Tuesday, June 29, 2010

June 29, 2010, Anna Garvey, student at Georgetown Visitation School in Washington, D.C., remembers her week with SBP

"Yeah, Yeah. Okay Dad! Yes, I have my bag! I need to go!" were the last things from my mouth as I slammed the door of my Dad's old car (which magically made me late for anything). The cool air of BWI airport was a great escape from the oven-like temperatures, as I was greeted by the familiar faces of my group and my boarding pass.  Landing 50 minutes earlier than expected at the Louis Armstrong International Airport, we were welcomed by spirited airport attendants. On our way over to Saint Bernard Parish, not only did the heat hit us, but so did our surroundings as we passed by the Superdome followed by hundreds of spray painted "X"s.  

By the time we arrived at Camp Hope for our first meal, we knew that the week was going to be an adventure.  Due to the BP workers staying at Camp Hope, we were bumped over to the Marina Motel. Right by Bayou Bienvenue the Marina Motel, turned out to be quite the humble abode for the week to come! Our alarms came very early Monday morning, but our excitement gave us a little boost out of bed. After we packed our lunches at Camp Hope we headed over to the Saint Bernard Project Office for our very informative orientation where we learned all about the flood and Saint Bernard Project. Shortly after we were shipped out to our houses! While one group headed around the block to work on a house with a fellow Visitation Alumni, Julia Alexander, the other group headed to a house a little further which belonged to Gerry Bierra. As we read his moving bio on the car ride over, we became excited and even a little nervous.  

We pulled up to a weathered yet cheerful pink and white home, and on the front porch was Gerry. The best way to describe Gerry would be as Santa Claus. His optimism, smile, and generosity taught us all valuable lessons throughout the 16 hours of paint chipping and power washing under the hot Southern sunshine. On our last day with Gerry he bought us all a huge lunch with his favorite (and now ours) french bread, followed by some of the best snowballs in the world from the ice cream truck. Gerry had touched us all from his inspiring stories, his personality, and even his special beignet recipe! Our next house, belonging to the McLuckey Family, was where we learned how to paint and texture the walls. Even without meeting the McLuckeys we learned so much from them by just working on their house. When we got tired and frustrated towards the end of the week, to keep us going we thought that if these people could go through this much the least we could do is finish painting a wall no matter how hot or tired we were.  

We not only learned how to chip paint and texture walls, but we learned about gratitude and how important it is to not take things for granted. After we spent our last night buying Mardi Gras beads and eating beignets from Cafe Du Monde, we came back to DC as 15 different girls than the girls we were a week ago. When my family pulled up to the airport, it struck me how blessed I was, and how important it was for me to never forget about how much can be taken from you so quickly. The most important thing isn't your house, your car, or even your cell phone, it's your family and a smile. Like Gerry said, "You're down but never out."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

June 24, 2010, DeWalt Tool Donation Ceremony

Hello St. Bernard Project followers! Hope you all like the new and improved blog. In the coming weeks we'll be adding more photos, more ways for volunteers to share their experiences with one another, and more ways to follow the ins and outs and happenings around the project. If you have any interest in contributing to the blog in the meantime, please let us know!

To get things started, this afternoon was an eventful day around the project and the Meshell home. As a result of our exciting new partnership with Stanley, Black & Decker and DeWalt tools, Deek DeBlieux (pictured left with founder Liz McCartney) and DeWalt came out for a dedication ceremony of  $40,000 worth of new tools selected from a wish list submitted by SBP. Shane Meshell and fiance Tina were out on hand to celebrate with nearly 200 volunteers over delicious mac and cheese and jambalaya graciously provided by DeWalt from local parish restaurant Tony's. 

We at SBP love the rare occasions when we get to celebrate with our three SBP MVPs, if you will: our homeowners, volunteers, and donors. We love to have opportunities like this to show both our sponsors and volunteers the amazing progress that results from a bit of hard work and generosity, and we definitely love great parish food and giving more to our homeowners.

Despite the blazing New Orleans heat-as well as the seemingly 100% humidity that our Head Runner, Chris Conley, jokes one could swim through-the event was a complete success. Deek reminded us of DeWalt's the homegrown roots and the Meshells moved one step closer to getting into their home. Believe us, the event was as fun as it looks. Hope to see some of you out at the next one!

