Volunteer Story – Day 5

Here to help for the long haul

For Tim Mueller, a short-term mission with his church in Beaverton, Ore., has turned into a long-term commitment to help hurricane recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast. He is an ardent advocate for more volunteers and sustained aid. "You get more back than you ever give," he said. Photo by Angel Pachkowski
Volunteer Story – Day 5 -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Finding a new life by giving yours away

— Racing to get lunch ready for a long line of Habitat for Humanity volunteers, Tim Mueller was moving too fast to talk.

The lanky 49-year-old was a volunteer with the Salvation Army this week to feed the more than 2,000 gathered for the 25th Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. So was his wife, Sally, financial adviser, who was handling a ladle of something every day.

Helping the Salvation Army seemed a given, he said. The ministry has been God’s gift to the Gulf Coast after Katrina and is the glue that holds together a fragile, but sustained, alliance of nonprofits working to help people here. God’s army provides housing for volunteers who come to work through churches, Habitat and many other organizations.

Mueller arrived in Biloxi as a short-term volunteer because of his church, Beaverton Four-Square, a congregation of 6,000 in a suburb of Portland, Ore. His pastor had come to the coast just after the hurricanes nearly three years ago and went home to rally his church to help.

Somewhat reluctantly, Mueller came for a week. Then he came back and is now director of operations for an organization born of his church’s early efforts called Compassion First, a small disaster recovery group working to help the elderly, disabled and single mothers with housing and other problems.

Later, sitting in his shared office in the Hope Center — an East Biloxi coordination, relief and redevelopment agency started by Bill Stallworth, a Biloxi councilman — Mueller delivers an impassioned plea for more volunteers and lessons learned from recovery. As he talks phones ring, Stallworth and a staff member answer, and talk fills the small place that a group of nonprofits remodeled together. Mueller stops to introduce Johnny Thomas, an elegant man of 66.

Compassion First built a house with Thomas and his wife, Mueller explains, and Thomas has been “an endless worker” with CF ever since.

“It was July and 105 in the shade and he was up on the roof. We couldn’t get him to quit,” Mueller said, adding several more examples.

Thomas smiles, nods politely and continues a conversation with Stallworth who is just off the phone momentarily.

Mueller turns back and intensely says that volunteering here has changed people’s lives, done something to their spirit, given him a life perspective that he had missed until his late 40s.

“If you haven’t gotten involved, haven’t been a volunteer, you think you don’t have the time,” he said. “You think you’ll get worn out. You can talk yourself out of it. But one thing people have to understand, you get more back than you ever give.”

Mueller wants it understood that that’s more than a pat cliché: “What happens to people’s spirits here as volunteers, their spiritual lives, their connection to God and others. All the lives that change here, is a great story.”

But you don’t have to go someplace to discover that, either.

“If everybody, if you just helped your neighbor where you are,” he explained.

You would find what Tim and Sally Mueller have found. — Susan Stevenson