Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Day Twenty-Two

The Transformers documented our last day in NOLA. Click below to watch us as we go from our beloved New Orleans home to our California homes.

The sky looked threatening this morning, which worried us because we needed to pack up everything, tear down the tents, and get the Verrips brothers, Courtney, the truck and the trailer on the road by noon. We got up early and got right to work. Courtney and Emily got up even earlier and made their way to Café du Monde for beignets for all of us. Even before they arrived back home, we had already pulled down the walls of the tents and had started to pack away pots and pans, tools and first aid supplies. We all struggled as we watched our world dissolve away into an empty lot again. We might have had even more trouble, but we were forced to hurry to beat the rain.

As we bid the truck crew farewell (just before noon, as we planned), the rain started to fall. There were still a few random items floating out in the field, so we scurried madly to tuck them away. We have leftover food to our friend Jean’s Girl Scout troop and to the New Home Ministries church that we visited last Sunday. We gave extra tools and hard hats to Catholic Charities to help them to stock up for the rebuilding efforts that are beginning in earnest right now. (They will store them in the new building that will go up next week in the space where we demolished the dilapidated food bank.)

We took one more spin through the French Quarter, mostly trying to grab our last bites of crawfish or alligator and seeking souvenirs for ourselves and for some of you who are reading this page. We were pretty quiet in the bus as we approached the airport, as we knew that it was all coming to an end. We said goodbye to Leo and sent him off on his fourteen or so hour trip back to Indiana.

While on the plane, we worked on our last journal entries or sat with group members and sorted out plans for our final projects. Each group will produce three, with one for public presentation on February 15th at 7:00 in the Soda Center at Saint Mary’s College. (Please join us!) The others will be posted on this website some time after that.

As we flew, we had a chance to review the stats of our trip. It seems that we completed about 3,800 hours of manual labor, with 15 of our 22 days plagued by rain. We worked on a total of 15 houses, and different people in the group performed the following tasks over the course of the month: roofing, siding, walls, windows, doors, framing, drywall/texturing, floor refinishing, metal restoration, dryrot repair, painting, trim work, mold remediation, salvage work, gutting, demolition, landscape work, and pressure washing. We also restored two garden spaces, including one full-scale permaculture site. At the gardens, we cleared brush, removed limbs, removed debris, dredged a bioswale, planted trees, transplanted vegetation, turned compost, and laid pathways. (We also wrestled in the mud, but that doesn’t count toward our service hours . . .)

We are tired. We need sleep. But we are also rejuvenated. And we will always remember that the most important work we can still do is to spread the word about how great the need in New Orleans still is, even though seventeen months have passed since the storm. If you know one of us, help us to readjust. Listen to our stories, watch our videos, give us hugs, and give us a break if we don’t own any more clean socks. More than anything, remember the people of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast. Thanks for listening.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Day Twenty-One

The ONEders kept track of things today, our last work day in NOLA. The video takes a look at the memories and experiences made over the last three weeks. Click below to see what they captured.

Shane tried to start a movement to say that we should get up late today (7:00!) instead of 6:00. We thought we needed to move out early no matter what, as we HAD to finish painting Sarah’s Happy House today. We had decided to arrive at Sarah’s at 8:00 a.m. so that we could definitely, definitely get the job done. Jed was our appointed supervisor on this last day, so he set our time table. Shane tried to get us to agree to move faster than our usual two-hour ramp-up time so that we could sleep later. No one joined his movement, because people actually WANTED to spend two hours getting ready to go.

Shawny got up at 6:00 and found a clear day awaiting us, with only one small catch: it was 28 degrees out! She woke up Jed and pointed out that it was going to be too cold to paint at 8:00, so they decided to let people sleep for at least another hour. An hour later, things had changed. The temperature was 28.5 degrees. We were worried.

