more than 380 island households impacted or displaced by Dorian.