Thursday, August 6, 2009

Day 9: Thursday, August 6, 2009
Portia F. -- Hi everyone!  Today is Thursday and we can't believe the week is almost over.  our group has worked all week at a 3 bedroom home on Primrose Rd. Owned by Mrs. Day.  Like so many homes on the street, the water rose to the top of the roof and the house had to be gutted to remove mold.  We have been applying sheetrock compound and sanding it down in preparation of painting a stucco finish on the ceiling and the walls.  We have one more day to work and I don't think we'll be able to finish the job we started.  Everyone in the group has worked hard every day.  Our team is Zoe M., Jamal N., Gene W., Janice B., Sam W., Samantha M., Jordan B., Ivy W., Janina G., Charley F., and me.  Everyone has worked extremely hard.  It's hot, sweaty and tiring, and dirty but in so many ways a blessing as we serve the people here in New Orleans.  Even covered with wall board dust and sweat, the youth will burst out in song and spirits are lifted and work is continued.  We have learned, shared and become closer as we continue to do God's Work.  Love to you all. - Charley & Portia

Portia W., Sue M., Donna L. -- Our Group, led by Peter E. & Courtney C. is working on a house owned by John Fuller.  He did come to the job site and was so excited to have us working on his home.  Today we finished painting the inside of his whole house.  We repainted some rooms.  We even painted a brick wall in his rec room which was very difficult as the bricks were not a very even surface, they were very porous.  We scraped the floors of the drops of spackling compound & paint then vacuumed the drops & sheet rock dust.  We then mopped further  to cleanse off the dust as we prepared to lay a tile floor.  John & his daughter Pumpkin came to the worksite.  They brought Hawaiian Punch, Zapps Cajun Spiced Chips Hotter & Hot, and Oreo mint cookies for us to snack on & watermelon.  Pumpkin brought water balloons & filled them.  Then she threw one at Julie M.  Scott C. & Rob also got anointed by water balloons.  While we were painting we were listening to Rob's Mission trip Jamz CD.  It was one of five CD's he made of Music to inspire us and get us in the mood.  John came into the room and was so excited at our progress he began dancing and doing the jig.  John told Susan that she had "Lana Legs" shapely legs like Lana Turner.  He was trying to get the rest of us to dance too but we were on our ladders or had paint brushes in our hands.  We did dance the twist to help clean the dust from the floors when we were mopping.  Before we mopped, Donna vacuumed with R2D2, the shop vac/wet vac.  Pete has a special method of cleaning the filter; he chucks it across the grass several times.

Leona D.--Please see the following websites for more information about Holt Cemetery where our group spent a very emotional time straightening up burial plots and re-interring bones swept out by the floodwaters.  A longer blog about our experience will be coming soon.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Day 8: Wednesday, August 5, 2009 -- Work Day 3

Janice B. -- Well, the work week is halfway done, and things are getting a bit tense and I know my group is getting a little stressed.  I hope everyone will chipper up a bit before we're done with our house project, because I know we can finish cleaning and fixing up the house before we leave.  Other than the worksite, which for the most part has been pretty good, everyone seems to be getting along and the more and more I stay here and meet the people and drive by all of the ruined houses, it's getting to me a lot more than I thought it would.  It makes me realize how much work is still needed over four years after Katrina, and how much people have really lost because of the storm.  Walking onto my worksite, my mind was set on fixing this one house and that's all I really thought about.  I wanted to stay here and fix Ms. Day's house completely and come back later to see how happy her and her son are in the house I helped put together.  But now I just want to stay here and fix all the houses on her street and in her neighborhood.  It's not fair what all of these people have to go through, but it all happens for a reason and helping out by putting up drywall compound for five hours a day is what I can do to help these people.  In the process I've become closer to the people around me and this whole experience has been absolutely amazing.  The only complaint I've had is I wish everyone could do this and feel what I'm feeling when I'm sanding down drywall and singing The Temptations as I go.  We're keeping things light and happy as we go even if some of us aren't in the happiest mood.
The more and more I go to worship, which we have as a group each night, the more I wish we could all do so much more.  I mean we're all sitting in a big room and if we all work together on one site, I can only imagine how much we could do in even just an hour.  I'd never thought of anything like that until I came here where everyone I meet came here for one reason.  Even though we're here with people of all different christian denominations, we all believe in one God and we all came to help and our differences don't matter and there's nothing separating us anymore.  I may not know people form the other churches as well, but when I talk to them around Camp Restore I definitely feel comfortable around them all.  Okay, I feel really repetitive now, but I can't really think of a good way to describe all of this.  It's just something you have to experience yourself--it's amazing.

Missionary Worship Service

Hello everyone!

We will be having a worship service in honor of our missionaries tomorrow at 6:00 in the Sanctuary at Union Baptist. Please join us for a wonderful night honoring our wonderful missionaries.