Still, the sun was starting to shine through and we assumed that things would warm up. Even at almost 9:00 it was still only 36 degrees, but we forged ahead anyway. Shawny’s sister had left us a bunch of hand and foot warmers, and today was the day to use them. We arrived in the Ninth Ward to discover that there was not quite enough paint left for each of us to take what we needed. Thus, we were at an immediate standstill.

Sarah was right there waiting and agreed to run after more paint. Instead, Chris and Shane went, and we all waited patiently for the paint and for the warm-up. Both arrived at about the same time. We tore into the job madly at that moment with Sarah standing by doing quality control. We discovered that we had been quite sloppy in a number of places, making the touch-up job very daunting. We actually got out tiny little water color brushes to get the details just right on all of the lines between the walls and trim. Jed ran around madly trying to keep the job flowing efficiently. (He succeeded.)

When we broke for lunch, Sarah had a surprise for us. Not only had she made barbecued chicken and green peas for us, but also she made a new team favorite: sweet potato pie. Her son had a tow truck parked in front of her house, so we used it to hold our first-ever flatbed picnic. By then, the sun was shining, and even though the temperatures were still pretty chilly, we felt great.

We kicked back in after lunch, sharing ladders to reach the high parts, laughing hysterically even when things weren’t hilariously funny, and paying close attention to every little detail on the paint job. We knew that good enough wasn’t good enough, so we really tried to get it perfect. We got close.

It took us all the way up to dusk to get the whole job done. Sarah was so thrilled that it practically lifted us off the ground. To boost our spirits even more, Sarah us a delicious batch of Pralines, which was a wonderful surprise. Different people took pictures with Sarah in front of the house, including group shots of most of the teams.

We all looked at the house when it was completely painted and noticed something for the first time. Sarah’s was the only house in sight that no longer had the markings of the search and rescue teams from September 2005 spray-painted on its front. Everyone’s house has a series of symbols on it, telling who searched it, when, and -- in barely-decipherable and somewhat eerie numbers -- what they found. Sarah’s house was marked when we arrived, but our presence and our efforts helped her to turn that corner and to start a new era for her Bartholomew Street home. We hadn’t really noticed how important this change is (or how prominent those markings on the other houses are) until we were done.

Sarah is incredibly proud of her “new” house, especially of the colors that she chose. Some of us told her that our mothers or other supporters had praised her house and she went through and asked us one by one what our mothers had said about it. Different neighbors came from all over the area to tell us that they would miss us when we go. Most of them were people we had met over the course of the month, but others were brand new to us. Even though we hadn’t been introduced, they had been following our progress and they knew that we were “those California college kids” who were working in the Ninth.

We forgot to mention yesterday that when we were painting, a tour bus came by that was taking visitors through the disaster zone. They slowed down as they approached Sarah’s house (and us) and the whole group moved to the windows on our side and started taking pictures. We had long discussions about what we thought of those tours/tourists, with mixed emotions about what good they might be doing. Today we noticed several more such buses, so maybe they have been passing all month long without us really noticing.

At the end of the evening, we painted Sarah’frontporch mailbox in the colors of her house and Kate did a beautiful job of repainting the house number on it. She stood and held it and even had us take pictures of her with it. We’re very proud that Sarah’s house is now marked by people who love her and that all it tells passersby is her address.

Tonight we all went into the French Quarter together for a wonderful dinner at The Chartres House. We talked about going into town and just taking time for ourselves, but we all agreed that we wanted to stay together. Even when we finished dinner, we decided to move as one through the Quarter. We have an early morning tomorrow, as the Verrips brothers need to start their long drive home. Courtney has decided to join them to help them with the trip. Knowing all of this, we gave up on our night on the town, in favor of being back at our NOLA “home.”

Packing up will be a long process, but we are ready to head for home. We miss the people who are reading these pages and we are eager to get some serious sleep. We are leaving some ruined clothes behind, but we are bringing lifelong memories and lifelong friendships home in their place.

