Friday, October 24, 2008

New Orleans Adventure: Day 7

Our last day of work is finished and we have made a decision to alter our original plans and begin home. As I type this last blog the cars are being loaded and last minute packing is being done. We will drive until about 9:30 or 10:00. It will help our day tomorrow and perhaps you will have a more coherent pastor on Sunday morning. I actually was handed the theme for my sermon last night as several homeowners came to have dinner with the teams that are working on their homes. Unfortunately our homeowner, Darlene and her daughters were unable to stay for dinner.

Today we were able to begin doing the siding that we expected to do as we headed south. It was a change of plans that we hadn't anticipated that forced us to do other type of work, but it was OK. It all needs done. We got one section of the house sided and the beginning boards and corner pieces put on 3 other segments. In addition another window was installed and the work continued on taping and mudding dry wall. Before we left we cleaned up and had a prayer of blessing upon the house. We prayed that the family would be able to return home soon and that they would find happiness and blessing within these walls.

Mark, the work coordinator here said that it would probably be Easter time before they get to move home. Part of that is that the holidays are pretty slow with workers and there will still need to be some finances arranged, especially at the end when things are getting finished up. They have to have a working bathroom and countertops to get a permit to re-enter the house. That means that most of the work has to be done before moving in.

We also got the word that the tables that we assembled earlier in the week will be distributed on
Saturday. The homeowners will come to the warehouse and get their tables. They are quite excited to finally have the tables and benches.

There is a dedication of a home this afternoon. We had talked of going to it, but with leaving, it is not to be. It is also not working to meet Melissa. She was having difficulty at the last minute finding a restaurant that could handle our group, even with breaking us into smaller segments. There is a music festival in town this weekend and it is especially busy. I regret not calling her before we left. She tried to offer us this gift and we were not able to receive it. We're hoping for next time.

Yes, we do hope there will be a next time. The need here is great and the blessing for us to be here is just a great.

Time for me to close. I will see you all on Sunday morning. I have so much to tell you, even if I have shared much during these last several days.



Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Orleans Adventure: Day 6

We have completed another day. The weather here has been damp and drippy, so we were not able to do much siding. The guys caught a dry spell this afternoon and put on the corners and starter board on one wall. Tomorrow it is predicted to be a sunny, delightful day, so we expect to really go to town. We will be able to stay busy on our last day here.

In the mean time (today) we got a LOT done on the inside of the house. We repaired several places in the drywall that needed some TLC, built a transition between the older part of the house and a new addition, reinstalled the drywall that we had to take off yesterday and framed in the windows in that room with drywall. Lots of taping, mudding and finishing work was accomplished, as well, and the whole house just had a sense of coming together! It was quite fun to see. Every little bit, different of us would take a break and walk around to see how much more had been accomplished. Each time there was quite a bit new to see.

There were 2 neighbors who we connected with today. One was angry about us putting garbage on his lawn--he is not living in the house and it was more out of our way. The other came to thank us for our assistance. What a comparison! Around the block on which Darlene lives there are only 3 or 4 out of about 10 houses where any are living or working. After 3 years there are still so many empty neighborhoods!

Right now several of our group are preparing dinner. It is our turn tonight. (We also took a turn at cleaning the common space here the other day. With everyone taking turns doing the chores, this community functions pretty well.

Our homeowner, Darlene came by a bit ago so we could meet her. She is about 36 years old (or so). She brought her 7th grade daughter, Anjone, and she also has a 17 year old daughter, Ariel. Anjone is really anxious to get back to her own house. They are living with a friend right now and it is pretty cramped. Darlene works for Tulane University. She told us about the several contractors who have victimized the neighborhood, some of them doing a bit of work, and others simply taking the money that was demanded up front and running. We were told of a 65 year old neighbor who was taken for her life savings of $65,000. Can you imagine losing everything you had spent your life working for --several times over? We were thanked many times over for our assistance. She left her address and e-mail address with me, so we can stay in touch.

While I have time, I want to tell you about this community. We have dorm style sleeping, and the mattresses are quite hard. Those are the more challenging aspects of our accomodations. PDA provides ear plugs for those who are bothered by snorers!!!