See you there! :0)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Day 7: Tuesday, August 4, 2009 -- Work Day 2

Cyndi B. -- Today our group, led by Leona D. and Jon T., went to Chalmette in the St. Bernard Parish of New Orleans.  This area is southcoast of the Mississippi River and was the area most directly affected by the breach after the hurricane in 2005.  our mission, or task, was to plant a special type of marsh grass back into the still damaged areas of the marsh.  The marsh is important to the habitat of the marine life and to the runoff of the Mississippi River.  Throughout the last few days we have come to realize that many of the projects we are working on are built on multiple pyramid volunteer organizations.  Our Volunteer coordinator for our project was Spring Gains, representing the American Wetland Conservation Corps.  In addition an important observation that we have made is that many of the volunteers are people who have been directly affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  On today's project, I spoke with Sian Gaines, Spring's twin sister, about where they were from.  She shared with me that they were from New Orleans and that their home was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and since then they had purchased a home damaged by the hurricane and lived in it while doing the renovations..  Eager to tell his story was another volunteer John, age 20.  His family of five live in a FEMA trailer for four with several pets for 2 1/2 years.  They restored their home by themselves and just moved in 7 months ago.  To remind him of his journey, John wears a tattoo on his upper back with the "X" that was marked on his house.  The "X"s were left by search and rescue teams after the storm.  The "X"s identified such things as hazards and survivors.  This was quite moving to me.  We share these stories with each other to and from work sites, with other Camp Restore Volunteers and each other at worship every night.
Now, about the dirty work.  It was amazing!  We arrived at the marsh with another group from NY that was staying at Camp Restore.  The worksite team gave instructions and we all piled into small pontoon boats and we went all of 20 feet from the boat launch to the edge of the established marsh grass.  As we began exiting the boats, we discovered that the six inches of mud we'd been told about was nothing compared to the mud we stepped into that quickly filled our 8 inch boots that filled with mud and better served as anchors.  I was still onboard my boat when I saw Jon trying to help Tori get her boot unstuck from the mud.  At that moment I was scared, but I had confidence and faith that we were here to do God's work and as long as we followed the instructions guidance of our leaders, we would be alright.  We determined at that point that we should skip the useless boots and once we got them out of the mud, they all went back in the boat.  Just a note to keep in mind, this is the same mud, thick and sludge-like, that was pushed north and west by the storm and flooded the homes throughout New Orleans and the surrounding areas.
We planted the grass plugs and throughout the time my fear disappeared and I experienced such fun and joy.  We eventually figured out how to trudge through the mud (using a rocking, rather than a walking motion) or even to swim through the top of it (more like dog paddling / crawling).  As a matter of fact, Eli M. loves to talk about his "swan lake" ballet that he performed in the marsh.  We weren't there a long time--we worked too quickly and efficiently--but I experienced so much that touched my heart, the sharing of stories, the Cajun Jambalaya prepared by Mr. Wade, and the beauty of the marsh that God called us to help him re-establish.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Day 6: Monday, August 3, 2009 -- Work Day 1

Jamal N. -- Rob assigned Groups to us and I was assigned to Group 3, The Plaster and Sheetrock Group, with Charlie F. and my grandma as group leaders.  First we sanded the plaster that was there already.  Then we plastered where we sanded way too much.  We went back to Camp Restore, ate lunch, then returned to the house and sanded until 3:30 and came back to Camp Restore for showers and dinner.

Scott C. --
Location: 9th Ward, New Orleans, Mrs. Cloud's house.  Mrs. Cloud is a very friendly, elderly African American lady.
Job: Our initial task was to lay down laminate hard wood flooring.  With the large amount of people we came up with other jobs which include cleaning a bathroom; caulking around the sink; filling in nail holes with caulk; cleaning doors and windows; measuring, cutting and laying down the flooring.  Some of the materials were not there for us when we got there and the place was also a mess.  Those two issues were our first priority for the work day.  However, over all, it was a good work day.  With an abundance of workers we were able to not only complete our initial task but also to accomplish a lot of general cleaning.  However, we were told we would be reassigned to a different worksite the next day.

Leona D. --
Our group was at the Sebastopol Plantation in Saint Bernard Parish.  Camp Restore's mission is not just to rebuild homes and the lives of individuals in New Orleans but also to rebuild the community itself.  It does this through a number of different non-construction work sites like the one our group was at today. Sebastopol Plantation is an historic plantation home that was damaged (i.e. had about three feet of water in the house for two months) by the storms.  Although much of the work to restore the inside has been done, the grounds around the planation, including a paupers graveyard--the only place people of color were, historically, allowed to bury their dead--are in disrepair.  We had three teams working on the grounds surrounding the plantation.  The first group was digging up and replanting irises that had overgrown their bounds.  The second group was continuing work on a rebuilt chicken coop for the abundant chicken population (including a few peacocks).  The third group worked to clean up along the borders of the property by clearing brush, debris, and mangled chain link fence that had been swept against a board fence by the floodwaters.  We worked hard, in the sun, with the chickens, and the Californian group from Camp Restore that was working with us, put on enough sunscreen that we didn't get sunburned, drank the entirety of our 5 gallon water cooler so we didn't get dehydrated, got scratched by thorns, bitten by fire ants (just itchy, not deadly), generally laughed and had a good time, cleared about 500 feet of fence, finished putting up chicken wire around the coop, moved all the irises and ended the day with a lovely tour of the plantation home by Ms. Alberta the current owner.  Ms. Alberta was very appreciative of our efforts as she, in conjunction with the parish government, is trying to get the plantation restored for more public tours and use by the community.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Baptist Monks

Day 5: Sunday, August 2, 2009 by Helen M.

