GREENFIELD — These folks are not first responders.

Long after most help after natural disasters has packed up and left, a group of local residents can be found there — whether there is Burkina Faso, India, Haiti or Mississippi, to help people affected put their lives back together.

Nine people from the group, called Caring Community Partners, recently returned after two weeks in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where they assisted the local Habitat for Humanity program build a house and remodeling a bathroom for an elderly widow.

A large swath of the Tuscaloosa area was laid flat by a devastating multi-vortex tornado in 2011, part of a 363-tornado outbreak that caused hundreds of deaths and $11 billion in damage across the United States. While Tuscaloosa will never be the same as it was before the destruction, its residents still  are working to rebuild the neighborhoods damaged by the EF4 tornado, said Barb Pescitelli, a nurse at Hancock Regional Hospital who has traveled with Caring Community Partners to several different locations around the world.

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Caring Community Partners, organized by Hancock Regional Hospital, seeks to extend the hospital’s mission of caregiving into the community. While the group’s trip to Tuscaloosa was purely focused on construction and manpower, their missions in India and other locations have included their medical skills, said Gretchen Pike, hospital administrator, who has attended several trips.

Most recently, they joined Habitat for Humanity after the house the group was building was already framed; local volunteers helped finish the porch, paint the house, lay trim and build the back stoop, Pescitelli said.

“Until you build a house, you don’t realize how many details there are,” she said.

Marc Petrey, who works in building services at the hospital, also attended the trip to Tuscaloosa. He and a few others broke off from the main group to help redo a bathroom in the home of a woman who needed her bathroom to be more accessible after she fell a year ago, he said.

Summing up the group’s efforts is hard; they’ve been so different over the years, with the needs at every site as unique as the people left behind by tragedy.

“It’s really hard to compare the types of work we do,” Petrey said. “We’re there to help and to show that somebody cares about what’s going on in their world.”

Caring Community Partners arose after the 2004 earthquake and subsequent tsunami near the Indian Ocean, Petrey said. On the first trip, the members of the budding organization sent a construction team and a medical team that helped to build an orphanage while they were there, he said.

Since then, the group — which is also open to members of the community with an interest in volunteerism — have organized trips to India, to Haiti and several to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and Burkina Faso.

The trips are paid for through fundraisers and contributions from the community, with participants raising a third of the cost themselves, Pike said.

Organizers of the trips say reaching out to these communities has created lasting connections with the people they helped.

Some of the trips are one-time visits; at other destinations, group members have identified ongoing needs. Hospital officials reached out to administrators at a medical facility in Mississippi in January 2005 after Hurricane Katrina struck the region; that sparked the first of several trips to the area, Pescitelli said.

On the other side of the globe, a hospital and attached nursing school in Machilipatnam, India, stand as a mark of the work of Caring Community Partners, which has traveled to the town five times to help with the construction of the facility. One of the administrators of that hospital invited everyone to his wedding while they were there in 2009, Pike said.

The mission trips have transformed those who attend, said Pike, who gets teary-eyed just thinking about it. After one trip, Petrey decided to become an EMT so he could help more on the next trip; one nurse decided to become a nurse practitioner, and Pescitelli chose to quit smoking after a trip in 2005 so she’d be healthy enough to participate as long as she’s able.

“Each of us gets something different out of it,” Pescitelli said. “We don’t do it for us; we do it for them.”


Caring Community Partners, a group of Hancock Regional Hospital employees and community members, travels to locations across the world to help with medical and construction missions after disasters like tornadoes or tsunamis.

They have traveled to:

– Machilipatnam, India: Members traveled five times to this town to help build a nursing school and host medical clinics in rural Indian areas.

– Bay St. Louis, Mississippi: Community members  traveled to this community to help with rebuilding efforts after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

– Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Caring Community Partners lent its manpower to this community to help rebuild after the 2011 tornado that leveled parts of the community.

– The team has also traveled to Burkina Faso and Haiti to help after natural disasters.

The Tuscaloosa tornado

Nine Caring Community Partners members recently spent about two weeks helping Habitat for Humanity in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Tuscaloosa is still working to rebuild after a devastating EF4 tornado ripped through it in April 2011. The tornado, which destroyed homes and businesses, had wind speeds reaching 200 miles per hour and was about 1.5 miles wide at its widest. Satellite photos of the damage track show the vegetation is still struggling to regrow in 2016.

Tuscaloosa’s tornado was one of 363 that scored the United States in a three-day streak in April 2011. The outbreak cost $11 billion and took 348 lives.

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

Author photo
Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or