Tuesday, March 20,
AMY SHERMAN - STAFF WRITER
This is a story about a group of people who pitched in to help put a stranger's life back together, becoming friends along the way.
In July, the infamous Eagan storm left several inches of water in the first floor of Kelly Barsness' home, damaging a family room, spare bedroom and her 5-year-old son Zachary's toy room. Her husband moved out in August, and the two are now divorced.
Barsness struggles to walk due to multiple sclerosis, so doing the repair work herself would have been difficult.
She figured she would just use the upper floor of their home, but eventually worried that water damage could lead to health problems and called the city. The deadline to apply for governmental assistance had passed, so the city referred her to the Interfaith Disaster Response of Dakota County. Jim Mattson, coordinator of the interfaith group, contacted All Saints Lutheran Church in Eagan, where Barsness worshipped.
The church spread the word. Since the fall, about 20 volunteers have helped in some way. They have torn down the walls, sterilized the surfaces and rebuilt the walls.
When other needs arose, a volunteer would step forward. Someone donated a dresser. A bag of clothes appeared. The sidewalk was shoveled.
"It's not unusual for me to stop in to do something and find out that there are three other people there from the church," said Julie Casey, a volunteer.
For some members, it has been a chance to give back to the church, which had helped them in the past. All Saints helped Julie and Tim Casey when their Eagan home flooded; now Julie has becomee a kind of project manager at the Barsness home, doing everything from helping her seek financial assistance to coordinating volunteers. When John Ranheim was unemployed a few years ago, church members left bags of groceries on his doorstep. Now a professional contractor, Ranheim has volunteered some hours for Barsness, and gotten paid for other projects.
The volunteers aren't just workers fixing a house, but people to socialize with and talk to about the storm. "It's great to have support of other people who have been through it, too," Barsness said.
Barsness' family is one of about 73 in Eagan to receive a combined $102,000 in assistance from the interfaith group. That amount includes appliances, furniture, materials and labor for repairs as well as vouchers for food and clothes. About $44,000 remains in the pot. The group has also coordinated volunteers and advocated on behalf of residents.
Volunteers say they have learned the value of patience and facing adversity with a smile from Barsness. After having her home damaged by rain and then going through a divorce, "she just keeps bouncing back, she just keeps hanging in there," Julie Casey said.
In a few weeks, the lower level of the house will be usable again.
"Everything is coming
together now because everybody is helping out so much," Barsness said.
"I'm still totally amazed that there are people out there who are so kind
and willing to help and do anything and everything to help me."
Amy Sherman, who
covers Eagan, Inver Grove Heights and Rosemount, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (651) 228-2174.