The end is the begining

Hello All,

I wanted to take the time to write some closing words about my personal experiences in the Gulf Coast this week.  I know that all week, much of the stuff that has been written has been about the destruction that took place down there and all of the things that have been lost in the storm over three years ago.  Two things that I have taken from the trip is not about the destruction, but what has blossomed as a result of the destruction.  Those things that have blossomed are the human spirit, and a renewed sense of belief in the college student.

There was a lot of spirit in those storm victims.  Amongst all of the things that have gone wrong down there from the lack of help from insurance companies to corrupt city officials who actually made money off of the desaster, these people still forge on with a smile on their face, a song in their heart and recipies for good gumbo on their mind.  They love to see volunteers and I was personally treated with respect from those whose houses I wasn’t even working on.  If nothing else, that area has a lot of love to offer and that was enough for me to cherish this experience forever.

As for my belief students, you have to understand, I have always believed in the potential of students.  Whether or not they met that potential was totally up to them.  The main reason that I fulfilled my dream of becomoing a student affairs professional, which is an odd dream to have in the first place, was to help students meet that potential.  Unfortunately, as I have gone up in the ranks, the majority of what I have seen is the bad side of students.  What made this trip important to me was that I got to spend time with an exceptional group of students whom I may not have had any contact with if I haden’t been a last minute replacement in the advisor position which makes me actually pretty lucky.  I was not the only lucky one at Camp Coast Care either.  There were countless numbers of people from Virginia, Minnesota and Conneticut who came to me frequently telling me what a joy it was to work with these students.  They continuously told me that the future is going to be a great place because we will have students like these leading us and I could not agree more.  Then, these folks would go on to thank me for bringing them, at that point I had to stop and say, “They brought me.”  These students did all of the work and they did a great job, for that I say thank you.  Thank you for not only downgrading and bringing me along on this trip, but for also helping me to see the good in students once again.  Hopefully I do not sound too much like Whitney Houston by saying that you are the future and I feel pride knowing that you all have and will make large contributions to our society.  Also, I wanted to let you know that just because our short journey has ended it does not mean that we will part ways.  Rashidah, Christy, Ryan, Nick, Kelly, Chris, Monica, Jeff, Pooja, Donna and of course Zoe, you are all my friends and I hope that you all feel the same towards me.  Besides, we all sat under the “Friendship Tree” so we are kinda obligated now.  Take care and thanks for reading.


So, we never made it out to Scuttlebutts, but we still managed to have a good time during this week. Through a lack of sleep, a multitude of bugs, and the inevitable conflicts within our respective groups, we still walk away with some important life lessons. I think one of the most important lessons that I will be able to take home and apply throughout my day to day is the fact that its not so important how much you are doing to help people out, but simply that you are making the effort to help. Every little action that you take to assist someone helps to spread hope and optimism, and this is the easiest and most effective method of helping people in the long-term. Another take-home message I gathered was that although it is important to enter into a new environment with new people, especially an area such as the Gulf Coast which desperately needs extraneous help, we must use this as a model and continue to lend our abilities, no matter how rudimentary or in whatever field they are, to the people that need assistance in our own communities. And of course remember those values that we wrote down during the one reflection, and realize how the vast majority of them had nothing to do with materialistic preoccupations. Go home and hug your mom and dad, spread that hope and whatnot. Alright, I’ll get off my soapbox and stop preaching. Just think about what we all learned about this week, think about your personal values, and how the experiences of this past week relate to them, and try to get more in touch with those values. It’s been a pleasure working with all y’all.

Our last day

Today was our last day of work at Camp Coast Care. Early tomorrow morning we head back to PA. I can’t believe how quickly time has flown. It seems like it was only a couple of days ago we arrived at the camp.
After working in the kitchen yesterday, I returned to the house I had worked on earlier in the week. Our team finished siding the last wall and we were all very satisfied with the work we did at the site. Our site construction supervisor made us a BBQ lunch and we had time to admire all the progress we had made throughout the week.
After work, we had our last reflection. After grabbing food at Sonic, we headed to the shore and spent some quality time under the Friendship Tree, which is a large oak tree on a beach-front college campus. I will miss the natural beauty of the Gulf Coast and bonding with the group during our evening reflections.
I am really sad to be leaving MS. Throughout the week, our team grew incredibly close and it will be hard to not be together all the time back at Lafayette. We also met many other amazing people at Camp Coast Care whom we have developed amazing friendships with and it will be hard to leave our new friends behind. I will always remember this week as one of the most influential and cherished moments in my life.
I hope you all have enjoyed reading our blog and following all the great things we have experienced on our trip.