This building used to be a church with a day care center. The church disbanded before Katrina and the Disaster Program purchased (or leased) it from the Presbytery. The church itself has a dining area and kitchen that feeds us. There is also a room with tv and a few easy chairs and a couch. That's the place where some gather for the evening. The day care center is across the lawn, and it has been remodeled into dorms. They can accomodate more than 80 people. They are almost full right now. Each dorm room has a bathroom and a sink area with mirror and two sinks. Behind the dorm (with a wooden walkway connecting it are 2 semi trailers. One is the shower trailer. In it there is a men's section with 4 stalls and a women's section with equal number of stalls. In the middle is a wash room with 4 sinks and mirror for doing hair, shaving, and getting beautiful!! Across the wooden walk way is a smaller trailer that is a toilet trailer. Flush!!! There is a washer and dryer right inside the door and then 2 sections, men's and women's. There are 4 toilets in the women's section and I'm told that the men also have 4 accomodations. It's quite acceptable and is only minimally roughing it.

Tomorrow morning Kathy W. needs to fly out to attend a confirmation for her granddaughter in Minneapolis. We will miss her.

Ok, that's about all I know tonight. We are having fun, but look forward to getting home soon, too. We hear it's cold up there. 70 -80 degrees here, even with the rain.

Take care,


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New Orleans Adventure: Day 5

Hurray!! We finally got to work at the house that we have been waiting for. The Woman's name is Darlene and, while we haven't met her yet, we know a bit about her story. She lives in the upper 9th ward. The water came to about 12 inches into the house (the foundation was about 3 feet to the porch and floor level of the house,so it was up 4 feet in that neighborhood. The devastation of the storm was only the first part of her problems, though. She has been living with her sister all this time since the storm in 2005. There are 15 people living in that house. We don't know if she has children or not, so that is something we hope to find out tomorrow.

The second part of the troubles came when looters stripped the plumbing from the house for the copper. It amounts to another $6000 worth of damage. The insurance company has effectively declared the damage flood related, and so there was no payment with the exception of the looting damage which they will take care of.

The third insult on the top of the devastation is that Darlene paid a subcontractor to put in new windows of her house and begin some drywall work. This person did an incredibly shabby job. They left great gapping holes that allowed rain water to seep into the house. (You could put an entire fist through about 4 places. This person went ahead and did some dry wall work in that room which then became soaked with water and became moldy. Yuck. She has had a rough time of it.

Today we arrived at the house about 10:00. We had to get tools and equipment at the warehouse before arriving. We divided into crews. Bob, Bonnie, Kevin, and Carolyn began facing the foundation with plywood and putting kevlon along it all in preparation for the siding. Kathy W, Marjorie, Retha, Jackie and Kathi B. began mudding drywall, and Julio, JoAnn, Pat and I worked on the windows. We needed to take off the drywall in the front room (where the subcontractor had done such shabby work), remove the windows and frame them in correctly.

Those projects took all day. But what a difference it made. I have before and after photos so you will be able to see our hard work. It was more overcast today, so it was pretty comfortable to be working outside. We had to run to a Subway or Burger King to use the bathroom. So many houses here are vacant, and not a thing has been done since the storm. We were also instructed to be very careful of our tools. We were told that, without a doubt, people were watching us, and they would try the doors to see if they could help themselves. We locked things in a tool chest when we left and hid a generator so it wouldn't be readily found. People are desperate and in such a mind set any source of a leg up is taken. That means that crimes of property theft are rampant.

We also used our Lowes gift card today. It will take about $24,ooo to put this house together again. Darlene has about $6000 that she has put aside (not sure from where she got it--FEMA or other sources). The Presbyterian Church has approved her for a grant of $6000, and so our $1291 (and that of other people who come behind us) will hopefully fill in the gap. We purchased enough siding (hardyboard) to side the portion of the house that is yet in need. The front part will need to be painted to cover up the spray painted sign that was left after the storm. The point being that the greater need was to get the house habitable so the family could move back in. They will be able to resid the front portion later.

One last story I need to tell. At one point a black man stopped by and told us that people are telling that we had committed a crime. We were a bit taken aback, so he continued that it was being said that we were commiting acts of love! He assured us that we would be found guilty and convicted to life without parole. He was a local pastor. He then went on to quote us a poem he had written and gave us a copy that he signed to our church. The part that became a bit frustrating was when he just kept on talking and talking and the other gals left me to deal with him and they went back to work!!! Thanks a lot, Gals. Finally after about 15 or 20 minutes he left to lead a few of our girls to his church so they could use the facilities. It was an adventure, for sure.