We invite you again to join us on Thursday, February 15th for our multimedia presentations on the Saint Mary’s College campus in the Soda Center at 7:00 p.m. We’ll write tomorrow about our trip home, then maybe one more time about our reflections on our experience. Thanks again for your interest and support.

Soraya finds herself in a tight spot as she finishes up painting. She spent most of the day on the roof committed to making it look like a professional had done it.

Emily and Justin spent much of their time on the roof adding the finishing touches to Sarah's house!

Elijah was the first visitor to the "Pee, Pee, Tee, Pee Salon" where he got his hair "did" by the fabulous Shawny Anderson.

As we commute from Algiers Point to the Ninth Ward we pass the Superdome, and we remember the history that took place at the dome and its significance to the city.

Chris and Emily take a quick break from lunch to smile for the camera.

Vince and Linzy paint below the colorful rainbow at Sarah’s beautiful home in the upper ninth ward.

Lisa and Lauren joined us for most of the afternoon. Don also came over to say goodbye and lend a hand.

Kelly, Vince, and Linzy prepare our assortment of lunchtime treats. Today we had barbequed chicken made by Sarah, MRE’s, macaroni, and homemade sweet potato pie.

Linzy and Feke meticulously paint the details on the garage. At the end of the day such careful attention to all the details of the house paid off.

Soraya paints on her back (Michelangelo style) while Megan, Juan, and Kate work on perfecting the front porch.

The final job we completed at Sarah's house was painting the mailbox. Here we see Kate painting the mailbox the same bright colors as the house!

At the end of the day, the Knucklebusters pause for a photo with Sarah Mercadell. It has been a pleasure, blessing, and honor to be able to work on her house during our trip.

At the end of the day the Transformers pose with Sarah and her neighbor from across the street, Red. We will miss both of them and wish them all the best with their rebuilding.

The group poses for one last shot in front of Sarah's house! After three weeks of hard work, it was a good feeling to celebrate the completion of Sarah's newly painted home.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Day Twenty

The Knucklebusters had the camera today. Click below to see how our Sunday went.

We woke up to an overcast morning with big dark clouds on the horizon threatening more rain. We had plans to go to our neighborhood southern Baptist Church, having been invited by Miss Nikki, whom Courtney met at the Laundromat around the corner. Miss Nikki has two daughters who are WNBA players, one of whom is in California, so when she heard about the group from California for whom Courtney was washing clothes, she wanted to learn more. She invited us to come to her church this morning at either 8:00 a.m. or 10:00 a.m. We decided last night that if it looked like a clear day, we would go to the 8:00 service so that we could get to work on Sarah’s paint job. If it looked like rain, we decided that we would stay in bed and get a later start on the day. Shawny and Courtney got up early and decided that it looked like rain.

We all started moving around at about 8:00 and found that Tim had already been up for an hour peeling shrimp that was left over from last night. He was imagining shrimp omelets for breakfast, but he had forgotten that we are out of dehydrated eggs. Thus, Shawny and Justin made a run for eggs (with a lot of king cake on the side). When they went into the grocery store, the sky was dark and foreboding. When they came out a few minutes later, the sky was blue and clear. The blue sky held for the rest of the day.

We gorged on eggs, king cake, and orange drink (pronounced “drenk”) and still made it to the 10:00 service at New Home Ministries. When we entered the church, we were immediately hugged and greeted warmly by each person we encountered. The music was already jamming, with a choir rocking out at the front of the sanctuary. We got two whole rows of seats about ten rows back and we hardly noticed at first that the entire large room filled to the brim just a few minutes later.

The music flowed from one piece to another, one soloist to another, one speaker to another, with all of us on our feet clapping, swaying, and singing (when we could figure out the words). The singing was incredible, as was the flow of the accompaniment, including electric bass, keyboards, and percussion. Every once in awhile it seemed clear that a saxophone, trumpet, or clarinet had joined in, though there was no such instrument in the room. One tentative soloist began slightly out of key, and the congregation cheered and lauded him, effectively drawing a better solo from him by the end.

