WALKER – “Home for the Holidays” holds a new meaning for Joyce Forbes.
Fifteen months after the August 2016 flood, the 92-year-old Walker resident returned to a refurbished home, thanks to the help of some special friends from outside Louisiana.
Volunteers from Fuller Center Disaster Rebuilders stepped up to help rebuild the flood-ravaged home, which involved a full-scale overhaul of walls, cabinets and electrical wiring.
Family members, representatives from Fuller and Rev. Mark Carroll of South Walker Baptist Church gathered for the ceremony shortly before Thanksgiving.
“The timing couldn’t be any more perfect,” Forbes said.
Furniture is sparse in the new house, something which will change in the coming days.
The return home carries with a bittersweet sentiment.
Joyce lost her husband, former Mayor Henry Forbes, on April 28. He led the municipal government from 1964-80.
She made certain to place his picture prominently in the living room for the ceremony.
“He couldn’t be here with us physically, but he’s definitely here with us in spirit,” daughter Debbie Forbes said.
The jubilation was not limited to family members.
Leda Thompson was one of the many volunteers who helped on the rebuilding process which began in early March.
The finished product and the ability to return someone to their home represents the fruits of their labor, she said.
“It’s a beautiful process,” she said. “We are so delighted today because when we first came, we started from scratch by knocking down walls and gutting a house that was already mucked up.
“The family here is the payoff,” Thompson said. “It does our hears so much good just to get them back in their home.”
For volunteer Peter Salemme, the time he spent in Walker continued a mission he started after one of the worst natural disasters in the nation’s history.
His calling began in 2005 when he volunteered his services in Biloxi after Hurricane Katrina wiped out much of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast region.
“I was going to stay for a week, but ended up staying for two and a half years,” Salemme said. “I was going to go to trade school to become a teacher, but this program has helped me become a teacher.”
His mission has taken him to parts of Texas, as well as Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he had an extensive stay after a 2011 tornado which devastated the region.
“Yes, a diehard Crimson Tide fan helped get some LSU fans back on their feet,” he joked.
As with much of the nation, Salemi did not realize the extent of the damage south Louisiana suffered in the 2016 flood.
“All I saw was piles of debris along roadsides when I got here in March – and that was seven months after the flood,” he said. “The word “devastation” does not cover what I’ve seen here.”
Pastor Carroll, who provided Joyce the ceremonial gift of a blanket and a Bible, said the finished product represents much of the mission a church should serve.
“It’s all about restoring life,” he said. “The work by the volunteers will provide many years of blessings not only for Joyce, but her family members.
“The work of all of these volunteers represents not only their love, but the love of the Lord,” Carroll said.
For Joyce and her family, it opens the door to brighter days after more than a year of heartache.
It will also give her the opportunity to resume some longstanding family traditions.
“We’ll all be here Christmas Eve and many Sunday nights,” Joyce said. “It’s great to be home.”