[StBernard] Florida Hurricane Survivors to Help in New Orleans at ELCA Youth Gathering

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Wed Mar 18 16:00:01 EDT 2009

Florida Hurricane Survivors to Help in New Orleans at ELCA Youth Gathering

CHICAGO (ELCA) - When Liz Kourtesis of Florida heard that
37,000 Lutherans -- mostly teens -- were heading to New Orleans
this summer to help hurricane survivors, she raced to add her
name to the volunteers.

>She's a hurricane survivor, too.

Kourtesis, 19, lives in South Florida, also walloped by the
series of hurricanes in 2005 that devastated the Gulf Coast. She
attends Grace Lutheran Church, Miami Springs.

"Hurricane season is always scary in Florida," said
Kourtesis, a college student. "You never know if you'll lose
everything. The worst happened in New Orleans. I want to show
people there the world still cares."

Kourtesis is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America (ELCA), organizer of the July 22-26 event geared to high
school students. The teens will learn about the city's history,
arts and culture. They'll also help in the ongoing recovery
through "servant projects," such as painting houses and planting

They are coming from across the United States and from other
countries. Those from states where hurricane season is a way of
life say they feel an added impetus to help with the Gulf Coast

"There's a huge sisterhood between people who share a trauma
like a hurricane," said Peggy Contos Hahn, associate in ministry
and assistant to the bishop, Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod,
Houston. The synod is hosting the ELCA Youth Gathering.

Maria Serpas, 17, of Louisiana, said she's "wowed" that
Lutherans will make up the largest group to help New Orleans
since Hurricane Katrina struck. She lost almost everything when
flood waters covered her house except a paper she'd written about
Martin Luther kept in a plastic case.

"I know if we work together we can impact the community in a
positive way," said Serpas, a member of Gethsemane Lutheran
Church, Chalmette, near New Orleans. "I hope we get a lot of work
done and show the people here that God is working among them."

During the event Serpas hopes to work with other teens on
environmental projects to beautify parks and yards, as well as
improve the city's carbon dioxide footprint. That's a passion
Kourtesis shares.

After Hurricane Wilma ravaged the landscape surrounding
Florida school Kourtesis attended back then, she convinced dozens
of nurseries to donate plants and trees. The project took two

"Recovery takes a long, long time, but you can recover,"
Kourtesis said.

Lutheran teens want to be a show of support and strength to
the people of New Orleans, she said. They also want to listen and

"We are coming in the name of Jesus with a heart to serve
the people as he would want us," Kourtesis said. "That's a great
place to be."

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