Joy flowed in the room, especially through the jubilant harmonies of the congregation and the choir. People jumped up and cheered during songs and during the sermon, so much so that an observer might have thought that an athletic event was unfolding in front of a very well-dressed set of sports fans. And these people WERE well-dressed. Many women wore hats with feathers, fur, satin ribbons, rhinestones, or silver accessories on them and all of the men wore sharp suits in an array of colors. We looked pretty goofy in the midst of them in our jeans and camp shoes, but they never let us feel out of place.

At one point in the service, Miss Nikki (her last name is Johnson, just for the record) whispered into the pastor’s ear and he called Courtney to the front of the church. She joined him at the altar and he asked her to describe our group. She told them that we were college students doing relief work and she talked briefly about the fact that many of us had been there last January as well. She told them that we felt very honored and privileged to be asked to join them in worship, and they responded with a big long standing ovation for us all.

Once the service ended, it took awhile for us to leave because so many people wanted to hug us, thank us, tell us how beautiful we are, offer us food, etc. We felt pretty rejuvenated as we walked in the sunshine back to camp. A few people had stayed behind and we were thrilled to learn that they had washed the muddy and wet clothes from our last two gardening excursions AND they had cleaned out the bus. We sorted laundry out on our finally-dry lawn and headed off to the Ninth Ward to finish some jobs for Rosie, Sarah, and Don. We have been thwarted in finishing most of these jobs by the rain and continuing cold weather so we were eager to make some progress.

One crew finished Don’s floors and did some trim work. One crew sanded Rosie’s security bars so that they can be repainted soon. Everyone else worked on Sarah’s paint job. We discovered a few sloppy places on Sarah’s house that we needed to re-do, and there are a few random places that haven’t seen any of the new paint yet. Monday, our last day on the job in NOLA, we will start early on Sarah’s house and we won’t leave until it is finished.

Tonight we had a special dinner treat (again!). We went out to Lisa Trigo’s house in Destrehan where Rosie had left us four gallons of gumbo, a dozen or so loaves of French bread, bottle upon bottle of our beloved crème soda (known as “red drink”) and a really great king cake. They also had guests from the bayou – two sisters who were born and raised in the real live bayou about 35 miles southeast of New Orleans. Annette Bourgeois and Julie Sapia run “heritage tours” in Cajun country called “Angel Tours, Etc.” They helped us to understand some of the finer points of Louisiana culture, geography, and topography, including the fact that our course title (“Bringing Back the Bayou”) is totally illogical, as we have been nowhere near a bayou in any of our actual work. They told us some Cajun jokes like the ones that Lisa has been posting to our list every night so we felt like we were really in the know on that particular part of local culture.

We stayed later than we should have, partially because groups were doing last-minute interviews with Lisa and other guests at the house and partially because the Trigos are just plain nice people that we like to be around. They sent us home with leftover French bread and a box of grits that we can make for breakfast.

We feel very fortunate to have so many people in our Louisiana family. Along with the Trigos, we have a couple of blocks on North Claiborne and Bartholomew where we know someone in every house. We have our Chalmette and Violet friends, though we might now have to start calling them our Slidell friends. We have Courtney’s actual family members. We have Parkway Partners and Catholic Charities. We have Natasha and Alicia, both of whom we met through Habitat for Humanity. We have Yvette and her mother Sandra. We have Macon, our favorite gardener. We have our neighbors in Algiers and the members of the New Home Ministries congregation. We have the students and administrators of the Algiers Charter Schools and we have the owner of the land on which we set up our NOLA world: Eddie Conrad of Riverbarge Excursions.

We will miss Louisiana when we leave, and we have every reason to believe that Louisiana will miss us – and our beautiful funky bus – too.

Rachel and Linzy sand the security bars on Rosie’s windows so they can eventually be resurfaced and repainted. This job resulted in most of the sanders having brown rust freckles.

As the end of our time in NOLA draws near, we took a moment to appreciate our moving home while parked near our favorite neighborhood in the Upper Ninth.