Tonight it is raining a bit, so we are glad to be in a place with a solid roof. The time has passed so quickly. Only 2 ore days to get as much done as we can. We hope to meet Melissa Bonnett on Friday night and then we head for home on Saturday morning--5:00 AM.

Take care back there. We will be home soon with lots more to tell.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

New Orleans Adventure: Day Four

Well, I know you have been worrying all day to hear how Kathy W. reacted to her short sheeted sleeping bag. ---- She didn't even realize that she had been the victim of our "3rd grade first night at camp" prank. She just thought that the sheet had gotten wound up and pulled it out of the bagat about 3:00 AM!!! Ah well, such as life!

Today all 13 of us went back to the warehouse and assembled tables. This time we had the tools we needed and actually re-engineered several tables to make them come together. It worked that we needed to put finished legs and brace bars on unfinished tables. Then some of the gals put Danish oil based stain on the unfinished portions to make them match. We finished all the tables!!!! Considering what the project looked like when we began, it felt only slightly less miraculous than feeding 5000 with only 7 loaves and 2 fish! The project manager was thrilled. They have been working on it for quite some time and they had assumed it would take all week and still have some to do. We're GOOD!

The exciting part is that they have decided to give us a table and two benches for us to bring home to Illinois and finish and donate to a family that was affected by the flooding. We have been playing with ideas for how we can use it to raise awareness and generate interest in the work being done here in New Orleans. Julio will bring it home in his car. The tables really are quite nice. It will be exciting to show you all that we did.

We finished up around 2:00. We assembled 66 tables and shrink wrapped another 14 complete sets for sending out as needed.

In the afternoon (after we cleaned up) we took a tour of the Katrina devastation. The table project manager took 9 of us gals and showed us the area. The guys and Bonnie decided to skip that tour and wander around the French Quarter. They enjoyed some oysters on the half shell while waiting for us. Then we all ate a wonderful dinner at Landry's Seafood Restaurant. Melissa Bonnett suggested it, and it was wonderful. Then we wandered down Bourbon Street. WOW what a different world it seems to be along that bit of real estate. We took photos, so we will share a tiny bit of the atmosphere, but one really needed to be here to get a feel for it,

One of our signature moments occured when we walked toward Bourbon Street and passed under a tree. Jackie, Bonnie, Kathy B. and I all caught some pigeons bombs. I imagine those birds are still laughing up in that tree.

We've had a fun trip thus far. We will begin the siding project tomorrow morning. It is hardy board. Does that sound right? They say it's heavy, I'll know more tomorrow.

I have to report a bit about last night. We girls caught the giggles and it was a rocking and rolling evening. We laughed until our sides hurt and then we laughed some more. It's not something that we can even relate, but the silliness felt good. It was good for the soul!!!

God is good. We are blessed by this trip and we are blessed with the opportunity to know one another better. We look forward to telling you more when we get home. Hope you are having a good week.

Time for sleep. Joyce

Monday, October 20, 2008

Day 3 of the New Orleans Adventure.

Today was the first work day of our time here in New Orleans. The plan had been for 10 of us to go work at siding a house and 3 to do some organization and inventory at PDA's (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance) warehouse. After orientation we discovered that the owner of the house to be sided had not yet completed the paperwork for having us come. Instead of siding, the 10 of us worked in a warehouse to construct dining room tables. It seems that several months ago a furniture maker from Pennsylvania noted that the families that have been living in FEMA trailers now have homes, but little or no furniture. He went home and with his association of wood workers built a bunch of dining room tables and benches. As they arrived here there was a mishap and the tables fell off the trailer. They were not damaged, at least not many of them, but in the process of cleaning up, they were totally mixed up. The legs and tops and bottom rails were mixed up. Our process was to find complete tables and put them together. It sounds reasonably easy, right? WRONG. Some of the tables were well marked with the crafter's initials and parts numbered, but many others had little identification. We also found many legs that were stained and they seemed to go with tops that were not stained. It was quite frustrating. We eventually found a system of putting all the initialled pieces in piles according to the crafter and then trying to put them together. Julio was pretty successful at making things fit and pretty soon we all got into the act. We managed to put together about 30 tables. That doesn't seem like so many, but the manager was quite impressed since they had only put together about 12 over 2 weekends.

The other group, JoAnn, Pat and Jackie got the warehouse organized and put tools back on shelves. They sure are talking a lot about the cute kid who was the manager. A couple of them say they have his phone number on speed dial!

