First Day on the Job

Well, we’ve been down south for almost 3 days now and its been great! The seafood is incredible, the people are amazingly friendly, and work is ready to be done! I guess some people have already talked about our day in New Orleans yesterday so I won’t deal on it. Needless to say, it was incredible! Most surprising was the 9th ward, as I’m sure has already been mentioned. Seeing porches without houses is pretty eye-opening; seeing whole empty lots in what used to be a busy neighborhood is sobering. But it is encouraging to see that life goes on and people make do.

Jeff's tiling adventures

However, we learned today first hand that there’s still work to be done…and a lot of it! Me and some of the other ASBers went to Rob’s house with our team leader Brooke. Brooke was so much fun and really knowledgeable! Never a dull moment working with her and the rest of the team! The house we were working in was less than a mile from the shoreline and had been hit pretty bad by the storm and still was in sore need of work. Today we mainly tiled. Luckily, our Home Depot class had prepared us more than we could have imagined! Most of the tiles were already laid but the outside tiles still needed to be measured, cut, motar-ed, placed, etc! (Basically the hard part!) Brooke was thoroughly impressed with our tiling abilities…even though we felt like amateurs! But by the end of the day we were experts, if I may say so! ;) Using the wet saw was definitely the most fun! (Look ma! No hands!…literally!) Chris and I perfected cutting tiles by the end and tomorrow we are ready to grout! Hopefully, we’ll also be able to start dry-walling tomorrow…which means we get to use the sweet nail gun! =D (Most of the team members are scared to let me get my hands on it…something about me being too excited to use it…=P)

Once we got back, we had a great time hanging out with and meeting some of the other volunteers here at CCC (there are about 60 of us here), including several church groups with some great elderly folks, a couple other college groups, and an Americorp group with some awesome kids on it! Tonight Clarence and I taught some of the spades with varying success, but either way it was fun!

Without being too cliche, I will definitely say I was shocked at how much work still needs to be done down in the Gulf Coast considering that Katrina was 4 years ago! There is still debris lying around, abandoned houses; and in New Orleans, there are lots of houses still with the red X’s on them from when the rescue workers first went out searching for survivors. It’s easy to get discouraged, but good to know that even me, as one volunteer, can make a huge difference when combined with the other volunteers all doing their part too. If lots of people as one person do their adds up! The volunteer organizations in Long Beach alone have had 12,000 volunteers go thru since their creation! Anyway, its getting late (considering we gotta be up at 6am!) so I’m off to bed!

when the water pipe broke.

After two hectic days of traveling and hearing the word “y’all” more than I could have ever imagined, we finally started the service aspect of our trip! We slept in late (until approximately 6am) and enjoyed a nice breakfast before splitting up to go to our different work sites. Five Lafayette students, 2 Virginian Church volunteers, and an Americorps volunteer drove to our site, which a small (but nice!) one-story house in a neighborhood.  The owner currently lives in the finished portion  of the house and he was excited to share his story with us.  Apparently, he had finished remodeling his house just two weeks before the storm, spending nearly $17,000.  When the storm hit, the water flooded his entire house, including three feet of his attic.  Through the construction work of different volunteer groups, he and his wife could return to a semi-normal life.

Our project required us to work on the siding in the garage, by screwing on slaves of concrete to the wall. Little did we know that previous workers had mislabeled the water pipe’s location.  Just when we were getting the hang of it, we screwed directly into the hidden pipe and were greeted by a stream of water (which soon turned into some impressive blasts).  We shut the water off and the house owner seemed pretty understanding of the fact that we had destroyed his house even further.  Unfortunately, we had to delay the rest of our projects until the plumber arrived and the wood dried. Tomorrow we will return to the house and make sure that we avoid any treacherous pipes!

Since we left our work site early, we drove around the beachfront properties of the area, which was an eye opening experience.  During Katrina, all of these houses were covered in water, and all was lost.  These houses were formerly mansions, owned by some of the wealthiest people in the area.  Many people rebuilt, but these mansions were juxtaposed with what was leftover of their neighbor’s homes.  Many plots were completely empty, while others had piles of rubble. Still others maintained the foundation of their former homes or their front steps, but nothing more.  It was impossible not to compare the two situations, and this wealthier area to the destruction we saw in the 9th Ward.  Both areas were devastating to view, although their owners came from different socioeconomic backgrounds and had varying experiences with Katrina.  This demonstrates how the storm effected people of every walk of life, and people in every area have been unable/chose not to rebuild their former homes.

Now I should probably head to bed, these 6am’s sneak up on me. I’m becoming an old woman and it’s past my bedtime. Night!

