Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Orleans Mission Trip--Day Five--2009

We're still at it! Our efforts here in New Orleans are beginning to come together to make quite a difference in this little house. Today we moved well into the kitchen with the new tile. Jim discovered some high spots in the concrete which will need knocked down before we can continue. A crew of Betty, Greg, Kathi and Patty began grouting what we had already done. It looks really nice. My effortswere centered on fixing some broken drywall in a closet and then moving forward on the mudding. I think we are 90% done with the mudding and I began the final sanding along one wall. It looks doubtful that we will be able to do any priming. We still have some work to do. and the goal is to get as much of the tile laid as possible. We can't lay tile in the same room where we are also trying to paint. Noelle, the construction manager for the house, says that she would much rather have us get the mudding done and as much of the tile laid as possible. She is really pleased with our progress, and with the quality of the work we are doing. (Of course she likely tells every group of volunteers that they are the best!!) We're not quite ready to hire out, but then again......?)

Today we are all discovering new muscle groups that are being tested. Ouch! It has been a good experience, but we will be happy to head for home soon. The car with Kathi, Patty, Jim and I will not head north until Saturday morning, we decided. We leave here at 3:30 AM, and will drive straight through. I think it will work just fine. On Sunday morning I promise to be there in body and to tell a few stories of our experiences. Tomorrow evening we will go to have a look at the house we worked on last year. We'll bring a picture of that, too.

The decision was made regarding the Lowe's gift card that we brought. Did you know that we managed to collect $905. That's so wonderful! It will be used to purchase interior doors and baseboards for the house. Noelle thinks it will be sufficient for that purpose, and that will keep the house on track for a Thanksgiving homecoming for the this family. I have been calling our homeowner "Angelique." Oops. Her name is really Antoinette! (Well, both of them sound French and both begin with A. That's the best I can do to explain it!)

We have not gotten to meet Antoinette. She is out of town this week for a funeral. We are still hoping for tomorrow, but we will see what happens. Tonight several of the homeowners came for supper. They spoke a bit about their experience. All I can say is WOW. Those of you in worship on Sunday morning will hear a bit about their stories.

We have really enjoyed the other volunteers here at Olive Tree. It's been such a great experience. Our Presbyterian experience has grown with friends from Pennsylvania, Oregon, North Carolina and Florida.

Well, I think there is a hot game of Scrabble waiting on me, so I think I will run. I don't know if you will hear from me tomorrow night or not. I will see you all on Sunday, though!

Be well. Blessings!


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Orleans Mission Trip--Day Four--2009

Our day, which promised to be in the 80s never quite made it. It was very pleasant this morning, but this afternoon the wind came up, and the clouds danced across the sky promising rain. That's the forecast for tomorrow and Friday. (I wonder how the weather has been at home?)

We continue on our projects. We were able to put on another coat of mud. I'm actually very pleased with my growing ability to get it pretty smooth. Tomorrow we need to add yet another coat to some areas and then we hope to prime coat the livingroom and kitchen area on Friday morning. They are hoping that Angelique can get into her home by Thanksgiving. They haven't told her that, though, because there's still several things that will need to get done. We haven't met her yet. Still hoping for that.

Kathi put grout between the tiles in the bathroom and they set the toilet. They continued to move forward, tiling down the hall and will enter the kitchen tomorrow. That will be easier since less cutting will be involved. Jim, we discover is a perfectionist. He's not as happy with the tile, because he knows where the problems are, but I sure can't tell. The problem is that the entire house is this same tile and the bedrooms don't flow perfectly into the hallway. The tile seems to have been purchased in 2 different lots because there are very small differences in the measurement. That adds to the difficulty.

We learned today that Presbyterian Disaster Services (PDA) has completed 742 homes right here in New Orleans in the last 4 years. That doesn't count the homes in other parts of the Katrina area. It also doesn't count the homes where they mucked out and then the owner took over or where they helped with some aspect of the work to move the process along. They will be here through 2010, and then a decision will be made about whether the village will continue and in what way. This is where a portion of our One Great Hour of Sharing money has gone these last few years. I don't know about the others in our group. But it makes me proud to be Presbyterian! The amount of work yet to be done down here is staggering. So many homes vacant and sitting sadly destroyed in the aftermath of the storm.