Emily also helps in the sanding by tackling the intricate bars on the front door. The sign on the door indicates that Catholic Charities has provided assistance in the rebuilding of Rosie’s house. These signs are sporadic throughout the city, but are nonetheless a sign of hope.

The bright colors of Sarah and her neighbor’s house rub off on Bryan as he gets excited to finish.

Most of us had never seen the above grown cemeteries we’ve grown so accustomed to in New Orleans. Tonight we learned that the tombs are placed above ground not only because the city is below sea level but also as a tradition carried on from France.

The state of our bus this morning. Not to worry parents, we do clean up occasionally. As some chose to attend a Southern Baptist church service, others stayed and cleaned up so that the bus looked almost as good as new…almost.

Laundry time! Special thanks to Kellie and Rachel for doing our muddy, rain-soaked laundry from the last couple of messy jobs. You rock our socks! (Pants, shirts, jackets and unmentionables too!)

Linzy, Lindsay, and Janeva all meticulously sand the iron burglar bars of Rosie’s house to prepare them for some freshening up. These three used small rectangles of sandpaper to smooth out the bars.

Here’s a good look at the contrast between a corroded portion of ironwork on the left and the sanded down portion on the right.

Tim sits down with Julie Sapia, a genuine Cajun from the LaFourche Bayou. She and her sister Annette Bourgeois joined us at Lisa’s house for shrimp gumbo and gave a fascinating presentation on Cajun history and culture in traditional dress complete with bonnets made from their grandmother’s patterns. They can trace their Bourgeois family history back to the 1700s and an ancestor who immigrated from France to Nova Scotia, Canada to Louisiana.

Soraya receives more blue paint from Jed, who holds her ladder attentively. Soraya has become quite the expert painter, especially since height does not phase her skills.

Look at that color and new blue trim! The crew tries to complete Sarah’s house as quickly as possible, but we’ll be returning tomorrow. Can you find Tommy?

This fabulous duo are in the process of painting Sarah’s rafters.

Feke shows off Emily’s new makeover: blue paint lipstick. As you can see, Emily doesn’t mind the taste. Work it girl!

Everyone all the time can be seen here. We had a late start on Sarah’s house but we got to work right away. At the end of the day we were all rewarded with homemade pralines. Everyone enjoyed the special treat.

Before we came to NOLA Shawny emphasized the importance of perfection that should go into someone’s home. Today we lived by that standard. Bree, along with others used small ½ “ paint brushes to touch up all of the small blemishes.

Shawny assisted us with the painting today. The majority of the group had the common goal of finishing the painting job at Sarah’s house. There are still a few touch ups that need to be done tomorrow.

J. Fed holds the ladder as Soraya paints the upper trim of the house.

Today, Kellie, Janeva, Linzey Rachel, and Tommy did over 100 lbs of laundry while the rest of the group enjoyed the morning at a local church. Sorting the laundry was more difficult than the wash, drying, and folding process. This was the first time that everyone’s everything was washed together. It was a race to the finish, who could grab their clothes first. Kellie was the winner by 1 hour. Those who did not claim their clothes will have to dig through the trash at the end of the evening.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Day Nineteen

The Fab Five faced this rainy day with the video camera in hand. Click below to see their take.

Aaaaarrrrgggghhh! More rain. We CANNOT handle any more rain! When we got up, it was just cloudy; without any thought of rain, we started trying to figure out how to distribute ourselves across the jobs we need to finish. Then drops began to fall. Suddenly, Sarah’s paint job was off the list. So were Rosie’s security bars and walker-accessible steps.

No matter what, we had already decided to start the day by stopping at Natasha’s Habitat for Humanity house. Our first order of business there was to deliver Alicia’s beloved speed square back to her, as we accidentally brought it home with us the last time we worked for her. (The level of frantic searching it took to find this one little item almost threw off our whole day; Matt rescued us by finding it in the trailer.) Our second (and most important) goal was to deliver the gazing globe that we bought for Natasha’s back yard. Natasha works all week, so she is seldom at the site on weekdays. She comes almost every Saturday, though, so we hoped we would run into her today.

