Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice has always relied upon volunteers to support its outreach within the Diocese of Venice, never more so than now as the recovery from Hurricane Ian heads into its final phase.
An appeal for volunteers with strong backs was posted to social media on June 13, 2023, to the members of the various Hispanic movements to help plant flowers and bushes while others assembled furniture.
The movements (Charismatic, Emmaus and more) have a strong connection to OLPH with hundreds of members taking part in retreats through the years. With little surprise, the response to the appeal was immediate and overwhelming as dozens agreed to spend a few hours on June 17 helping OLPH return to its previous glory following devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Ian in September 2022.
The flooding washed away or destroyed nearly all the vegetation, and water entered each of the buildings on the property. Access to the property was not available for 11 days. The work to recover began immediately, but due to the scope of the work and many logistical factors, the restoration is not expected to be completed until September, about 12 months after the storm.
OLPH Director of Spirituality Father Mark Yavarone, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, was pleased by the number of volunteers, noting that more came than were ever expected. Therefore, Father spent much of June 17 assigning volunteers to various tasks throughout the property and getting them supplies and ensuring they stayed hydrated on the hot and muggy day.
Each volunteer got right to work, giving back to the retreat center which has provided so much to them in the past.
One man who helped assemble furniture had been coming to OLPH for Emmaus retreats for 10 years and called them a highlight of each year.
“This is such a peaceful place and coming for retreats was a wonderful experience. When I heard about the destruction, it was heartbreaking. When the call came for volunteers, I knew this was a way to give back to a place that means so much to me and many others,” Raul Martinez of St. Jude Parish in Sarasota said.
The towering oak trees were among the only vegetation that survived the flood, therefore the focus of volunteers with green thumbs was on landscaping in front of the conference center and dining hall, as well as at two of the villas. Volunteers previously had planted new flora around the OLPH Shrine.
The furniture was destined for Villas I and II, which will be used for a small group beginning on June 30. No other facilities are far enough along in their reconstruction to accommodate any retreats until late July. A full retreat schedule is expected by sometime in September as the last major work will include the installation of flooring and kitchen equipment. The last section of OLPH to be complete will be St. Joseph Chapel, which is currently being used for temporary offices and storage of much of the furniture and equipment.
Father Yavarone said the restoration of OLPH is taking place in the same sequence of the original construction, with the two main buildings and two villas the first priority and the larger villas and chapel last.
While much was accomplished by the volunteers on June 17, much more work needs to be done in the coming months and additional volunteers will be needed for a variety of projects. To be added to the OLPH volunteer list, please visit https://www.olph-retreat.org/new-volunteer or if you have any questions, please contact Dee Isabelle at email@example.com.
How to help OLPH recovery
OLPH is still raising money to cover expenses not covered by insurance. One specific way to help is to sponsor the purchase of a new Chapel chair. OLPH officials were able to locate the vendor that provided the previous chairs in 1999 and have begun the process of procuring new chairs. The new chairs will be very similar, however, the upholstery will be burgundy befitting of St. Joseph. Each chair costs $233.00. If you are interested in sponsoring a chair, a plaque will be installed at the back of the chair with your chosen inscription. To support this effort, please visit https://www.olph-retreat.org/sponsor-a-chapel-chair.
For additional options on ways to support OLPH, please visit https://www.olph-retreat.org/the-olph-annual-fund-and-ways-to-give.