The house where we are working sits a block from a HUGE apartment project (probably subsidized housing through the government) that is completely empty and destroyed. To get to Angelique's place we have to drive past about 5 blocks of these destroyed ghost apartments. The belongings still litter the rooms with windows broken, bricks falling loose and huge holes in the sides. They have put up a 10 foot fence around the complex, but we can still get in to look around. These apartment buildings stand on both sides of the streets to remind any who might forget for a moment that a whole city's way of life has been destroyed. Pretty depressing.!

On the other side of that issue, we took a short tour at lunch time when our construction assistant, Austin, who is a young adult volunteer with the Presbyterian Church, took us to a Barbeque place to eat. We went by the neighborhood in the lower 9th ward where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are funding the rebuilding. That neighborhood is growing quickly. Since we saw it last year there are a ton more houses. These structures are ultra modern with eco-friendly solar electricity, and other energy saving features. They are up on stilts and are very nice. There are signs all around down here suggesting that Brad Pitt should be mayor. He's very popular.

It's good to see the new growth, and that is the bright spot against the tremendous need we see. Of course they say that only about half of the residents returned to New Orleans. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years here in this city.

Tonight we are helping to prepare dinner. We signed up on the night that a professional cook comes to fix a typical cajun meal, sausage and chicken gumbo with bread pudding for desert. I enjoyed it very much.

See you soon.


Day 3--New Orleans Mission--2009

OK, I missed you all last night because we went out on the town and got back to the Village in time to hit the bed. It wouldn't have been very coherent, anyway.

Yesterday was a really productive day. Jim arrived on MOnday evening and we hit the day running. Jim took over as our project leader, and he knows quite a lot about ceramic tile and dry walling, so with his assistance we made better progress. He took Greg B.'s spot and Greg became the master tile cutter. Betty graduated to painting a wrought iron gate that goes over a door. Patty and I continued with dry wall. We got another coating of mud on and it is looking better. The tilers got the bathroom and hallway completed.

We quit about 3:00 and hit the showers before heading to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. What a lively place, even in the afternoon. A greeter from one of the establishments worked really hard to entice Betty into his drinkery. She kept walking, though, even as we all giggled with her. It was great fun. At another place a working lady wearing fish net, with fabric in strategic places, was standing in the doorway. We kept on walking, spotting her with peripheral vision. Bourbon Street IS NOT Milan!

Then it was time to head to Melissa's. She has a cute little apartment in a wonderful older home in the Garden district of New Orleans. We all went to Jacquesamois. (We are argueing about the spelling, but you get the idea.) The food was wonderful, and the conversation was good. Patty wants you to know that we had alligator cheese cake!!! Yes, we really did. It was made like cheese cake, but with alligator sausage and shrimp. It was more of a savory appetizer than a dessert. It was really quite good, but very rich. A little went a long way!!!

This morning as I type, it promises to be a warm day. I am working to find the address of the house on which we worked last year so we can go and take a photo before we leave. We are surrounded by good people here. One of the groups brought homemade quilts for all the homeowners with whom we are working. We selected a wonderful green and pink comforter that will go to Angelique. We have yet to meet her. We're still hopeful to meet her later in the week.

OK. It's time for me to close so I can catch my ride to the work site. Hope you are all well. I will try to post tonight again. It is our turn to cook tonight, sooooooo.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Day 2--New Orleans Mission Trip, 2009

Our first day of work is now complete. We've all discovered new talents! Betty is the master of the tile cutter! She has an affinity for power equipment that can slice through those ceramic tiles like a warm knife through butter. This is a water flow cutter, so she got quite wet as she sliced the tile. Tomorrow she will not wear sneakers that get wet quite early and are a bit uncomfy for the rest of the day. Kathi and Greg discovered the gift of laying those tile. The entire house will be floored with ceramic tile. The three bedrooms are already completed, but the master bath was the accomplishment for these three.

We had orientation for the work this morning and then we all had a lesson on putting down the tile. After that, as Greg and Kathi and Betty went to work, Patti and I worked at mudding some dry wall. We discovered our own talents as we put down another layer of the mud and then put some tape on a corner. We also worked on cutting a piece of dry wall for the ceiling above the thought it might be. Tomorrow we continue with more of the same.

