Note: This is a copy of a story that orginally appeared in the Orange County Register.

Where all was lost, Camp Hope found a Laguna Niguel resident and some friends begin a project to help clean up and rebuild a town.

September 17, 2005


The images of strewn lumber and tree branches littering streets where homes once stood first overwhelmed him, then compelled him to help more.

Jim Heaton, a business owner from Laguna Niguel, saw the devastation in Pass Christian, Miss., last week when he went to help his brother, John, whose home was flooded by Hurricane Katrina.

For miles around, he saw thousands of homes either destroyed or left as skeletons of wood and debris.

"It was mass devastation as far as the eyes could see," Heaton, 50, said. "I was questioning, 'What else can I do?' "

The answer: create Camp Hope.

On Friday, Heaton joined with four friends in a caravan headed to the Gulf Coast to lend a hand wherever they can. They left in a 36-foot-long motor home and a Ford truck, each carrying a trailer full of gas-powered generators, pressure washers and shovels.

They'll drive 36 hours, straight through. When they arrive Sunday, they plan to set up two campsites in Pass Christian for eight workers coming from Laguna Niguel to shovel debris, disinfect flooded houses and, they believe, help restore hope.

They'll fly home Sept. 24 but will leave the equipment behind for another set of volunteers. Eventually, they want Camp Hope to grow to eight campsites, each with six to eight workers, stationed in the area for at least six months.

"I figure the thing that they need most right now is a few strong backs to pick up a shovel and help start to rebuild," Heaton said.

"We hope people will consider, rather than a vacation to Florida this year -- come on down to Mississippi."

When Heaton came back from helping his brother Sept. 7, friends at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo rushed him with questions about how to help. He quickly formed Camp Hope as a nonprofit and began planning a return trip.

Volunteers jumped on board, agreeing to collect materials and travel with Heaton.

"Living in Southern California, in a 10-second period of earthshaking we could be in the same position," said Rick Williamson, 54, who is driving his Ford F350 truck and will leave it there for several months to aid in the cleanup.

"More than that, I believe in doing all I can for my community, and in this case my community includes the people of Mississippi."

As word spread, contractors donated generators, and church members pitched in tents and about 15,000 pounds of bleach and disinfectant.

When he returns home next week, Heaton will get busy recruiting more volunteers and looking for donations, especially generators, tools and hoses.

One day, Camp Hope could include professional contractors. For now, Heaton knows the most important task is rebuilding hope, he said.

"I'm still thinking about when I left there last. You could tell people were questioning their futures, their voices shaking, their eyes sunken with doubt," Heaton said.

"I want us to look them back in the eyes and help them see that it's going to be OK. They have friends by their side."

For information on Camp Hope, e-mail Jim Heaton at Camp Hope eMail.

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