Our Beginnings: 2005-2007
In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf Coast from Texas to Alabama. Over one million households were displaced and over 250,000 homes destroyed. People from all over gave millions of dollars, and millions of volunteers traveled to the Gulf Coast to help those in need. Volunteer camps and tent cities sprang up along the coast to house and equip volunteer crews for “mucking” and “gutting” houses. The gargantuan task of rebuilding followed.
In the days immediately after Hurricane Katrina, a relief team of individuals, a number of whom had been displaced by the storm, was assembled to plan the response of the Southern District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod [LCMS]. Southern District President Kurtis Schultz asked Pastor David Lewis to serve as response coordinator. The Southern District Relief Team was established and the coordination of efforts and resources began to form with the purpose: “To bring hope, healing, and recovery to our workers, our churches and schools, our members and our neighbors.”
The efforts in the initial six months following the storm were immense. Assistance, encouragement and hands-on help were received from around the country. Thousands of volunteers came to serve and millions of dollars were contributed to relief efforts.
The scope of the effort was necessarily broad. This substantial response includes a huge volunteer-management effort, supplying salary support and counseling to affected church-workers, providing member-support activities, starting a community-development ministry, and giving ministry and facility grants to congregations.
Three volunteer camps were established in cooperation with Lutheran Disaster Response and the Southern District LCMS: Camp Biloxi at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Biloxi, MS, Camp Atonement at Atonement Lutheran Church in Metairie, LA and Camp Hope at Lamb of God Lutheran Church in Slidell, LA. In addition to these camps, many other congregations in the affected area hosted volunteers and were instrumental in the relief effort.
In the summer of 2006, plans were made to open Camp Restore in New Orleans on the once-flooded campus of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and School. Laborers for Christ, under the leadership of President Dan Baker, began the process of renovating the campus and converting it into a volunteer camp.
In August of 2006 Rev. David Buss was appointed director of the Disaster Relief Team, replacing Rev. Lewis, who resumed his calling to plant a church in Northern Mississippi.
Camp Restore was opened in October of 2006 with Pastor Ed Brashier as Camp Director.
In Transition: 2007-2010
RAI Ministries grew further with the 2007 Recovery Plan entitled “Spirit Kindle.” Subsidiary divisions were formed in order to achieve specific ministry initiatives. Those objectives were: 1. Further developing Christian outreach in time of disaster (REinstitute); 2. Networking churches for ministry and community development (LINCNewOrleans); 3. Continuing to distribute resources to affected churches (Ministry Recovery).
In September 2007, RAI Ministries assumed operation of the volunteer-hospitality operations of Camp Biloxi and assumed full operation of the camp in April 2008.
In August 2008 the Southern District granted complete legal separation to RAI Ministries, which now operates as an independent 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. This was immediately followed by a figuratively and literally turbulent time as Hurricane Gustav hit the Louisiana coast while a major organizational restructuring was taking place.
RAI emerged from the fall of 2008 with a renewed focus on three functions: 1. Housing volunteers at Camp Biloxi and Camp Restore; 2. Equipping and empowering them to restore faith, home and community; and 3. Providing case management support to ensure that Katrina survivors’ needs were met as effectively as possible.
By 2010 RAI’s volunteer camps had hosted over 30,000 volunteers and managed construction efforts to complete over 6,000 projects (2,750+ major home repairs and 4,000+ minor home repairs and other projects). Additionally, three churches and one school facility were restored. Over 1,000 cases were managed through grant contracts in both Louisiana and Mississippi.
As grant-based case management programs were brought to completion and Camp Biloxi was phased out with its work done, in 2010 organizational focus turned to continuing work through Camp Restore in New Orleans. Executive Director Buss transferred his leadership duties to Rev. David Goodine in August 2010.
Since 2010, Camp Restore has continued to expand the range of projects and partnerships available to volunteers in addition to home restoration.
Averaging more than 3,000 volunteers a year, our focus remains on equipping and enabling volunteer groups to put their gifts to use both on construction sites as well as in partnership with local volunteers and nonprofits.