The former youth pastor of a Camas church recalls helping people affected by Hurricane Katrina, in New Orleans.
Ricky Ortiz coordinated the April 2-9, 2011, trip through Forward Edge International, of Vancouver.
The team of 12 volunteers from River Rock Church ranged in age from 17 to 74.
Ortiz said it caught everyone in the group off guard that the effects of the August 2005 hurricane were still “pretty bad” more than five years later.
The River Rock group helped reconstruct the house of Johnny Jackson Jr., a community activist in the Ninth Ward. They also helped rewire the house and installed insulation and sheetrock.
Ortiz, born of parents from Colombia and Puerto Rico, said the 11 Caucasian Americans he traveled with wrestled with racial tensions while they were in New Orleans.
“You could sense a resentment toward white people and vice versa,” he said. “People from the Northwest are not used to that. I talked about why it exists. It is not typically experienced in the Northwest. Cultural tension was the biggest obstacle [of the trip].”
Joseph Anfuso, of Vancouver, founded Forward Edge International in 1983. Since then, more than 15,000 volunteers have served with the non-profit organization around the world.
Each year, it mobilizes hundreds of volunteers to assist with disaster-response work, health care projects, and programs for vulnerable children.
Ortiz said Forward Edge made the trip to New Orleans really easy.
“They coordinated all the logistics and all the training material,” he said. “Once we were in New Orleans, they did a great job helping people integrate with the culture of New Orleans.
“It was as easy as I could imagine putting a trip together,” Ortiz added. “It’s a great organization.”
Ortiz and his wife and daughter moved last month to Manhattan. He oversees ministry development at The Journey Church, in New York City.
Ortiz, who was born in the Bronx, said individuals with that church have been helping with the rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Sandy damaged Staten Island, N.Y., in October 2012.
Kelly Backstrom, lead pastor of River Rock, recalls the comments from participants of the 2011 New Orleans trip.
“It was pretty powerful for the people who went there,” he said. “There was a lot of work to do. The people [in New Orleans] were so appreciative. They felt forgotten.
“Some of it had not been cleaned up,” Backstrom added. “The impact for the people from our group was pretty high, even though it was several years removed.”
He appreciated the efforts of Forward Edge International to work out the details for the people who wanted to be part of the New Orleans trip.
“There are a lot of people who want to be part of trips, but they don’t have the connections to do it,” Backstrom said. “It was beneficial to us as a church, to do a trip that we would not be able to do otherwise — to make a real impact in a short amount of time, because everything was set up.
“The people who go come back different,” he added. “When you serve people, you come back more blessed than those you served.”
Camas couple provided hope in Nicaragua
Ken and Jenny Goheen, of Camas, were part of a team of 16 individuals who participated in a trip to Managua, Nicaragua, coordinated by Forward Edge.
While there for one week in January 2011, the volunteers organized youth groups, ate dinner and played games with girls who live in Villa Esperanza — a home for vulnerable girls from La Chureca, the Managua garbage dump. At the villa, the girls receive education.
Hundreds of people live in the dump. They are subjected to contaminated air that significantly shortens their lives.
According to Forward Edge, many young girls are susceptible to sex trading in exchange for first access to new loads of garbage.
Jenny Goheen said she and the other visitors from the Northwest painted a public school for children who live in La Cureca, and they helped with projects at El Faro church.
They also went to the dump and fed the children who live there.
“I re-gained an appreciation for all we have in this country,” said Jenny Goheen. “Going to Nicaragua opened my eyes to a level of poverty I have never seen or experienced.”
She appreciated how Forward Edge gives people an opportunity to experience a short term mission trip.
“They also encouraged us — when we return home — to look and see how can we serve and impact our own community,” Goheen said.
“I also like how Forward Edge empowers people,” she added. “They work with others to do tasks, teach them, not just do it for them.”