When we arrived, Natasha was nowhere to be found, but Alicia was happy to see us, hoping we were working for her today. We told her that we couldn’t stay, but that we wanted to deliver what we owed her. She was quite surprised that we drove that far out of our way to give back an item that is relatively inexpensive but that holds great sentimental value to her. We also brought out the gazing globe and asked her to deliver it to Natasha for us. She agreed.

We then headed out to our job for the day: working on a permaculture garden at a funky former industrial site that is now an arts collective called ArtEgg. We worked with Professor Charles Reith of Tulane University, who is developing the exterior of this former egg-processing plant as a model of sustainable agriculture that will help to reduce the effects of urban pollution. The general principle is to channel water off of nearby paved areas and filter it through “bioswales” (contoured drainage channels with vegetation that helps to draw the pollutants out of the runoff). The bioswale cuts a curving channel through the property and raised boxes line the channel to grow trees, vegetables, and other plants. The entire lot serves as its own miniature ecosystem so that it not only sustains itself with little maintenance, but it also provides the “pollution-scrubbing” services of the bioswale.

All of this is very laudable and fascinating, of course, but pounding rain made the whole place a bit less hospitable for us than it might have been. As we were arriving, a steady rain began to fall. We had heard that we were working on a “green roof” at ArtEgg, but we assumed that the pouring rain meant that we would have to find some other job. Though people were, in fact, working on the roof when we arrived, our job was in and around the bioswale at ground level. Even though we weren’t on the roof, we were still quite vulnerable to the rain. We got SOAKED. Through. All the way.

Some of us were dredging the bioswale, some of us were turning and moving the compost pile, some of us laid a new brick path, some of us planted trees, some of us collected scattered litter, some of us transplanted cattails and all of us got really wet. Most of us didn’t have great raingear, meaning that we were wearing jeans that got super-soaked and very heavy. Something about bending over meant that the seats of our pants also get really wet, and suddenly it looked like we were all wearing diapers. And it felt like we were wearing diapers, too. Diapers full of ice.

Even the people who had legitimate raingear tested it all the way to the limit. Most of our rainjackets soaked through, but for some reason we all just kept working away. Admittedly, we made lots of wise cracks about what we were doing and why we were doing it, but in the end, we actually at least partially believed in the whole undertaking.
Charles, too, clearly believes, and he hopes to convince the city of New Orleans to develop large swaths of land using similar sustainable practices. He will likely succeed, which makes us happy to have made a small contribution to this experiment.

We broke for lunch at noon and went onto a loading dock to get out of the downpour. Once we escaped the rain for even one minute, we knew that we couldn’t go back. We declared ourselves noble and virtuous for lasting a full three hours in that much precipitation and we set ourselves free. The People of the Ice Diapers were liberated.

We were slow to claim our freedom, though, as we were too wet to get onto the bus. We had to set up a metering system to send people out in pairs. Shawny, Jed, and Leo were on the other end, having cut a strip of turf to cover the floor of the bus. Jed ran shoes and top layers into the luggage bins while Shawny and Leo cut long strips of plastic off a roll. Each person wrapped in plastic, then sat on the floor to keep the bus as clean and dry as possible.

We got home to a flooded field, where the water was clearly coming up from beneath the saturated ground. Even our covered dining area had standing water throughout. We rationed hot water to get showers for every chilly one of us and then promptly ran out of propane again. Grrr.

