Friday, May 23, 2008

Carter Work Project reflections

Now that I've been back at work for almost a week, the bruises and scratches are healing and I feel like I can talk a little bit about the experienceI had last week. To put it succinctly, it was amazing! There were people from all over the world that came together in several sites along the Gulf Coast to work on housing projects contributing to the rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. I spent the week in Biloxi doing what they call a "build blitz" -an entire new house done in a week. Well, it was actually only mostly done by the end of the week - rain the two last days slowed up down and there were some timing issues with contractors that delayed our work inside the house but we did manage to get the exterior completely done in the 5 days we had which was still pretty amazing.

I haven't gone thru my pictures yet, but will put some up eventually. Instead, I have a link to my appearance on the local news in Mississippi. Please keep in mind that this was the 4th day out on site, it had been raining all morning and I never got more than 5 hours sleep each night I was there. Do not get blinded by my beauty - HAH! I never like to see myself in pictures (or on tv) but I have to say that I'm fairly happy with my ability to sound somewhat intelligent and not come off as completely ridiculous.

My house crew was really great - mostly AmeriCorps members from other Habitat affiliates all over the country (and mostly folks who work on the construction sites every day), but also some folks from the Biloxi area and other volunteers. Oddly enough, I had one volunteer on my crew who was from Kansas City - and she's actually come to my office and been thru our volunteer orientation before! We chuckled about that and had a great time the first few days while she and her daughter were there. One of the really cool things about my site was that we had some executives from one of the big casino/hotels in town out on the site. We had no idea who they were - everyone was just working on getting the house done and getting along great until lunch time on the first rainy day and all of a sudden a large number of fresh hot pizzas were delivered to the site. It turned out that one of our guys was actually the CEO of the hotel and he bought lunch for everyone! I did feel a little bad that the other sites watched us eating pizza while they were still waiting for the Salvation Army to deliver their lunches, but it was so good!

The other really cool thing about this project was getting to see Jimmy & Rosalyn Carter working alongside everyone and bringing all of these amazing people together. There was a lot of work that went into coordinating this project and everyone was very humble and made sure to include everyone else in the credit for it all. Jimmy & Rosalynn came around to all of the work sites and took pictures with each crew (I can't wait to see that one), and we got DVD's of the opening and closing ceremonies as well as a "week in review" montage that had some great shots of John Edwards, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, and lots of other folks who were a part of the project. I know there was tons of stuff I didn't get to see or do (including going over to Gulfport to see what Gulfside Assembly looks like currently) but I felt like I did get to a part of something amazing. Next year's Carter project will be in China/Thailand/Cambodia area - another multi-site project which sounds like it would be an incredible experience. Anyone want to sponsor me to go? How about coming along?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Going to Biloxi - thoughts before I go

This is the beginning of Habitat's busy season and things are really hopping. I can't believe how much goes on each day at this place and it's made me realize just how much I've learned since September when I started here, and yet how much I still have to figure out. We've gotten to the point where we are turning volunteers away because we just don't have enough work sites for them to all work on! Our Saturdays have been booked up for groups for months and are booked all the way thru the fall - which amazes me. And yet, in the middle of all of this business, I'm going on a trip next week. :)

All AmeriCorps members who are serving with Habitat for Humanity get together in the Spring for a big project. It's a little different each year, but this year we're a part of the Jimmy & Rosalyn Carter Work Project. I'm hoping that we get to meet the man himself and perhaps get an autograph! As far as I can tell from the information I've received up to this point, we're going to be doing a lot of work in several places. Some of it is going to be rehabbing homes that were damaged in the hurricanes but salvageable and some of it will be new construction. I'm excited that I'm going to be on one of the construction teams - it will be very different than my usual office position and I can definitely use some sun! Of course, the hours will be crazy (up very early and hopefully not staying up too late) and we'll be staying in a casino hotel since those are the only places big enough to hold all of us in that area. Oh, the irony! The humidity and heat will be considerable but I'm bringing sunscreen and aloe vera gel just in case.

While the luggage and packing list is prepared, I'm not sure that my spirit and emotions are prepared for this trip. I've been down to Louisiana a couple of time to do hurricane relief work and it was disheartening both times to see how little had been done in the time since the storms. It's been more than a year since my last trip and I haven't been to Mississippi before but I have a special connection to Gulfport (which is near Biloxi and one of the areas where we'll be working) and am dreading seeing its current condition. When I made the decision to become a Deaconess in the UMC, I was at a Deaconess Convocation held at Gulfside Assembly, a conference center right on the water that had previously been a church center for the use of African-Americans when the church was segregated. It was a beautiful, spiritual place and I heard it was completely washed away by Katrina (the most recent news I've seen is this article). I want to see and yet I dare not look - like a car accident or Ground Zero in NYC. What is it that compels us to go to these places and stare at the debris and gruesome remnants? I'm going on this trip and am going to do what I can as a part of a tremendous project, but it's not enough. Gulfside is a project of the church and is responsible for finding its own volunteers rather than using groups from other agencies and projects. Who will rebuild them? Perhaps someday I can go back on my own...