Tiffany Dellsperger and Tony Backus -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Tiffany Dellsperger and Tony Backus

Tiffany Dellsperger and Tony Backus are starting over in Meridian with their two young children.


After devastating loss, young family looks ahead


After Hurricane Katrina washed away their collective past in Chalmette, Louisiana, Tiffany Dellsperger and Tony Backus shared a three-bedroom house with two other families for nearly a year while waiting for a FEMA trailer. When they finally got a trailer, it was so crowded they could only stand to live there for a few months.

During their displacement, the young couple visited Dellsperger’s father, who had relocated from Chalmette to Meridian, and fell in love with the hospitable town. The two are partnering with Lauderdale County Habitat for Humanity to build a house for themselves and their two children: Hailee just turned 5 in April, and Hayden will be 2 in May.

Backus worked in construction in Chalmette and now works at Lowe’s in Meridian. Dellsperger was employed by an ophthalmologist in Chalmette and now works at a convenience store.

They both struggle with memories of the devastation they saw in their Louisiana hometown.

“We didn’t expect the storm to be as bad as it was,” Dellsperger said, almost apologetically. “If we had known, we would have taken more valuable things. We did manage to save a few photos, and we let our daughter pick out a few toys to take with us. But we lost everything else.”

Dellsperger and Backus returned to Chalmette over Easter weekend to visit some friends who are rebuilding there.

“What happened to our house was devastating,” said Dellsperger. “But I think what hurts the most is to see the neighborhood where I grew up – my dad’s house – to see that gone, to see the whole neighborhood gone, that hurts the most.”

The family’s house will be built right next-door to the Habitat house where Dellsperger’s father lives, in a rural community outside the city of Meridian. Her father has outdoor space for goats and chickens, and she seems to have caught the bug.

“She wants to get a goat,” said Backus, smiling.

As for the interior of the house, Backus vetoed his 5-year-old daughter’s plan to paint SpongeBob all over the walls of her room. She’s decided she would rather have light pink walls with flowers on them, and both parents seem happy about that.

Affiliate Information:
Meridian, Mississippi: Two houses for Carter Project 2008

Meridian, a city of 40,000 people and a billion azalea bushes, is located in Mississippi’s hilly region, a gently rolling respite from the flatness of the Delta and the coast. It is the home of country music great Jimmie Rodgers, actress Sela Ward—who founded Hope Village for Children in Meridian—and Samuel Mockbee, an architect who won a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant for his groundbreaking work in housing for poor people.

Before the 2005 hurricane season, Lauderdale County Habitat for Humanity built two or three houses a year in and around Meridian. During Operation Home Delivery—in a 16-month period following the storms—the affiliate built 13 houses and rehabilitated three others.

“With all the destruction that Katrina did, it also brought a lot of blessings to people,” said Fonda Rush, executive director of Lauderdale County HFH. “A lot of families have said, ‘I would have never been able to get my own home.’ And a lot of people didn’t know about Habitat in their own communities until Katrina.”

As part of the 2008 Carter Project, Lauderdale County HFH will build two houses.