Rebuilding Lives
A New England entrepreneur gives Katrina victims a place to call home.
By Brandi Stewart/Waveland, Miss.

(FORTUNE Small Business) – PETER BACHMAN ADJUSTED HIS TOOL BELT AND surveyed his team's handiwork. "Looks good," he called to a carpenter securing the frame of a nine-foot wall. As the owner of Custom Designs, a construction company in Wayland, Mass., just west of Boston, Bachman is accustomed to running a job site. But this one, 1,500 miles from home, was more than a job.

Bachman, 45, and four of his employees had packed several trucks with lumber, windows, and tools and driven south for 27 hours to Waveland, Miss., a Gulf Coast city nearly knocked off the map by Hurricane Katrina and only now beginning to revive. Over the next week and a half, Bachman's crew, along with 28 other volunteers--many of them entrepreneurs--rebuilt homes for three Waveland residents.

The project began to take shape shortly after Katrina, when Bachman flew to New Orleans to help in the cleanup. He was frustrated by the dearth of organization, skilled labor, tools, and materials. So he did what entrepreneurs do: He made a careful survey of the needs and pulled all the elements together. Back in his hometown he teamed up with Wayland to Waveland (W2W), a volunteer group that has been helping the Mississippi town, and identified three Waveland residents, now living in small trailers, whose ruined homes he would help restore: 79-year-old widow Hazel Tracey; her neighbor, Melanie Karetas, 50; and Scott Blackwell, 47, an artist who had helped save local residents during the hurricane.

Once he arrived in Waveland, Bachman worked 11-hour days, wielding a hammer and saw alongside his crew. While other volunteers retired each night to a nearby hotel, he camped out in a trailer on the construction site to keep an eye on the tools and supplies.

The experienced carpenters, plumbers, and other volunteers accomplished, in ten days, work that Bachman estimates would typically take four to five weeks. They restored the interior wall frames, windows, and plumbing in two homes and framed the interior and exterior walls, floors, and roof for another, which had to be rebuilt from scratch. Bachman estimated the cost of supplies at $55,000, which he and W2W ( raised from the Wayland area--including $1,000 from the Boston Red Sox and $16,000 that Bachman solicited from his customers, some of whom are business owners.

While the Waveland houses aren't yet habitable, Bachman has helped arrange for work on them to continue until he can return in the spring. He talks almost daily with Karetas, and observes of his volunteer work, "It's like giving blood--someday you might need it yourself." For her part, Karetas gazes up at her rebuilt house and says of Bachman and his crew, "They've given me such a spectacular new beginning."

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