From the office,
The Meshells, the DeWalt team, and Liz McCartney following the donation ceremony

Deek pointing the volunteers in the direction where he's from in New Orleans

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

June 16, 2010, Never What I Expected by Cesar Chavez High School Senior Joel Rivera

I expected to see a city similar to that in which I just came from. I mean, we spent all week leading up to the trip discussing the similarities between DC and New Orleans; I just assumed they wouldn’t be that much different. We discussed how ethnicity was similar, how the economy was similar, and more things of that nature. I could not imagine what I saw when the day finally came when I would be going to this grand city. I asked myself, “Am I at the right place?” A storm had devastated New Orleans, but at the same time, I have never seen a livelier city. The market, the quarter: they all presented a sort of vibrant aura to them.

It soon hit me that what I believed to be this great, happing city, actually still had a great deal of pain to hold to its name. We rode down to the most affected part in New Orleans, the lower 9th ward, realizing just how much more still needed to be done. People think New Orleans is all taken care of, but they only feel this way because it’s not mentioned in the news much anymore. That doesn’t mean the issue has been resolved though. Many of the people down here are scared to death that people outside the city have forgotten. That would mean there would be less and less people to help.

I can’t imagine what these people down here must’ve gone through. They must truly be a strong group not only to endure the storm and its affects, but also to not give up on their home. The people in New Orleans haven’t even considered to leave their past behind to look for a new house, because their home is too valuable for them to let go. I remember hearing a man talk about his experience post-Katrina; his house was destroyed, yet he was fortunate enough to have volunteers build him a house somewhere else. Then, a man asked him “how does it feel to be home again?” The victim replied “I’m not home. I have a very beautiful house, but I will never be home.” In leaving his previous house, he also left behind many beloved neighbors and friends that he won’t get to see anymore. A house is an essential need for living because of shelter, but someone will never be complete without a home.

As someone who’s been to New Orleans to help before, my reason for coming back is simple: I wanted to put a face on those that I help. I personally hate being forgotten myself, so I can fully grasp why someone would fear the chance of being left to suffer. My hope is by the year 2015 or so, New Orleans would be restored by more than 90%. It’s getting there thanks to all the great people at St. Bernard and all the volunteers. I want to see this town as it was in its glory days-in a time when it wasn’t scarred by nature. It’s a long, long road, but we’ll get there. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about this city, it is that it has heart.

Coming here I never would’ve suspected a place could change me this much. Working on all these different homes, I’ve learned to develop a leader in myself, but even more so, I have learned to connect with others and value everyone’s background and story. I have opened myself up and learned to accept everyone for who they are. I guess that is what living in a community is all about, a lesson that a city like New Orleans teaches quite well.

Friday, June 11, 2010

June 11, 2010, UNC Robertson Scholar reflects on the oil spill

As a student from the University of North Carolina, I came down to New Orleans this summer not having any idea what to expect. I thought I would see some areas still evidently recovering from Katrina, but that’s the only thing that crossed my mind. In reality, the vastness of these areas blew my mind, but I was equally, if not more, disturbed by the sudden realization that this oil spill is also destroying lives. Far too many lives.

The media really doesn’t talk much about the impact that the oil spill is having and will continue to have on the people who inhabit this area. I heard about how this spill was dangerous for our oceans and our beaches, and while not to discredit the seriousness of these, the primary issue is the danger and destruction it is bringing to the people. I don’t think America has any idea what these people in New Orleans are going through. I know I didn’t. And while I will never be able to say that I completely understand their pain, I now have seen a glimpse.

I have been humbled as I have had the privilege to speak with families who are fighting this very issue. To so many, the water is their livelihood. Not only is it a place where many find their income, but it is the place their families go for fun, where they go to escape. Some know nothing else but how to fish and some don’t feel comfortable anywhere but on the boat. These people are the most resilient people I have ever met. Katrina is still an issue for everyone here, one that they deal with every day, but at least there is a foreseeable end to recovery. This oil spill is unpredictable. People have not yet been able to consider what recovery looks like because they are still experiencing the disaster. It is this unpredictability of daily life in the midst of disaster that will stay with me and motivate me to continue to help the people of New Orleans even after I return to my safe, predictable life.