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The positive side of a very terrible tragedy
        September 07, 2005     1h45     0 Comments

Hope is the one thing that you should never lose, and stories like the following show that no matter what happens, there should always be hope. I want to highlight the way that someone highlights the beginning of the American Constitution: "We, the people". As i've traveled around the world and met hundreds of people of different nationalities, color, race, etc, I've learned that people are very similar: everyone wants to feel loved, to feel safe, and to survive. In my opinion, "We, the people" applies to the world community ... and these tragedies (the tsunami, Katrina, etc) prove just how interconnected today's world is.

The kindness of strangers
Bay State residents open their homes to evacuees
By Megan Tench, Globe Staff
September 6, 2005

Relief agencies put them on hold. Baton Rouge police officers laughed at them. Their calls to Louisiana churches went unanswered.

But Nadine and Warren Heaps weren't giving up. Determined to help families devastated by Hurricane Katrina, the Ashland couple called every Louisiana shelter in the book.

Finally, the couple managed to reach Kirk Woods and Paula Russell, who lived in New Orleans and were staying at a converted community center in Baton Rouge. They lost everything.

The Heapses, who purchased a three-family home last week, promptly bought Woods and Russell plane tickets to Boston and set up an apartment.

But don't try to tell them how generous they are.

''It isn't amazing -- it's what we as Americans are supposed to do," said Nadine Heaps, owner of Purple Ink Insurance Agency. ''These people are living in shelters with no shoes. These people lost their lives right here in our country. There's no magic potion or secret to help fix the problem. That's what 'We the People' is all about."

The couple, one of many Massachusetts families to open their hearts and homes to victims of Katrina, came yesterday afternoon to Logan International Airport. Woods and Russell, who are engaged, arrived with their remaining possessions stuffed in two duffel bags.

At the Terminal C baggage claim, the Heapses and their 4-year-old daughter, Alia, waited with roses and a sign that read, ''Welcome to Ashland."

It didn't take long for the four strangers to lock eyes, hugging one other for a moment. Then they introduced themselves.

Russell, who had worked at the customer service desk at Bally's, a New Orleans casino, shook nervously as she reacquainted herself with Nadine Heaps, who until then had been just a voice over the phone.

''I don't know what to feel right now," Russell said. ''I am 45 years old, and I've never been out of the city of New Orleans. I left my whole life behind, but I feel blessed and safe."

She said they fled their home Wednesday as flood waters rose and bands of gun-wielding men took over their neighborhood. They were able to drive to Baton Rouge.

Woods, who worked security at the Louisiana Superdome, smiled yesterday with his arms folded across his chest as he told Warren Heaps about the flight to Boston.

''On the plane, when we said we were from New Orleans, everybody around us wanted to know if we needed help," he said. ''One man -- his name was Mitch -- had money in hands he wanted to give us."

But Nadine and Warren Heaps aren't finished, and they're turning to their Ashland neighbors for help.

Another evacuee, Steve Larroque, who has been sleeping among thousands at the Houston Astrodome, was due to arrive today, but he couldn't get on a plane because his ID was lost in the chaos.

Another displaced family, Vanessa and Greg Hughes and their two children, will arrive Thursday.

''We need more apartments," Warren Heaps said. ''If we can get more apartments, we will handle everything else. But we need people to step up."

Heidi Weber, in Osterville, didn't need any prodding.

The 71-year-old cancer survivor and amputee yesterday welcomed Cornelia Beilke and her two daughters, Julia, 10, and Erica, 7, who also escaped storm-battered New Orleans, to the Cape. Beilke's husband, a doctor, stayed behind to help the injured.

Weber, a German native who has known Beilke for the past 20 years, gave the family a three-bedroom, two-bathroom Cape she had built and put on the market recently. The home is fully furnished, thanks to an outpouring of donations from town residents, Weber said, adding that she knows what it's like to lose everything.

''I was in World War II," she said. ''My mother got killed when our house was bombed. I was 10 years old. I saw quickly how life goes into shambles."

Like other families wanting to help hurricane victims, the Heapses began by contacting relief agencies, such as the Red Cross.

For three days, Nadine Heaps said, she was either put on hold or put through to an automated system asking for her credit card number. What she really wanted was to give a family a place to live.

After trying the Baton Rouge Police Department, where officers made jokes about sending them criminals, the Heapses dialed 411 and called dozens of churches and shelters listed around New Orleans, she said.

Eventually they stumbled on the cellphone number of Charmelle Young, a Baton Rouge resident who helped create a temporary shelter at a community center called Shout Out USA.

''When I first got the call, I didn't believe it," said Young, the treasurer of the community center, which is housing nearly 120 evacuees.

''I mean, who is going to call me, all the way from Massachusetts, and tell me to send them some people in the shelter?" Young said. ''I was thinking, this is a crank call. But she kept calling me back. It's a blessing from heaven."

Meanwhile, back in Ashland, Nadine Heaps, who heads the Ashland Business Association, called friends to help make donations. Two people from Godoy Cleaning spent the day Friday cleaning up the apartment, she said. An electrician from MT Giargiari Electrical Service spent a few hours going through the apartment making sure it was safe. Local carpenters fixed doors and installed a countertop in the kitchen. Residents have donated furniture, pots, pans, utensils, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other comforts of home.

Heaps has also called friends to come up with a list of job openings in the area, so that Woods and Russell can get back on their feet.

Some are answering their calls for help.

Brenda Hedden, the Heapses' neighbor, will give Larroque, a mechanic and former police officer, a room in the home she shares with her husband. Warren Heaps, who owns an auto repair shop, offered Larroque a job. But they have to figure out first how to get him on a plane, Nadine Heaps said.

''My friends worry about us taking in a stranger," Hedden said yesterday as she ran out to the store to get a mattress pad for the spare room. ''But I believe there are more good people who lost their homes and lives than bad people."

The Heapses are hoping more Massachusetts residents will open their homes.

''I know there is some landlord out there with a vacant apartment," Nadine Heaps said, issuing a challenge on behalf of Vanessa and Greg Hughes, who are coming to Boston in two days but do not have a place to stay yet.

''If you are going to spend the whole day talking to your friends about how bad you feel, well, just talking about it is not going to help," Heaps said. ''Why don't you do something about it?"

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