From hurricane to hope: a new house in 7 days

Bobby Clark sat at home in Fair Hope, Ala., watching the news. He saw the vast devastation and knew he had to act.

He called several friends, urging, "Guys, these people need help."

At first, he gathered a 15-vehicle caravan, delivering food and supplies from Fair Hope some 80 miles to Pastor Eddie Hartwell Sr.'s St. James Baptist Church in Gulfport, Miss. On their next run, they brought a generator and air conditioning units.

But Bobby Clark is a builder, and he says God put him on earth to build.

Pastor Hartwell told Clark about how hurricane Katrina had demolished the home of two of his most dedicated members, Corrine "Mother" Robinson and her husband, Cleavon. After walking the property with fellow builder Dickie Brunson, Clark realized there was no way to fix the house, but they could build a new one - and they would do it in seven days.

"For two years I've wanted to do something like this for someone," Clark said.

The house came down, and the clock started ticking. Hordes of builders and workers swarmed the site, working on a schedule planned down to the hour. They built the foundation, then laid the floor in 28 minutes, and by the end of the first day the air conditioning was running - all on schedule. And on the seventh day, it was done.

Pastor Hartwell had set Sunday aside for the dedication of Mother Robinson's new home. The men of Fair Hope sat with the St. James congregation and listened as Pastor Hartwell preached about renewal. "The end of this will be better than the beginning," he told the gathering.

Everyone gathered around the front porch, as Pastor Hartwell offered a short blessing for the Robinsons as they moved into their new place.

The door slowly opened and Mother Robinson peeked inside. "HALLELUJAH!!!!" Praise Jesus!!!!" she shouted as she saw her new home for the first time. She walked on the new carpet, ran her hands over the smooth granite countertops in her kitchen and marveled at her first dishwasher.

"We couldn't have gotten a bigger blessing than a new home. These are lovely men, and they left their families to help another family," Mother Robinson said.

Pastor Hartwell has plans to bring more people in to build houses and meet the owners so they know them and become part of the family much like the men of Fair Hope did.

For Bobby Clark and his crew, the experience moved them and changed their lives. They now believe they could do it all over again.

"I think if our hearts are still there we're going to do it again. Just not in seven days," Bobby Clark said with a smile.

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