Jim arrived this evening--just in time for dinner, and then it was our turn to clean the bathrooms and showers. Tomorrow we are on the schedule to prepare breakfast. Biscuits and sausage gravy is on the menu.

Our home is a pleasant brick structure in the Desire section of New Orleans. The owner is a single mom who has a developmentally disabled 21 year old son and an older daughter. The young man is living in Baton Rouge until he can come home again.

This woman's name is Angelique. She had hired a contractor to work on the house, but the work was quite shabby and her finances don't allow another contractor. There is another snafu, as well. She bought this house several years before Katrina from HUD. After the flood she discovered that she did not qualify for governmental assistance because the house had formerly been on a landfil that was deemed toxic. The government bought all the houses and removed dirt, brought in new dirt, and then sold the houses once again. She did not know the history of the neighborhood--she was never told since it was deemed safe once more. BUT it remains on a list that deems it environmentally unsafe. The same government that sold it to her and claimed it was safe, is now refusing to help her because it was on the unsafe list. She tried all sorts of avenues to get that decision changed, but to no avail. Seems a bit backwards, doesn't it. Keep in mind, she doesn't have to move or to do anything--she just can't get assistance from the same government who sold it to her in the first place!

In addition, Angelique has recently been diagnosed with some very significant health problems. We don't know whether we will get to meet her or not. The construction manager here said that she was so overwhelmed at the idea that complete strangers would come to help her. The home has only been on PDA's list for a few weeks. When Angelique came to apply she was sure she wold be denied and cried when they told her they would help. She said she had forgotten how to hope for good news. She has received so much bad news lately.

OK. I think that's enough for tonight. Hope everything is going well there. Blessings.


We Have Arrived -- New Orleans Mission 2009 Day One

We arrived yesterday and I had troubles with the computer. I actually typed a blog entry and then pushed send. It was only tonight (Monday) that I realized that it did not go. DRAT!

So here's a brief update of yesterday's entry.

Kathi, Patty and Joyce made the trip with relative ease. Our only surprise came when we were ushered off the interstate (along with everyone else) at Festus MO. It was probably an accident ahead. (Hopefully no one was hurt too badly). The GPS that Pat Hayden loaned us was going nuts trying to get us to make a U-turn and get back onto the interstate. We had to put it to sleep for a while and try to find an alternative route back to the interstate. We found a county road that was about 10 miles south and about 10 miles back to the interstate. (When we turned the GPS back on, it told us great annoyance, that one couldn't get there from where we were!!!) The problem with our route was that it had hairpin curves and steep ups and downs. Trees were canopied over the highway, and it was quite beautiful. It took us about 45 minutes to make that little detour, and Kathi did a great job in managing the road. We all thought we heard dueling banjos at times, so it was good to see the interstate ahead and to be able to get back on.

We stayed overnight at Batesville, Mississippi. This is the place where we stayed last year. This time we did the motel thing and then went for Sunday worship at the Presbyterian Church there. It was a really good message. The pastor talked about how Christ did the sacrificeing for us and became a mediator of God's love for us. We are called to mediate that love for others, which means attempting to understand them. It reminded us that this is what we are doing here in New Oreleans--attempting to understand what others are going through and bringing God's love to them and to experience it for ourselves in the process.

When we arrived here, Greg and Betty showed up soon. Debbie is staying to see Melissa for the week. We have about 45 people here, and there are groups from Oregon, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and us from IL. We got our chore assignments and they did a brief orientation.

After supper I had problems with the computer, but I thought I had gotten on and sent my blog--NOT. A guy from Oregon who works with computers helped me to get things straightened out. He made several suggestions, and now it is running quite a bit better. Hurray!

OK. It's about time for supper, so I will close for now and report a bit later about our first day of work. Check back later this evening.

Take care. Joyce

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mission Team Heading to New Orleans for Second Year

Six members of First Presbyterian Church are headed to New Orleans on October 17th. Two cars are traveling independently with a slightly different plan for arrival. Joyce, Kathi and Patty are going to stop along the way. Greg (along with his wife Debbie) and Betty are driving straight through, planning to arrive in New Orleans in time to have dinner with Greg and Debbie's daughter, Melissa. Jim will fly down to meet us on Monday evening.

