Virginia Trabulsi had never been in the Deep South until Hurricane Katrina struck last August. In its aftermath she drove from her home in Denver to work with the Red Cross in Houston and then Biloxi, Mississippi.
“In Denver all I kept hearing about was New Orleans,” Trabulsi said. “It was getting all the coverage, while Mississippi was hardly mentioned. I wanted people in Mississippi to know that others were willing to stand with them.”
After returning home she found she couldn’t stay away. Returning to Biloxi, she lived in a tent for five months this past winter and spring, helping wherever she could.
In July, Trabulsi, a May 2005 graduate of Iliff School of Theology in Denver, was named volunteer coordinator in Mississippi, aiding Unitarian Universalists who wish to volunteer there in hurricane recovery efforts.
The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations’ Mid-South District and the Mississippi Strategic Planning for Unitarian Universalism Group selected her. The latter group is an arm of the Gulf Coast Relief Fund Panel, which oversees how to spend the more than $3.5 million that UUs contributed last fall and winter to a joint relief fund of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and the UU Service Committee. From that fund, $76,704 will be used to fund the volunteer coordination effort for one year.* Trabulsi starts July 31.
Trabulsi will support UUs volunteering for hurricane recovery work in Mississippi and will work to raise awareness of recovery needs in Mississippi. Prospective volunteers should contact not her but the Rev. Marilee Baccich, minister to the community, or Cheri Coen, coordinator of volunteers, both at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, La., where they have been coordinating volunteers coming to New Orleans. Volunteers can request to work in Mississippi. Baccich and Coen can be reached at 225-926-2291 or uukatrina [at] bellsouth [dot] net.
Trabulsi, who goes by Jinnie, will also be quarter-time minister for the Gulf Coast UU Church in Gulfport, whose membership dropped from 30 to 13 after the hurricane devastated the area. She will preach at the church once a month.
In her new job she hopes to promote Unitarian Universalism on the Mississippi coast. “I think there’s a hunger for it there,” she said. The Gulfport church gets five to six “walk-ins” a month. “With a stronger ministerial presence,” she said, “Unitarian Universalism will grow there.”
She said she became a Unitarian Universalist about 20 years ago when she walked into First Parish of Watertown, Mass. “The second I walked in, the clouds parted and I knew I had found my spiritual home,” she said.
There’s plenty of work for volunteers to do, Trabulsi said. “Recovery from this hurricane will take eight to 12 years and that’s assuming the area doesn’t get hit again.” All types of skills are needed, she said—“there’s more to do than just gutting houses.”
The UUA/UUSC fund has made grants to several organizations working on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with rebuilding, fair housing, immigrant rights, and African American heritage, but there has been no resident, paid professional Unitarian Universalist ministry in the area to coordinate with these partners.
Trabulsi said she’s also excited about educating volunteers about race, class, and environmental issues connected with recovery efforts, adding, “I’m hoping to establish a kind of study group, maybe a covenant group, so volunteers can do some spiritual reflection while they’re here.”
Said Eunice Benton, the district executive for the UUA’s Mid-South District, which includes Mississippi: “Mississippi and Unitarian Universalists in Mississippi have been crying for someone in this kind of role since Katrina hit last year. So we are thrilled to bring Jinnie Trabulsi to this work. What a gift from the UUA/UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund."
Correction 08.01.06: The language of this sentence was changed to remove ambiguity. Click here to return to the corrected paragraph.
- UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund. Information about UU relief work with links to other resources. (UUA.org)
- Volunteer information for the Hurricane Relief and Social Justice Project at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge. (unitarianchurchbr.com)