We recognized that we could not produce our own meal under these conditions, so we decided to go down the street to the Dry Dock Café right outside the ferry stop. We intended to cook up lots of our lingering pantry staples (we still have LOTS of tofu for some odd reason!) to use up some of our leftover food. Instead, Courtney’s cousins joined us and brought us incredible fresh peel-and-eat shrimp, and then we went to the restaurant and had great catfish, burgers, red beans and rice, and even some ice cream. To top off the night, one of the patrons in the place picked up the tab! He at first wanted to remain anonymous, but then decided that he wanted to thank us personally for coming to New Orleans at all. Like Charles Reith this morning, this benefactor told us that New Orleans feels like every level of government has let them down. He said that only because of people like us is New Orleans on its feet again. He wanted to show his gratitude. We were reluctant, but we accepted his offer to buy our dinner. The whole place broke into a huge celebration over us and over the future of New Orleans. After our cold and rainy morning, this evening was an appropriate reward. Thanks to our Dry Dock neighbors, thanks to Courtney’s cousins for their visit, and thanks again to all of you for following along. We feel you by our sides. . . .

One of our jobs at the Art of the Egg was to transplant trees from one end of the garden to the other. Shane and Janeva work on digging a hole for “Phil” the first tree they moved.

Emily, Linzy, Tim, and a gardener turn over the compost pile creating a stench that permeated the entire vicinity. Luckily the rain helped wash away the unpleasant smell.

Hope, one of the gardeners, had us get creative with the space by placing stepping stones along the bio swale in order to highlight it but not impede its sustainability.

The NOLA group stands on the deck as we receive instructions for the day’s work.

Megan used clippers to cut dead cattails and iris plants from the bioswail in the permaculture.

Kellie shows the rest of our group how to garden under rainy conditions.

Some of our group members found time to hang out in the back portion of the garden.

Some say that the future of energy is in alternative fuel resources. This bus that is “powered by vegetable oil” is an example of one of those vehicles.

Elijah displays his brutish strength by carrying barrels to take them to their proper place.

Recycle reduce reuse! Art of the Egg demonstrates the importance of recycling by building borders out of bottles.

Jokingly, we lit a book of matches to keep warm . . . surprisingly, it gave us a moment of refreshing and much needed heat.

Okay now it is wayyyyyyyyyyyyy too cold out there! Shawny rallies up team after a hard work in the rain. Can you tell we are cold?

Duck, duck . . . Goose. We drove back from Art of the Egg soak up and dirty but we suffered together and remained happy.

Upon our return home we found the kitchen tent completely flooded by the continual rain. This didn’t deter Courtney and others from making doughnuts to cheer up the group by placing a piece of plywood over the swampy grass.

Because of the rain, we had to cut our workday short. We returned to camp to work on our projects in the dry haven of the warehouse.

Day Eighteen

Mannschaft took care of videography for us today. Click below to get their perspective on Day 18.

More sunshine today! We were thrilled. Pancakes were a fine start to this sunny day and we gathered up our things and headed off to an unusual appointment this morning. We started our day at the administrative headquarters for Algiers Charter Schools, at the invitation of our new friend John Schwab, the Chief Operating Officer. We joined John and were fascinated to learn the processes by which a valiant few educators managed to reopen the schools in Algiers after the storm. (We were also pretty hyped up over the fact that they provided a spread of sweet rolls, fruit and JUICE for us -- all things that we haven’t seen since we left California.)

Algiers is on the “West Bank,” which feels strangely illogical because from virtually anywhere we have been in New Orleans, we have to drive east to get to the West Bank. Whatever. Anyway, Algiers and our more specific home base, Algiers Point, are neighborhoods across the river from the French Quarter. This area did not flood due to levee breaks, though there was still a lot of storm damage due to torn-off roofs, fallen trees, etc. Still, once the dust (and water) had settled after the storm, Algiers was a reasonable place to begin to reopen schools.

Of course, every part of the city was in chaos and people were dispersed across the country, including the teachers that might have staffed the newly-reopened schools. Although the situation was obviously terrible, it also presented an extraordinary opportunity to the Algiers School District, as they got to start a new era with a completely clean slate. As the time came to hire new faculty, 600 teachers applied for the 150 positions. Though they had brief twinges of guilt about it, the administration truly got to hire the cream of the educational crop.