We're gearing up and making plans. We should hear our assignment today sometime. We're hoping for something other than finishing dry wall, but if that is what is needed, we're the team!!!

Stay tuned for more details and the adventures to come.


Monday, January 12, 2009

A Night in a Homeless Shelter: A Timid Volunteer's First Experience.

On a night in December, one of the coldest of the year (the thermometer dipped well below zero), the police reported that at least 14 people slept outside, in cars and make shift accomodations. The Quad City's shelters were full and bursting at the seams. King's Harvest, a downtown ministry to the most downtrodden in our society stepped up to the plate and announced that if they could get overnight volunteers they would provide the warm space needed. Another agency provided cots, pillows and blankets, a meeting was called to address the need and I (and Carolyn Garcia) became the first wave of responders. The following is an account of my experience on the overnight of Jan. 8/9, 2009.

8:30--I arrive at King's Harvest (3rd Street and Warren), to discover my co-volunteer and Claude, the building's care-taker conferring and setting up. We place our things and walk through some dos and don'ts for the evening. The don'ts seemed pretty self-explanatory: no alcohol to be brought in, no food to be eaten there--it might cause reason for a scuffle. no weapons--look through bags and store for the evening anything that looks dangerous. No giving money or rides the next day. No co-mingling of men and women. Do call 911 at any sign of a problem. Do call Salvation Army if children should show up. The men are beginning to gather at the door.

9:00 -- A camera man from Channel 8 News shows up to do a story on the shelter. He asks some initial questions and my co-volunteer is snagged for an interview. Terri, the manager of this ministry shows up to help open the doors and is also interviewed. The door opens at 9:00 promptly and 3 at a time are allowed entrance. Each person signs in and their sheet is pulled. If they have not been there before they sit in a chair in the corner of the room while others are admitted. The cameraman shoots from behind the men. No one wants to be on TV.

9:30 -- a verbal altercation breaks out between an African man and another. The African asks Terri to call the police because the other man has just pulled the first guy's wallet out of his pack, and recognizing it, the African wants to file charges. The activity level is intense, but not frightening. Terri holds the wallet and calls the police who are there in minutes. They take a report from the first man and by this point the second has left. I'm not sure what happens to the wallet.

9:45 -- we now have time to do admit forms for the 4 new guys. By this point 1 woman and 18 men have arrived. The questions we are asking these men deal with physical and mental health, addiction and legal issues that might impact their stay. I was embarrassed to be asking such personal questions, but they were not bothered at all. My co-volunteer reads them the rules and has them sign that sheet. The men go into the other room and claim a bunk with a pillow and blanket.

10:00 --several men begin asking for their 10 minute cigarette break. It's not time, (they are suppose to do it at 10:30, but because one of the guys is ill and just wants to sleep, Terri allows them to take it early. About 8 file outside to puff on the last cigarette of the day. A couple of them share a hand rolled cigarette( many of them seem to be rolling their own tobacco. I suppose it is cheaper.) I put the correct dates on the men's forms, make sure all are signed in legibly and refile the forms.

10:30 -- One man asks to use the phone and he calls his son. When he emerges he apologizes and tells us that his son needs him, and he will be leaving the shelter at 11:00 to take care of family business. My co and I realize that the room set up for us might be warmer than the main entranceway, but the aroma is pretty pungent from the sleepers in the connecting room. We decide to move our chairs to the entranceway. We can still see the guys coming and going to the bathroom and can monitor activity that way.

10:45-- Another man decides to leave. He will not be allowed to come back. When he is informed of that, he says, OK and departs. The man who is to leave at 11:00 comes to the entrance way and talks to us in a very machismo, exagerated manner. By 11:00 he is agitated that his son has not come to get him and begins to talk about kicking the 17 year old's butt. He makes another phone call and reports that he will have to walk to his son's house where he will let himself in because he has a key which he shows us. He spends about 10 minutes getting himself ready to exit into the night, rolling a couple cigarettes, talking about no one locking him out of his own kid's house, adjusting his sweatshirt, gloves and coat and generally stalling.

11:00 -- most of the men are asleep and the woman is in her area settling in, as well. Some are talking quietly, but when we tell them it is time for quiet, they go to their bunks and settle in.

