Poised to break ground, from left to right: Bennie Druilhet, local businessman and former Sager Brown student; Jonathan Heltz, architect; Kathy Kraiza, executive director UMCOR Material Resources ministry; Rev. John Cannon, district superintendent of Acadiana District; Louisiana Conference Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey; UMCOR Deputy General Secretary Rev. J. Denise Honeycutt. Photo: Linda Unger
By Linda Unger
Baldwin, La.—The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) broke ground last week for a new dormitory on the UMCOR Sager Brown campus that will be named for two Global Ministries executives who perished nearly five years ago in a devastating earthquake in Haiti.
Dixon-Rabb Hall will be named for the Rev. Dr. Sam Dixon and the Rev. Clinton Rabb. It will be fully integrated into the existing campus at UMCOR Sager Brown, where UMCOR runs a relief-supply depot and houses thousands of volunteers each year. Volunteers pack relief supplies which are then shipped around the world and across the United States in the wake of disasters.
Dixon, former head of UMCOR, and Rabb, who was the assistant general secretary for Mission Volunteers, died of injuries they sustained in the collapse of the Hotel Montana in the Haitian capital. They had gone to Port-au-Prince for conversations about how Global Ministries might support the development of health programming in Haiti.
They were among the more than 222,500 people who died as a result of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. Nearly 300,000 homes were damaged or completely destroyed and 1.3 million people were uprooted. UMCOR later opened a field office to assist in relief and recovery.
Celebration and legacy
United Methodist conference disaster response and UMVIM coordinators gathered last week at UMCOR Sager Brown for the Disaster Academy that is held there annually. It was in the context of their joint deliberations and visioning that UMCOR broke ground for the new dormitory.
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey of the Louisiana Conference—and a former deputy general secretary of UMCOR—celebrated the lives of Dixon and Rabb. In a prayer service before the ground-breaking, she held back tears and said, “To have this space named for them is how the legacy of their sacrificial love will continue to grow.”
She told her listeners that UMCOR Sager Brown “is a sacramental kind of place.” When a health kit is sent from the depot and arrives in Haiti, “and a mother takes the soap from a Ziploc bag and goes and lathers up her child, and the child has not been washed in a week, it is a holy, holy moment,” she said.
“I am blessed beyond measure to say UMCOR Sager Brown is in the Louisiana Conference,” she added.
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey of the Louisiana conference recalls how the idea for the new dorms at Sager Brown started leading to the recent ground breaking.
Bishop Harvey was one of several dignitaries who, with ceremonial shovels, broke ground for the new residence hall. She was accompanied by current UMCOR Deputy General Secretary the Rev. Dr. J. Denise Honeycutt; Kathy Kraiza, who leads UMCOR’s material resources ministry; the Rev. John Cannon, district superintendent of Acadiana District, where the depot is located; Jonathan Heltz, architect; and Bennie Druilhet, a local businessman and former student of Sager Brown when it housed a school for vulnerable children.
Druilhet attended the school from 1957 to 1966, along with his 13 siblings. “When you said you were a graduate of Sager Brown, a lot was expected of you,” he said.
“Sager Brown is part of the common language in Louisiana, and in Acadiana District in particular,” said Cannon, who first came to the campus as a law student after Hurricane Andrew and later returned time and again with church groups.
For Kraiza, the ground-breaking was simply “overwhelming. It brings back a lot of memories,” she said. She had first raised the need for a new dormitory with Dixon, who had told her, she said, “If you can raise the money for it, you can build it.” That was five years ago.
Kraiza thanked all who contributed—financially and otherwise—to the new construction. “We were committed to not start building until the project was fully funded,” she said.
The dormitory will be of a design similar to the other single-story brick buildings on the campus. “It will be relaxing for the volunteers,” Kraiza said. “I imagine rocking chairs, a view of the bayou and the shrimp boats.”
When the dormitory is completed around Christmastime next year, it will be able to accommodate 24 guests at a time, increasing UMCOR Sager Brown’s housing options for volunteers. Currently, the campus accommodates about 60 guests.
Marji Hill, associate director of Missional Outreach of the North Texas Conference, was glad for the additional space. “I send teams here a lot, and sometimes I can’t get them in because it always fills up.”
For Kraiza, the building of the new residence hall on the foundation of the love and service that are the legacy of its namesakes is also “hope for the future.”
*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.