Deborah Kennedy is an artist and jewelry designer and was, for a time a few years back, the nanny for Katherine Kelly Lang’s children. Our costume designer, Birgit Muller, liked Deborah’s jewelry which began both a friendship and a working relationship. The B&B family got to experience Deborah’s southern charm and warm ways.
In 2005 she moved to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, an artist colony and tourist destination on the Gulf Coast between Biloxi and New Orleans, and opened a little gallery on Main Street. At about 25 feet above sea level, Bay St. Louis is notable for being the highest point on the entire Gulf of Mexico coastline including Texas and Florida.
Wikepedia points out that the Gulf Coast of Mississippi suffered utter, total devastation from Hurricane Katrina on August 28-29 2005, with hurricane winds, 28-foot storm surge, and 55-foot sea waves pushing casino barges, boats and debris into towns, and leaving 236 people dead, 67 missing, and an estimated $125 billion in damages. The Bay St. Louis area was ground zero. Deborah’s shop had been open for 3 weeks before the storm. The majority of the residents in town lost everything. Most insurance companies claimed it was flood damage, not wind damage and refused to pay.
One year later, Deborah opened another shop. Over two years later now, the movie theater still hasn’t been rebuilt, there’s no grocery store, the town’s infrastructure is still under construction and a giant tree’s root ball sits at the base of Main Street. They’re going to turn it into a monument. It will be a monument to a spirit of hope and survival in Bay St. Louis that those of us who have never endured losing everything can witness, but can never truly understand. Only half of the town’s pre-Katrina population of about 8,000 has returned so far and there’s a long, long way to go. But there is a community spirit that says we’ll get back to normal – sometime. (The town’s website is www.baysaintlouiscity.com).
On Sunday, January 13, 2008, a group of B&B staff and cast visited Bay St. Louis as a part of a profoundly moving weekend that started the day before at a fashion show and auction benefiting the Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, serving South Mississippi (their website is www.mscpa.com).
Several months before, Birgit asked what we should do with the glamorous and glittering wardrobe of our dearly-missed Darlene Conley. We discussed donating it to a good cause for an auction. Birgit, who had kept in touch with Deborah and knew how difficult life still was in the aftermath of Katrina, called her to ask if she knew of a worthy group that would want to auction Sally’s outfits and accessories. That’s how we learned of the Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse. When Susan Flannery, John McCook, Winsor Harmon and Dan McVicar heard about it they volunteered to go as a tribute to Darlene.
The Beau Rivage resort in Biloxi (recently rebuilt at a cost of $535 million) sponsored the event and on Saturday, January 12th, the auction and the presence of B&B stars drew 400 people to the Beau Rivage. The video tribute that B&B aired after Darlene’s passing in January, 2007 was screened with tears and a long ovation that I’m sure Darlene dropped in to see. A huge photo of Darlene graced the stage and a group of volunteers modeled 15 outfits on the runway and an additional 70 outfits and accessories were part of a silent auction.
More than the money we helped them raise, they let us know that the presence of our group not only helped raise an awareness of the Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, but also brought attention to the ongoing plight of their part of the world.
I think we were all awed by the realization that the people caught in the path of this country’s worst natural disaster have to live with it every day of their lives, and it’s easy to see how they might feel that the rest of the country has forgotten about them. I think I can speak for all of us who were there when I say that it was an honor to be there among brave souls who, by the tens of thousands endured a nightmare and found the faith and hope to survive and rebuild their lives.
Katrina brought more than death and the destruction of property. It created an extremely stressful environment in which to live that continues to this day. In this environment the incidence of child abuse within families has increased well beyond before-storm levels. Sexual abuse by transient workers has mushroomed as well.
One of the Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse’s services is the funding of the Southern Mississippi Child Advocacy Center which provides a safe, non-threatening place for child victims and their families to receive a comprehensive array of services which include an initial interview, court school education, and referral for therapy and medical services. We visited one of their facilities on Sunday and were moved by what they do and how badly their services are needed. We learned that they had five, highly-trained staff interviewers of abused children before the storm. There are now two. Obviously, under current conditions, they could use many more.
Those of us who had the opportunity to be a part of this experience will never forget the event and the people that we met. We will also never forget seeing, on the rides to and from Biloxi and New Orleans, miles and miles of concrete foundations, splintered debris and dark patches along the freeway that used to be neighborhoods – a reminder of how far there is to go before restoration and healing can be accomplished.
Here are some of the e-mails we received after we returned:
Dear B&B Family.....
I don't know if I/we will ever be able to thank Y'ALL for everything that you have done for us here on the Coast. My head is still in the clouds, my voice somewhere back at the Beau Rivage (LOL) and my heart so swollen with gratitude that I'm sure it's going to burst any minute!
I've worked with many in the entertainment industry and never met a group as caring and compassionate as ya'll at B&B! Friday evening it seemed as though I had joined a wonderful family dinner at BR Prime. That feeling stayed with me the entire time ya'll were here. I mentioned this to Birgit and she proudly said "B&B is a family owned company, a rarity in the industry."
Forever in my mind and heart will be remembrances of:
Susan with her smile and cigar...
John acknowledging those of us who came back first ....and he and Laurette finding moments together in Bay St. Louis
Dan's uncanny ability to let people know he notices something special in them
Winsor...well what can I say about Winsor? The Dom was fabulous! Seriously, what a joy to watch someone enjoy life and others so much!
Franko...what a SMILE and gleam in his eyes! Sweet, Sweet man......
Birgit orchestrating this magnificent event with ease and grace.
Craig walking the streets of BSL savoring the essence of the town, people and buildings...and searching for that dress/scarf that was misplaced.....
Jennifer dancing...what more needs to be said?!
Eva..the Goddess at work!
Aaron..quietly recording one of the most important times in our lives here on the coast....
and last but not least..
RON..this quiet gentle leader taking nothing for granted and taking everything in......psssssst..he's using the word "Ya'll' now..
And to Susan, John, Winsor and Dan, for the time you spent in front of the step and repeat with each camera flash taking a piece of you away with it, thank you and may that energy be returned to you tenfold.....
Because of each of you our children and I are/am....
You are such a good person and I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to work with you and your fabulous friends from B & B. We constantly strive for perfection and I look forward to any input that you have to improve future events at Beau Rivage.
Thank you for everything you've done to help the local chapter of the Center for Prevention of Child Abuse. It's all about the children.
You were fantastic! The clothes were absolutely stunning and you did a wonderful job of pairing up the models with the outfits. No wonder you’ve won so many awards. Tailor made!
Hope you enjoyed the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We sure appreciate all of your efforts in making the event successful and hope to work together again to make it even bigger and better next year.
All the best,