Spring Break Rollercoaster

Today, I got asked to be on Grounds crew. At first I was somewhat apprehensive but they needed someone to help move appliances and I was picked. The morning ended up being really interesting and I’m very glad that I did it. The example that stands out most is when we were moving the refridgerator from the trailer into the house. Back home, everyone minds their own business, people in need of help don’t always get it. As we were struggling to get the refridgerator off the truck two guys on from next door saw and came over to help. Later, when we returned with more boxes to unload, one of the two guys went to his friend’s house to get him again to help us. The other people I was working with didn’t think much of it, but for me it was very satisfying. To know that people still would offer their help like that meant a lot to me.
This whole week has been full of events like that for me, causing me to feel anywhere from humbled to reassured to inspired.
Tomorrow is our last day, and the homeowner of the group we’re working with is throwing a cook-out for lunch in honor of our hard work. After getting off on sort of the wrong foot with him, things have really turned around and I’m really looking forward to spending some time hopefully getting to know him a little better.

Also, I met one cool kid named Scott, who loves applesauce, and he’s a a corps member with Americorps NCCC. Basically, he does this community service work full-time for ten months. He has a blog, so if you want to read it and see what sort of work he’s involved with then check it out at

A little reasonin’

Among all things this week, there is something that I enjoyed experiencing. I must mention that I am not a religious person, or better, I believe in all religions, in their moral and spiritual teachings, but although born in a Christian environment, I did not exactly learn to pray or reflect upon any biblical stories or others related. However, I do appreciate some religious reasoning.  What I found interesting during this trip were the little stories or quotes that Mike was reading after the morning and the afternoon meeting. For me personally, it did not matter that they were written or derived from the Bible or spoken by Mother Theresa. The important part is that it was really inspiring and it set the tone for the day or in some cases it described in the exact words the experiences I had that day.

One that I still remember and find particularly captivating was the following. A man wanted to know the difference between good and bad (heaven and hell, kindness and greediness). He entered a room and saw people sitting around a table. In the middle of the table there was a plate with plenty food. The people, however, were very skinny. They all had spoons long enough to reach the plate, but too long to reach their own mouths. He then enetered the next room, and there was the same table with same plate in the middle of it. All the people sitting around the table looked healthy and well-fed. They also had the long spoons to reach the plate, but instead, they fed each other. That is the difference between good and bad, kindness and greediness.

This was a story we heard at the beginning of the week and it made me not only know but actually realize the purpose we all came down here. At the moment, we have the long spoons and we can reach the full plate.

“Ugh, No construction supervisor… say what???”

“Ugh, No construction supervisor… say what???”

Today was an interesting day in all aspects. I believe we grew stronger as a team even though it was not smooth sailing. It was difficult to get a head start on the work at the house today as we are amateurs trying our luck with construction. Without guidance we were like fish without water. We spent majority of the morning in trivial squabbles and undoing the work we finished previously or earlier today. Now that I think back, it was unnecessary for our team.

Quarreling can be frustrating. However, as one of the crew members mentioned, all is not lost. On this incredibly warm day, we pulled up our socks and got to work. This is largely because through discussion we learned that productivity is not all that counts. Often the thought, process and intent of our volunteering here is what is important. We expect results to often appear magically. This is not always feasible.

But, every cloud has a silver lining. The day ended on a good note despite the hurdles. We finished the touch up painting; fixed the wall we started and sorted out the roof. Speaking to the home owner and his family was insightful. Hearing their part of the story and receiving constructive feedback was great.

Later, visiting the beach was fun. We had driven by earlier but dipping my feet in the water was different. The water was incredibly calm. Seeing the houses on the beach side either reconstructed or still in shambles was eye opening. During reflection today I realized that much is to be learned. We should be optimistic and leave with the satisfaction of making a small difference.

Great Expectations

When one enters into the unknown, he customarily has ideas or wishes of what the experience will be like.  This can be good as it can cause excitement and enthusiasm.  However, this can also be bad; as that person may have anticipated an experience completely unlike reality.  For the first few days, the latter statement proved to be true.  We were assigned to a house where the owner didn’t seem grateful or willing to help, and there was somewhat of a lack of work.  After feeling inhibitions about our situation, Mike, the coordinator of Camp Coast Care, sat down to talk with us.  For me, his words put a great deal of perspective on the trip.  He made me realize why I came down to Mississippi.  He told us that it is hard when you have a lack of work and when the client seems ungrateful.  But the amount of work you do is not important- it is what is in your heart that matters.  We came down here looking to help people.  The natives have thanked us for coming down-not knowing what we’d done to help, or how much we’d helped.  It was the fact that we cared and put that passion into action that was important.

After hearing this, my frusteration vanished, and I realized that I’m happy to help no matter who the client is, or how much work I have.  Going to work today myself and my teammates had a whole new perspective on what we wanted to accomplish, and what we wanted to get out of the trip.  We arrived with a new and optimistic attitude about the day.  When we arrived, the boys finished insulating  and dry-walled the ceiling.  The girls and I cleaned the master bedroom tiles that we’d just layed, and started sanding the walls in preperation for painting.  We did this only to find out after lunch that our client wanted the walls taken down.  I’m not sure if that was because the dry wall looked bumpy, terrible and old, or the fact that when I hammered in nail pops earlier, I had found animal dropping that fell to the ground every time the wall felt and impact.

