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Man’s volunteer time helps N.O. family

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–For private investigator and retired FBI special agent Ron West, pipe fittings and wrenches aren’t the normal tools of his trade. But West said he is satisfied that his recent work in New Orleans made a difference in one family’s life.

West spent 10 days in New Orleans working with Operation NOAH Rebuild, the two-year initiative of the North American Mission Board to rebuild homes in New Orleans damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Unaccompanied by a group, West came alone to work.

“I called Diane Gahagan at the NOAH office and asked if they could use me,” West said. “She said, ‘Sure.’ So I came.”

Diane’s husband Steve is the construction manager for Operation NOAH, supervising the reconstruction work of hundreds of volunteer teams. NOAH’s goal is to rebuild 1,000 homes in the Greater New Orleans area, representing 1 percent of the estimated 100,000 homes damaged or destroyed by Katrina. (NOAH is an acronym for New Orleans Area Homes.)

As office manager for the NOAH headquarters, Diane oversees the coordination and scheduling of volunteer teams and assignments. The Gahagans have been with NOAH from its inception in the spring of last year.

Diane paired West with another NOAH volunteer, Jim Grubb from Freedom Fellowship Church in Greer, S.C. The men replaced a rusty drain pipe and installed a hot water heater in a home being rebuilt by NOAH.

West’s work followed that of a group from Mount Zion Baptist Church in Canton, N.C., whose team of mostly retirees and middle-aged adults hung the new drywall.

“[The] homeowner’s Laundromat bill each week has been astronomical,” West said. “The plumbing work we did puts her a step closer to ending that expense.”

Men working at the house next door to West were surprised to learn that he had come so far to work without pay. The conversation became an opportunity for West to share his faith with them.

“This is why we come and don’t just send money,” West said. “You can do more in person than what money can buy.”

West and his wife Linda drove their recreational vehicle to New Orleans and parked at an RV lot available to volunteers and staff next door to the NOAH office. Volunteers also are housed at Volunteer Village, a facility in downtown New Orleans operated by NAMB.

West retired from the FBI before they had cell phones and laptops and prior to the Oklahoma City and World Trade Center bombings. But the two events motivated him to get involved in disaster relief.

Immediately following Katrina, West traveled with the cooking unit of the Oklahoma Baptist disaster relief team to the Gulf Coast region. West’s home church, Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond, Okla., has been involved in helping the heavily damaged First Baptist Church in Gulfport, Miss.

West’s decision to travel to New Orleans without waiting for a group trip to materialize was partly inspired by a friend facing cancer. Realizing anew the blessing of his own good health motivated him to make every day count for the Lord.

“You could spend two weeks on vacation at the beach,” West said. “But why? The need here is so great.”
Marilyn Stewart is a correspondent for the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s communications team. For information on how to volunteer in New Orleans with Operation NOAH, call 1-877-934-0808.

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  • Marilyn Stewart