12: 00 --we talk and watch the activity outside the glass door of the entrance. The door is locked. The entrance is a bit drafty, but not really cold. We talk. I begin writing a sermon. It begins to snow and we watch it sift down as people come and go at the bar across the street.

1:00 --the men are snoring, they made frequent trips to the bathroom, one or two are talking in their sleep.

2:00-- a man wants in. He has just gotten off work. We decide he should be allowed entry since he tells us his name, and he does have a sheet that signifies he has stayed here before. Upon entrance he tells us he just got off work from the 2nd shift and had to walk here from some distance. We sign him in and he goes to get some sleep.

3:00 -- the hard part of the evening has arrived. Both of us tell the other to take a nap, but other than a few minutes of closing our eyes, neither are able to sleep. We have both been snacking on things we brought as well as drink.

4:00 -- We wake the first guy up so he can walk to work. We look up the address after he leaves into the falling snow. We calculate he will need to walk about 7 miles before beginning his day's work. What an exhausting day!

5:00 -- Between 5:00 and 6:00 we need to awaken 3 other guys so they can walk to work, as well. We determine that about 10 of these guys are employed and will put in a full shift without benefit of breakfast, shower or comfortable sleeping. The aroma has become even more pungent as we walk between the cots to find the right guy to awaken.

6:00 -- I am exhausted, and have taken to doodling to keep myself going. Only another half hour before we wake everyone up.

6:30-- time to wake up. I awake the gal first because she wanted to remove her jeans to sleep, and I thought she would like a head start to make sure she was up and moving before the men began to move about and put the cots away in her area. Most of the men are slow to move. A couple of them are sitting on the edge of their cots pulling on t-shirts, and trying to wake up. I am uncomfortable helping the male volunteer in that area. So he brings me the blankets and pillows and I fold them while he moves the cots. Some of the men help, others have all they can do to move their bodies forward. Several leave immediately, and as they leave we give them a large prepackaged peanut butter cookie. (I guess it's breakfast.) At one point a guy takes about 4 and stuffs them into his bag. I tell him I am only suppose to give 1 to each of them. He then removes all 4 with an air of hurt pride and refuses to take even the one he is entitled to. He tells me that several of the other departing guys have already taken more than 1 and he will give up his cookie to make sure the others have enough. I think it was important to him, so I let it go.

7:00 -- the woman has been asking multiple times about the bus. She has a sprained wrist and tells me that she is prone to seizures and with the cold she doesn't know how she is going to get to the bus station where she will spend much of her day. She is obviously angling for a ride. I tell her that we have been given strict instructions that we are not to give rides. She says she understands, but she simply doesn't know how she will get there. She is afraid she will pass out with the cold. Eventually she leaves with the others. I don't know what she will do. I feel guilty and selfish for not taking her anyway, but I also know that there is a pretty good chance that she has learned to manipulate and that her situation is not nearly as dire as she might like for me to believe.

It is time for me to go. I am exhausted. I want a shower and to wash my clothes. I feel very sad for the people who slept at King's Harvest. Many either have addiction or mental health, problems. They don't seem angry or menacing, but neither are they happy. They were very courteous, and smiled as they wished me a good day. As I left in the early morning chill (The sun is not yet fully up), these people are moving towards their places for the day. Several have work. Others an agenda of staying warm someplace. None of them have had a shower. Many have filthy clothes and only a peanut butter cookie to provide body warmth beneath their multi-layered coats and clothes. King's Harvest will provide a noon meal for many and most will be back for the evening. One man said when asked about his day, "I don't know. I'll just see how the day goes." What a way to think about one's day! It makes me so very appreciative of my own place to live and work, of hot water, food, friends, and comfort.

Neither the men nor the one woman frightened me, although I didn't feel very comfortable with them. I will return on the 29th of January and I will probably sign up for more evenings in February. I need to do my part to make sure they don't have to sleep outside in such weather. I think it is important. I wonder if I met Christ in the faces of one of these people. I can't say I recognized him if I did, but I hope he recognized me and that I am trying. I have encouraged people in worship to step out of their comfort zone in order to serve our Lord. This is me practicing what I preach. It felt pretty good.