Gulf Coast Beginnings

Dear Blog Readers

The last 48 hours have been a combinatinon of exciting, hectic, eye-opening, and really fun.   Lets recap.

The group met outside of Farinon at 4 am Sunday morning.  Although everyone was tired from a long night of packing…. there was a silent confidence amongst the group that this trip was going to be legendary. After a luxurious flight to Houston texas (still find it funny how everyone says “yall” in Texas) we crammed onto an airplane the size of a bathroom stall on our way to Mississippi.  I remember in 2nd grade being taught how to spell Mississippi with that rthymic letter song. (M.. I-s-s…. I-s-s….I-pp-I)  Never thoguht I’d make it down here though. 

After a quick check-in… as a group we set off on our first road trip to New Orleans…. or as the locals say…. “noorlands”. Shoutout to our group leader Liz who made reservations at a delicious Louisiana-style restaurant and let the rest of us gallavant around New Orelans while she waited in line for our table.  The majority of us decided to take a walk down the infamous Bourbon street.  Even though I had heard the stories and rumors…… nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see.  Despite it being 5:30 pm on a Sunday…. you would have thought it was a saturday night summer night.  Adults partying all over the street, strip clubs at every corner, and people in absurd Mardi Gras costumes willing to take pictures with locals.  Beads wrapped around everyones neck and an alcoholic beverage in every hand. As Rocco said best “you can just smell sin in the air”.  Nonethless it was a great experience.  It definitely was something I wanted to see once in my life with my own eyes.

After a quick tour of the party life in New Orelans… it was time to enjoy the finer side of down south.  The restauraunt was ABSOLUTELY delicious.  I could not have dreamed of a more enjoyable meal as I was able to sample Louisiana style Crawfish, shrimp, seafood, and jumbolaya. with all due respect to Lower Farinon Chicken Fritters…. this food was in a league of its own.  After dinner we toured the city as a group and were able to see historical landmarks and witness beautiful scenery out across the Mississippi River.  Despite our flight being pushed back forcing us to have an extremely hectic day rushing around, I still think the decision to go into New Orleans was beyond well-worth it.  Great great experience.

After a 6:45 wake up call the next day…. it was off to breakfast.  Not going to lie…. the food has certainly EXCEEDED expecatiosn thus far (we will see if I’m still saying the same thign on day 4 or 5).  After heading to the worksite… we encountered our project for the week.  At first, when we were told that the house was 90% completed, I was disapointed and thought that there wasn’t going to be much to do.  However, after taking one walk through the house, I would soon realize how much was still left to be done.  I think it finally “hit me” when the homeowner arrived to greet us and provide supplies that this was actually real life.  This poor man and family lost everything and 5 years later is still in the process of gaining it back.  Hopefully… we can all do our part to contribute and help him/his family get back on track.

blog confession:  The group doesn’t know this yet… but I have the “handy” skills of a 5 year old.  Despite being a 22 year old male… I still am unable to correctly turn on an oven, boil water, or cook anything besides Hot Pockets.  But… we don’t need to share that information with Team Gulf Coast just yet.  As the team builder and one of the only students on this trip with a Y chromosome… I need to breathe confience.  I know my squad looks to me for guidance — specifically when it comes to tools and manual labor. lol. nonethless everyone seemed to work really hard today and we seem to really be clicking as a group.  Need to give another shoutout to Megan… who apparently minors in woodshop at Lafayette. absolutely incredible job today.

Overall… I really couldn’t have asked for a better 48 hour start to this trip.  It seems like we have a great group and I am truly looking foward to forming new friendships and learning more about my peers.  I already have gotten close with people I hardly knew last week…. which is great  I signed up on this trip because I wanted to give back to the less fortunate and I believed that this was going to be such a rewarding experience.  Thus far… mission accomplished.

The Beginning: Days 1 & 2

After a little confusion with the time change, a few very unhappy TSA workers, and two plane rides, the Gulf Coast team finally arrived in Mississippi last night. After we unloaded our luggage at LESM Mission on the Bay, we jumped right back into our vans and drove straight to New Orleans.

I had never been to New Orleans before, so I had no idea what to expect. It was quite an experience to walk down Bourbon Street and push my way through the raging crowd, at roughly 5 PM on a Sunday evening. In contrast, Jackson Square was quite a different scene. It was quaint, old-fashioned, and more of what I had expected. It was also very interesting to see how little damage there was in the French Quarter. It was hard to believe the area had ever been flooded, which was NOT the case with  the area where we would be working.

After a scenic stroll through the city, the team had dinner at Acme Oyster House, a typical New Orleans restaurant. My team members were a little more adventurous than I was with their orders. They ate crayfish, oysters, jambalaya, and even a deep fried crab! I don’t eat fish, so it took me a little longer to find something on the menu I would like. After dinner we waited in quite a long line for some delicious bagnettes and headed back to our camp site. Bagnettes are a french pastry, kind of like zeppoles but slightly larger. Aside from the mess of powdered sugar we made in the vans on our ride back to LESM, it was a great night. The group got to bed early so we would be well rested for our activities the next day.

I woke up bright and early this morning, ready to work, at 6:20 AM. After breakfast, we drove out to the house we would be working on for the week. At this point, the house is about ninety percent complete, so we mainly had odd jobs to perform. One of my favorite jobs was cutting and placing the trim for the walls because I got to use power tools to get the job done. I was one of the two people who’d used a band saw before, so I cut most of the trim and taught Dave and Kevin how to use the saw as well. It was a hard day’s work, but there’s still much more to be done.

Our construction supervisor, Rey, informed us that almost all of the funding is gone for Katrina relief. Therefore, it is up to the homeowner to provide funding for rebuilding. If the homeowner does not have sufficient funds to purchase the materials needed to keep working, everything stops. This was very frustrating to hear, but at least we are doing something to help out.

On a happier note, our group is awesome and has been getting along wonderfully! We soaked up some sun at the beach today and are planning a bonfire (with smores!) for later in the week. So far this trip has been a ton of fun as well as a real eye-opening experience. I’m looking forward to finishing more work tomorrow and getting the Clark family out of the FEMA trailer they’ve been living in for the past five years. After today, they are one more step closer to moving into their home!

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!

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.