New Orleans

Our first full day! I was nervous before because I didn’t know very much about the trip and was distracted with midterms and such, but ever since the team dinner on Friday night I have been overwhelmed for enthusiasm for this trip. My teammates are so unique and everyone contributes to the group in a special way.
The day started off by a couple of us getting our luggage from the Gulfport Airport. I lucked out and didn’t have to wake-up early. Those of us who stayed behind got to sleep in. There was a church service in the next room, but most of us were pretty tired and were able to sleep through most of it. I didn’t wake up until Rashidah had come back from the airport. The people that had left returned with Krispy Kreme doughnuts for breakfast (yumm…) and all our luggage, which turned out to be soaking wet from sitting in the rain all night long! Finally, at about 11 am we made it out the doors and set off on our adventure to Louisiana.
Our first stop was to visit the French Quarter in New Orleans. The FQ was so lovely! The buildings were gorgeous and the area had lots of charm and a strong sense of community. Most shops and restaurants opened up to the street and there were tons of pedestrians walking around exploring the city. We were able to see unique landmarks such as Jefferson Square, the Supreme Court (this building was an architectural masterpiece), and old French cathedrals. We also saw plenty of street performers including musicians, palm readers, and magicians. There were also men who painted themselves silver or gold and held really still like statues in the middle of the sidewalk. If you paid them, they would pose for a picture with you. I had never seen anything like this before. While we were in the FQ, we enjoyed some

Acme Oyster House Gumbo and Po' Boy
Acme Oyster House Gumbo and Po' Boy

traditional Southern cuisine at Acme Oyster House. Members of our group enjoyed classics such as jumbalya, gumbo, and po’boy sandwiches. Tasty!
After the FQ, we headed to the Honey Island Swamp. At first I was a little skeptical about the excitement a swamp had to offer, but right as we got on the boat I could tell this tour was going to blow us out of the water (pun intended). We started off the tour by driving to a patch of shoreline that was home to about 6 or so houses. During Hurricane Katrina the water level of the swamp rose 18 feet, which was more than enough to go above the roofs of these houses. A couple people were fortunate enough to be able to rebuild their houses, but many houses were abandoned. We could see obvious water and structural damage that made entering the houses a hazard. Throughout the rest of the tour I was able to spot debris from these houses that was carried by the water to other parts of the swamp. No one has been able to clean up the effects of the houses and belongings inside of them. This junk has been cluttering the swamp for years! The swamp is home to many animals, including quite a few endangered species. Household items such as bleach, detergent, and car fluids were released into the swamp when Hurricane Katrina flowed through the houses. The way Hurricane Katrina harmed the fragile swamp ecosystem is less obvious but just as disastrous as the effect of the Hurricane on people. The positive part of our tour was we were able to see many types of wildlife including baby alligators, snakes, and the cutest beaver-esque mammals! Our tour guide was amazing. He was very passionate and knowledgeable about the swamp. After a lovely 2 hour adventure through the Honey Island swamp, we hurried back to New Orleans to drive through the 9th ward before dark.
By the time we got there it was already dark, but what we were able to see was astonishing. The ninth ward was unlike anything I had ever imagined it to be. It was very, very dark. The only light came from our headlights or the handful of houses that had lights on inside. There were no streetlights. Whole blocks of the neighborhood were completely demolished. In the blocks closest to the levee, the ground was bare except for overgrown weeds and the remnants of housing foundations. On a few properties, the only thing left was a concrete porch with steps leading up to it. No house, just the stairs and porch. This sight affected me the most because in my imagination I saw families running up the stairs to chat on the porch or entering the house that was connected once upon a time. Another thing that struck me was how close these houses were to the levees. The levees were just across the street from the neighborhood. I can’t even begin to imagine how frightened the residents must have felt at the moment the levees broke. The levees are basically a glorified wall, yet, that is all there was to protect the 9th ward residents from peril.  I was shocked at the amount of debris that was still lying around years later.  A few families were able to rebuild their houses, but most of the houses were abandoned or barely stable enough to be lived in.  When people looked out their windows they saw the scattered remains of their neighbors homes and lives which reminded them of the atrocities of Hurricane Katrina on a daily basis.  Even worse than the debris, were the houses that were torn apart and crumbling to the ground before our eyes.  These houses still had the spray paint tag from FEMA clearly painted on their walls.  This tag included numbers such as people who used to live in the house and dead bodies recovered from inside.  In my opinion, it is unacceptable for the government to allow death tolls to be plastered all over a neighborhood years after the time it occurred.  It is no wonder the 9th ward has turned into a barren, scary, and depressing ghost of a community.  The whole time we were there we only saw one other person.  We drove around for forty minutes and never saw another car.  The ninth ward is desolate and desperate for our attention and help.  There are boats and cars that have drifted far from their homes.  Houses are stripped to the frame and somehow still manage to stay upright.  As it stands, the 9th ward is hazardous to the safety and morale of its residents.  After being in the 9th ward and roaming the streets that were once filled with joyous families, I know why it is important that I am here.  The communites affected by Hurricane Katrina need our help just as much as they needed it the day after it happened and will continue to need our help for years to come.  One day, the 9th ward will be the vibrant community it was before the storm hit, before the levees broke, and before its needs were ignored by the government.  I am embarassed at how long it took me to come down here and help, but what is important is that I finally made it to the Gulf Coast.  This week, I plan to be unbelievably productive.  After the day trip to New Orleans, I feel passionately about the work I am going to do in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever felt before.  This week, my ASB group is going to make a huge difference in the lives of Hurricane Katrina victims.  Hopefully, our actions will encourage friends, family, and readers of this blog to do the same.

