'A special group of people'
By: Howell Dennis
The final of a four part series recognizing Homeless Awareness Week.
CROWLEY - On Thursday morning, four of the driving forces behind the construction of The Welcome House’s new living facility visited the Crowley Post-Signal to discuss the successful, yet tedious, process that was involved.
What is evident is that the four - Joe Freeland, Ed Habetz, Mary Zaunbrecher and Ron Lawson - have developed a sense of camaraderie during the time they spent working together. All four are members of the Crowley Rotary Club which was instrumental in raising funds and volunteering their time for the project.
“I think when Joe first approached the Rotary Club with his idea (building a new facility) some people thought he was crazy,” said Zaunbrecher.
“Oh, they did,” replied Freeland as the other three laughed.
Freeland’s idea not only survived any initial doubts, it recently won the Rotary Club’s Best Project Award for District 6200. It is being considered by Rotary Club International for their award.
“My family had supported The Welcome House for years and I felt it was appropriate that we improve the facilities,” said Freeland. “Today I believe the facility is as good as any in the United States.”
All four seem to have the same quality of being modest when discussing their individual roles in the project.
For example Habetz, one of the top contractors in the area, initially said that his company “did some of the work it was mostly volunteers that made it happen.” However after some prodding by the others he admitted to the vital role his company played in the shelter’s construction. He will also begin work next week on a new church at the shelter which he hopes to have completed by next month.
Zaunbrecher had been working in Lake Charles when she saw an article in the paper “saying that they needed a volunteer coordinator.”
“I was really getting tired of the commute to Lake Charles so I quit my job and started with The Welcome House,” she said.
Eventually Zaunbrecher saw that there were more benefits to her job than just a shorter ride to work.
“When I first started working at The Welcome House I didn’t have much interaction with the residents,” she said. “Over time I got to know some of them and I realized that there was so much to be learned from the people there.”
“A lot of times when people think of the homeless they think about a drunk person begging for money,” added Freeland. “Many of these people have just fallen on hard times or had personal problems that landed them in this position.”
Lawson, a highly respected Crowley architect, said he took the job after “getting the call from Joe.”
“When I started overseeing the project I got closer to Roy’s (The Welcome House’s founder Rev. Roy Kibodeaux) ministry,” he said. “After seeing what he was doing out there I didn’t mind the work at all.”
Looking back at the project, the group couldn’t help but laugh at some of the bumps in the road they overcame.
“Oh there was one time we had to move a house trailer and drain the sewage lift station before the plumbers got there on Monday,” said Freeland. “We thought we had drained it the previous Friday but when the plumbers arrived it was full again. Turns out it was still connected to the bathrooms in the church.”
“And there was another time when we were moving some heavy equipment across the grounds and we rolled over a water line that was buried pretty shallow,” added Lawson. “Water just came shooting straight up out of the ground.”
“It was like tar-baby syndrome,” Freeland smiled. “We knew we were headed in the right direction we just didn’t know how long it was going to take.”
All four were immensely grateful for all the volunteers who helped as well and the gratitude of public.
“When we had the church groups from Arkansas come down to help us we put them up at the Acadian Baptist Center in Richard,” said Freeland. “When it came time to pay the bill we went by and a person had already paid it. They wished to remain anonymous.”
Aside from the work of the church groups, which included people from Baptist and Methodist churches in Prairie Grove, Ark. and Ozark Christian College in Missouri, the group couldn’t help but be amazed at their luck when it came time for certain jobs.
“I really think the Lord sent people to the shelter to help us out,” said Lawson.
“One the group from Arkansas left to head home and we had a plumbing job that was unfinished,” he said. “A man that had previously worked as a plumber had recently moved into the shelter. He took control and completed it.”
“He eventually left after getting a good job,” added Lawson. “So I asked A.J. (The Welcome House manager) who’s next? And sure enough another man named John stepped up...the Lord provided the people.”
“These men not only honed their skill they developed a sense of pride,” said Freeland. “It gave them a feeling of ownership in the shelter.”
All four said that they would be continuing their work with the shelter in the future. Freeland wanted to be sure to mention a fundraiser dinner that is being held on Monday, May 9 at the Crossing at Mervine Kahn in Rayne being sponsored by Acadia Parish Sheriff Wayne Melancon.
“In the future we’re hoping that donations continue to come in for the maintenance and upkeep of the facility,” said Zaunbrecher.
One thing that was apparent during the visit with the group was that they genuinely enjoyed working together.
“I was telling Ed the other day that it’s been a while since we’ve worked at The Welcome House,” said Lawaon. “We may have to go by and get our fix.”
Freeland said that he couldn’t have imagined a better team could be assembled.
“This has been one special team of people to work with,” said Freeland. “I’d put this team from a small, rural community in Louisiana against any other Rotary Club around.”