While all this was occuring, my team and I interacted very well with our client, and he seemed more willing to share his thoughts and stories.  Then we demoed the master bedroom. This was an amazing experience.  I took a crow bar in my hand, and all aggression I’d ever possessed, and tore up the wall. It was dirty, messy, poopy (literally), and powdery; but it was awesome.  After cleaning up the old dry-wall, we were done for the day-feeling accomplished, having been productive and interactive with our client.  What a difference a day makes.  I find it ironic that once our team learned how to deal with our unanticipated situation the very day that the frustration ended.  It just goes to show how important attitude is.  Viewing the glass half-full definitely helped.  It is also important to not let outside elements affect what you have come to do.  When you don’t care about what someone thinks about you, you are free from their judgement and labeling.

I feel that we have learned so much in the past day, and I’m so grateful to have met people that can change my perspective on life so much.  Others in my group have said they hope to accomplish a lot of work in the next two days or feel satasfied with their work.  I on the other hand wish that I learn something new in these next few days, so that I can use the knowledge from this experience for the rest of my life.

Amazing Grace

No, this title does not refer to my boss. It has a whole other meaning. What meaning does it have? Read along and I’ll tell you.
I have been very lucky on this trip so far. I know that people are likely fine ding that hard to believe since reading my other postings, but it is true. First, I got assigned to an awesome group. Second, I got to meet the owners of the house that we worked on and they are the sweetest people ever. Last, I have been lucky enough to actually finish a project which is something that I did not expect. At the end of the project, we did the strangest thing… we sang Amazing Grace. Apparently, it is customary for people to sing at the end of a project down here. It serves as closure on the project and I really liked it. I have finished a ton of projects in my time, but I never sang when I finished, I just moved on to another project. Well, that’s about to change baby! I will now begin to sing when I finish something. For example, when I finish a conduct case and I am finished writing the letters, I might sing “signed, sealed, delivered” or when I am finished getting dressed I’ll sing “I feel pretty”. Please help me by giving suggestions on things that I would likely finish and a song that I could possibly sing to mark the occasion. Until next time.

One tiny drop…

Today we went back to the house we visited yesterday with the same crew we had + 3 united way volunteers. We finally finished the wall that we left incomplete from the day the water pipe broke !! Looks awesome…would love to see it after it has a coat of paint on. We hit a few snags on the way but nothing we didn’t expect… placing the boards in the right spot, putting up insulation, tolerating zoe for 8 hours :p.
Today I spent 45 minutes crawling around in an attic pulling nails out of the floor and walls and while up there I could see lines where the water level had risen to during the Hurricane. I couldn’t stop staring at those marks almost 12 feet above ground level, still there 4 years later.
When Ed (the home owner) stopped by today around 11.30, he stared at the half finished wall for almost a minute and said, “You guys have done an awesome job.” Just one sentence but it had such an impact on us and pumped us up some more. At the CCC meeting today evening, Michael (the volunteer coordinator) told all of us the we may be just one drop but without us the ocean would be one drop less. Those two incidents really inspired me and convinced me that this was worth it. Flying across the country, choosing to spend my spring break in this way is not a sacrifice of any kind but an experience I don’t ever want to forget.
Overall : finished wall + using a big mechanical saw + mother teresa quotes + mac and cheese + spades + failed ice cream run + clarence and christy taking funny pictures of my foot = awesome day :D

What I Learned Today…

Today is Tuesday–the second day of work for us. The gnats and mosquitoes are out in full force and I’m sure that each of my teammates and I have dozens of bites all over. As for today, we went back to the same site to work on a home in Pass Christian, MS. I’m sure you would appreciate a little history on the home owners so here it is: they are a young couple (24 years old) with three children who purchased their home after the storm. The male is currently out of work which I’m sure can be attributed to the current economic crisis. However, yesterday and today, my group members and I looked around the neighborhood in which the homeowners lived and realized that it was in great shape for a place that had been hit by one of the deadliest and costliest natural disasters in US history. I’m sure the disaster we witnessed in New Orleans’ 9th ward was on our mind when we began to wonder why this homeowner was being helped before the countless number of those who have absolutely nothing.

To our appreciation, the volunteer coordinator of the organization clarified things for us when he told us that Camp Coast Care has lost some of its funding and they now have to help people who can afford to purchase the necessary materials (nails, insulation, drywall, flooring, cabinetry, etc.) In previous years, CCC provided these materials but loss of funds has made it so that they can’t do that. Further, the volunteer coordinator told us that just because the middle-class people have a little money, that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t use a little help. While this homeowner could afford certain materials, he certainly wouldn’t be able to afford the labor.

After our conversation about what qualifies homeowners to get assistance from CCC, I am assured that it is a system that works. Of course I would like to help the neediest person but the truth is that while some people aren’t the neediest, they are needy nonetheless and this is the case with the homeowner–our client. One thing that Mike (the volunteer coordinator) left us with that stuck to me is that it doesn’t matter how much we do while we’re down here or even whether or not people show their gratitude…we’re here. Better yet, we want to be here on our Spring Break. That’s all that matters.