New Experiences

Baby Aligators look like little Hasbro toys. I saw one today and I really just wanted to pick it up and hug him. What changed my mind was the fact that he would probably have eaten my face if I touched him. I begin my blog with the above statement to prove a point about how things aren’t always what they look like and that evereything is not always as it may seem. What drove this point home was our visit to the 9th Ward in New Orleans this evening. I had though that the rehabilitation of the area was going well and that everything was better. Why? Probably because the effects of Katrina are not really talked about anymore. People have gone on with their lives, even here. As we were driving the main road to get into the lower 9th, we were looking at the damaged that had been caused by the storm, people were just shooting by us in their cars as if it were a normal day and a regular situation. It appears that those are normal conditions to those who live there. It was sad to see that a neighborhood that was so rich in tradition and heritage now looks like something completely indescribable.
For me to sit here and try to describe it to anyone in a blog is meaningless because there is nothing to describe it. I will say this, there was nothing there… nothing. Sure there were a few families still hanging on to their property and working to rebuild, but for every house that was rebuilt there were 7-10 that were no more. The only things left to remind anyone that they even existed were some gates and steps that led to nothing. The roads were not even roads. Avenues looked like mud pits. And, I believe that the saddest part is that much of the place looked like the floods just happened 6 months ago because nothing was cleaned up and the debris was still laying around. Again, there were just those few resilient neighbors trying to hang on to their homes which, in some cases, is the only thing they have.
Now that I have depressed you, let me add that everything that we do helps and we ARE remembered for it. Our tour boat captain told us today that they would still be underwater if it weren’t for volunteer work. It is important that we do not forget that our brothers and sisters in the Gulf Coast still need our help and that we do not forget about them just because their stories are not splattered all over out TVs anymore. Personally, the things that I saw today will keep them in my thoughts and prayers forever.

Today in New Orleans…

Today, was the first day in which the ASB Gulf Coast team got to see the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina first hand. It has been a long weekend as we had some trouble with our flight yesterday (it was delayed, then canceled, and finally rebooked), but our group kept their morale up and we eventually made it to our destination. Today, we went to New Orleans and ate at the Acme Oyster House in the French Quarter. On the way up, we saw some of the homes in the 9th ward, but nothing could prepare us for the closer look we received later in the day. However, the French Quarter is beautiful and Jackson Square is perhaps the best part about it. Next, we went to Slidell, LA for an Airboat Swamp Boat tour so that we could get a gulf coast cultural experience. It was AMAZING! (I’m sure many of my team mates will blog about this later, but I’ll preface it by saying that the tour guide was especially thankful to us volunteers). Finally, we checked out the 9th ward and the devastation was heartbreaking. It is still very clear that Hurricane Katrina wreaked so much havoc. There were porches that stood alone and all that was left of many of the homes were the foundations. Often, people would place a trailer home in front of their destroyed home so that they could still live on the lot. They were especially loyal to their home. Truth be told, it’s late… approaching 12am. We’ve had a long day and so I’m going to head to bed to prepare for the first day of construction tomorrow. Thanks for reading!

And we have adventure!

The 2009 Gulf Coast team is already off to quite an adventure and it’s only day one!  I often remind myself that if things always go perfectly, we won’t remember them. Our ASBers are certainly making memories this weekend. After a cancelled flight and a change in destination, we’re patiently awaiting their safe arrival in New Orleans, LA, where they’ll be greeted by a 12 passenger Camp Coast Care van that will take them back to Long Beach, MS. I’m looking forward to hearing their thoughts about their travel day…but I heard through the grapevine that the students are “being gumby” which is slang for Positive and Flexible!  Thanks, everybody!

ASB is going live!!

Camp Coast Care, Long Beach, MS
Camp Coast Care, Long Beach, MS

We’re excited to be embarking on another new adventure in the world of ASB…the Gulf Coast team will be posting daily updates from Camp Coast Care in Long Beach, MS.  Stay tuned for moment-to-moment posts from our ASBers in MS.