LAFAYETTE, Ala. -- Hope rests high on a hill in rural Lafayette, Alabama. In this case, hope stands in the form of a stately brick building named Hope's Inn. The shelter has recently become a safe haven for hurricane evacuees and others in need of emergency lodging. It is part of a system of volunteer agencies that offer their services to the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the effort to assist disaster survivors.
The Hope's Inn is the result of hard work on the part of Pastor Rick Hagans and members of his eastern Alabama ministry, Harvest Evangelism. The large structure has a long and familiar history in the small community. "This was originally a tuberculosis hospital, built in the 1930's," says Pastor Hagans. "It eventually became a county hospital, and then in the early 1970's it was converted to office space for the Chambers County Department of Human Resources."
New York City's 9,000-member Times Square Church enlisted Hagans to locate a site for a hurricane shelter in Alabama. He first encountered Times Square Church members as they volunteered to cut down trees and remove Hurricane Katrina debris in and around Mobile. Later, the New York congregation made a large donation and Hope's Inn was born.
Pastor Hagans purchased the hilltop building at a bargain price of $150,000. "When we bought the building we knew that it was solid, but it was ugly," he recalls. "We didn't want to make it look like an institution. We wanted to make it look like home."
A walk through the building leaves no doubt the volunteers achieved their goal. They removed two layers of tile and three layers of carpet in the long hallways to reveal the original hardwood floors. A father and son sanded and refinished the wood to create hundreds of square feet of beautiful floor space. Today seventy large, clean, comfortable bedrooms line those halls. Some are set up as suites to house families. All are furnished and decorated with tasteful, homelike appointments made possible by the Times Square Church donation.
"One of the volunteer ladies who helped select the furnishings, pictures and pick the colors for the rooms was an interior decorator who had done work for Donald Trump," says Hagans. "How many people can say they had their shelter rooms decorated by Donald Trump's interior decorator?"
In many bedrooms handmade dolls sit on the children's beds. "These guardian angel dolls," says Hope's Inn Director Linda Sullivan, "are hand sewn by ladies at our churches in the community." In fact, about two dozen local churches are involved in the Hope's Inn project.
Hope's Inn includes a big, brightly decorated playroom for the children - complete with a puppet theatre, toy box benches, and access to a new outdoor playground with swings, a sandbox and a climbing wall. There is also a classroom, separate dining areas, a full-sized exercise room with mirrored walls, a large modern kitchen, a computer center and a roomy chapel.
An airy Florida room sits on the opposite side of the complex. Its vaulted ceiling, beams and interior walls are paneled with pine gathered from Baldwin County after Hurricane Ivan. Pastor Hagans says the room is the handiwork of a fellow missionary he met in Mexico. "He lives in Baldwin County and cut the trees up, hauled them up here and with his son and daughter installed them in about two weeks. The beautiful interior - made from what had literally been storm debris - gives the room a warm, rustic feel while reminding residents of how something new and wonderful can rise from great misfortune.
Just as important as the comfortable surroundings, is the sheer size and capacity of Hope's Inn. "God forbid there is a hurricane," says Hagans, "but if there is, we can shelter 40 hurricane evacuees and with a little bit of configuring, we can take another 40 for a total of 80." The basement of the...