Tomorrow it seems we will continue with the dining room tables. They will get us some more tools and we will make the parts fit!!!!! We will also begin working on the benches and even stain them. All 13 of us will go that direction, I think. They seem to think that the house will be ready for us by Wednesday. That might be OK since it got quite warm today and by Wednesday it will be overcast and cooler.

Here siding means some really heavy stuff--it has to be heavy to survive future hurricanes. We might be in for some hard work.

Today was our turn to do devotions after breakfast and dinner. That chore is behind us. We realized that the dinner group had worked all day and not had a chance to shower before doing their cooking. Several of us finished up for them so they could hit the showers. They were quite tired, and it was great that so many people from the community here volunteered to help. There are about 80 of us from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, as well as some other places.

We're having great fun. Kathy W. doesn't know it yet, but just a bit ago some of the gals..... NOT ME........ short sheeted her sleeping bag. You might think that is pretty hard to do, but they managed. I'll let you know how it goes! We have been laughing a lot, and are enjoying meeting others here at the village.

Time for some sleep. I'll check in with you all tomorrow night. I hope you are having a good week.

Blessings. Joyce

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Day 2: We have arrived!

New Orleans Adventure.

It's day two and we arrived at Olive Tree Village about 4:30 pm. no major issues on the road. The only issue being one or two last minute exits by the lead car with those following needing to change lanes very quickly to get off the interstate. We will be giving Julio a hard time over a couple of those maneuvers.

Staying over night at the Batesville, Mississippi church was great fun, even if not especially restful! Did you know that 13 air mattress make a lot of noise when 13 bodies roll over all night. It was also quite cool, so we appreciated our warm sleeping bags. The congregation was so gracious. They brought in breakfast--yes, they know how to make breakfast casserole, too, and they also brought cheese grits. They were actually quite good. I don't know if we can get the recipe for the Fifth Sunday Breakfast Crew or not. Ok, just kidding! Worship this morning was good. Their pastor offered a wonderful message and everyone thanked us for coming to be with them

The last 23 miles into New Orleans is a huge bridge over swamp. It makes me think of the stories of the many people who tried to walk out of New Orleans after the hurricane to be met by police departments who stopped them because of fears of looting. With the swamps those people would be effectively stranded.

In arriving here we have established ourselves in the dorms. The facilities are quite hospitable. We have bunk beds, but only 3 of us younger gals are on the top. We had to fight JoAnn for the privelege! We've had our first meal--grilled hamburgers and hotdogs and the fixins. It was good. We will be going out on the town on Tuesday night. They encourage us to experience the city. We will call Melissa Bonnett and perhaps we can meet her either Tuesday or Friday.. A local caterer will make us a cajun meal on Wednesday, so that will be fun.

Tomorrow morning we begin right after an orientation with the work coordinator at 9:00. Ten of us will be doing siding and 3 will be working in the warehouse doing some inventory and putting together dining room tables. Most of us have never done siding, so it will be a sharp learning curve. I hope the guys are ready for this!!!

I'm learning about the people in our group. Did you know that JoAnn is quite funny! My son, Kevin has joined us. He's having fun and enjoying teasing us all. Maybe the people here will learn more about me, too!

Anyway we are thinking of you and I will write more tomorrow. Blessings. Joyce

Monday, October 6, 2008

The mission team that is headed to New Orleans met yesterday, October 5 to make some decisions regarding our travel in two weeks. We will be meeting at the church at 6:00 AM on October 18th, with the goal to be on the road at 6:30. Our overnight stop will be Batesville, Mississippi where we will be the guests of Batesville Presbyterian Church. Their pastor, Rev. Karen Brostrom-O'Brien will lead an early worship that we will attend before heading south to Olive Tree Village, a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance facility.

At this point it looks like 13 people will be headed south to work for one week. Those going from our church are myself, Joyce Basler, Kathy Wheeler, Pat Hayden, JoAnn Watson, Jackie Flynn, Bob and Bonnie Harksen, Carolyn and Julio Garcia, and Kathi Barnes. Joining us are Retha Bender, Jackie's daughter, Kevin Basler, my son, and Marjorie Johnson, one of the Sewing Gals, "The Cover Girls."

We're looking forward to a wonderful adventure. Stay tuned for more as we get closer. It is my plan to post each day as we work in New Orleans. We leave on the 18th and will return home on the 25th.

Pray for the homes and families that we will work with. We will be taking cash resources to assist on these homes. You may still add to that assistance by marking your gift "New Orleans"