            We woke again to sunshine.  Today we will share worship with a local church just a walk away and start our work.  Rob said it will mirror the life of a trappist monk where they worship, pray, and serve/work.


            We all shared continental breakfast and began our walk to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, a two minute walk.  An amazing experience; my first evangelical service.  They welcomed us very warmly even including us in the worship service.  Rob read scripture and Rob and two of our deacons, Janina and Ivy, participated with the church’s Elders in a laying on of hands experience for Harry Cloud, a man having surgery tomorrow at 5:45 a.m. on August 3rd.  We will pray for him.  The music, oh my!  Every song was a gift we unwrapped from God with a beautiful long ribbon and flowing paper that fell to the floor that made you jump up and dance and sing from the deepest depth of your soul.  We shared communion.  All came forth.  Pastor Terry placed a wafer in our mouth, we drank wine from a cup, real wine, a first for me at communion.  What a blessing for us all to share in this service.  After we were asked if we wanted to share anything.  I said I would drive 3 days just to experience the service we just experienced at Bethel Prince of Peace Lutheran Church today.


            I enjoyed getting to cook lunch in a tractor-trailer donated for a Disaster Relief, turned into a mobile kitchen unit.  The junior leaders (Jordan B., Janice B., Courtney C.,  Jon T.) made spaghetti and salad with a couple of adult helpers.  I go to be one.  It was a cool experience.  Well, it was hot but the experience was cool.  The youth were so good.  They helped the lone kitchen lady prep for dinner as well.

PM Work

            After lunch we worked and worked and worked.  We helped around Camp Restore, our Retreat Center.  The work on site in New Orleans will begin tomorrow but we all wanted to begin today and that was the plan.  We were anxious to work so the staff here were asked by Rob to have work lists for us.  Some did heavy lifting, some general housekeeping, some big clean up/organizing.  My group began with windows.  We were blessed to be visited by 20 to 25 Monk Parakeets, large green parrot like birds that I later found reside here.  Then we went on to some general housecleaning and ultimately found ourselves in the worksite storage area for a couple of hours inventorying, restocking, and cleaning.  It felt good to have all of Camp Restore sparked clean and it was a gift to the staff and felt good to give back to them.

Dinner & Worship

            Not much time until dinner, a quick call to check in back home.  Our numbers tonight at Camp Restore jumped from just we 37 from UBC to 100+ as more volunteers showed up from all over the country.  A special ecumenical orientation/service after dinner brought us all together.  How wonderful to be in a room of so many faiths and such diversity.  It was beautiful!

            Now our personal worship service and reflection as UBC.  We invited the group from NJ along.  It felt good to include them.  We are getting to know each other so well and sharing so much with each other.

 What a full and blessed Day.  A Gift from God

-Helen M.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Alligators, & Osprey, & Beignets Oh My!

Day 4: Saturday, August 1, 2009 by Zac G. & Sydney P.

            Today we went for a tour of downtown New Orleans and a swamp boat tour where we saw alligators.  We woke up at 7 o’clock before we headed out for the swamp boat tour.  After getting lost trying to find the Swamp tour, we finally reached it and then we split up into two different boats for individual adventures!  We saw alligators from 4 feet to 10 feet long.  Instead of doing the sane thing, we actually wanted the alligators to come closer to us.  So we fed them marshmallows!  We also saw Osprey, Blue herons, salamanders, egrets, newts, and turtles.  And of course we had to have seen the local Mosquito-hawks, aka Dragonflies.  Then we got back in the van and headed for Downtown New Orleans for lunch and sightseeing.  To get to the restaurant, we had to park in the 10th floor of the parking garage since there is nowhere to park on the street.  Since we had so many people, it was difficult to fit everyone in one elevator so we took turns going down.  Almost every elevator was full so we had to wait at least half an hour before getting to the ground floor.  Somehow we all got to the bottom before the end of the day.  Before we went to lunch at a delicious Cajun restaurant, we got to eat Beignets (that's Ben-yay: a kind of French doughnut) while waiting in line for forty minutes.  We had Jambalaya and amazingly yummy Gulf coast shrimp and got to do some bonding with people that we don’t really know.  After we had that brand new experience, we were lead around town by Malik Muhammad, one of Rob James’ college roommates.  From there we split up into smaller groups and went to take in the atmosphere of New Orleans.  And of course we did a little shopping.  On the way back, our car had one extra person so we really had to squeeze, Rob and Tori had to share a seat belt which didn’t really work too well.  Rob ended up on half the seat and Tori couldn’t use her arms.  Finally after all the excitement, we got back and were able to get showers (yay!) and just chill out.

- Zac G. & Sydney P.