From there, they began a series of creative and innovative programs that have changed the entire landscape of education in this area. The surest sign of their success is that at one of their high schools, O. Perry Walker, they expect a 100% graduation rate this year, though in prior eras they were lucky to achieve 50%.

Having heard about their marvelous new ideas, we wanted to see one of their schools for ourselves. John took us to Edna Karr High School, where we found the happiest high school of all time. The students were engaged, bubbly, and obviously plugged into all that was happening in their classrooms and in the hallways. The faculty were proud to be a part of such an amazing renaissance. The administrators were friendly and welcoming, and clearly were not suffering from burnout. (One even did some informal interviewing of some of our students, offering at least two of them future jobs if they are interested in pursuing them.) Groups of their students joined groups of our students at tables in the library and they talked and talked and talked.

They offered us lunch in their cafeteria, which was a strangely enticing invitation. None of us really craved high school lunchroom food, but we loved the idea of sharing a meal with these impressive students. We had to turn down their offer, though, as we were meeting some Catholic Charities staffers in the Ninth Ward to learn how to do mold abatement on our friend Rosie’s house.

We headed away from the high school completely jazzed and buzzing about all that we had seen and heard. More than anything, we were excited about feeling a real sense of promise and hope for the future of the students of Algiers. Frankly, despite the work we have done throughout our time here, we are having trouble seeing serious signs of hope really living and growing in front of us. Today, we saw some. Real ones. Lucky us.

We headed on over to Rosie’s and learned how to use two special compounds to scrub and spray the interior framing of the house to fight off whatever mold still remains there. Sixteen of us shared that job while others painted, either at Sarah’s Happy House around the corner or on Mr. Pitts’ porch next door to Rosie’s house. The mold abatement job took less than an hour once we got started, so once it was done, that group turned its attention back to the house that we have visited every day this week after already-long workdays to finish gutting it for Catholic Charities.

On the way home from the Catholic Charities house, we called the house’s owner and talked to her for the first time. Her name is Delores Thomas and she is currently living in Baton Rouge as she tries to figure out what needs to happen next in her very-messed-up New Orleans home. We told her that we had finished gutting her house and she told us that she was overjoyed. We told her about some of the items we had salvaged, including the chandelier and wall sconces that some of our readers have asked about. We also found many dishes and other small items that were intact; she offered to send her grandson over tomorrow to pick up all that we collected. She kept thanking us profusely and said that she just didn’t know how to properly acknowledge what we have done for her. She wished us God’s blessings and we assured her that we already feel blessed by being privileged to participate in the rebuilding of the great city of New Orleans.

We also feel blessed that you are reading this page right now, that you may have watched our video already, that perhaps you posted a message of support to us, and that you might check in over the next few days as our journey comes to a close. Thanks for being here with us.

Though Bryan has a fear of heights, he took one for the team and meticulously painted the trim at Sarah’s house. Hopefully we can complete her house on our next trip to the Upper Ninth.

Don and Rosie’s neighbor, Red, relaxes as he chats in his front yard. He has become a friendly face to many as we work throughout the day.

After arriving at North Claiborne, we ate a quick, but delicious lunch provided by the Transformers.

On this particular lot in the upper ninth ward, we saw three FEMA trailers lined up next to each other.

Vanessa and Kate paint the trim on Sarah Mercadell’s home on Bartholomew Street.

Lindsay, Feke, Bree, Shane, Bryan, and Vanessa pause for a quick photo before getting to work on the navy blue trim.

A beautiful sunset adds to the beautiful colors of Sarah’s house. Bree paints the gutter a dark blue so that it will match the rest of the trim.

Mardi Gras parade on I-10 through downtown New Orleans.

Habitat for Humanity’s “Musician Village” just down the road from Sara’s house.

Sunset at the Louisiana Street house.

In today’s NOLA adventure the team got the opportunity to visit Edna Karr High School and converse with students and staff. The main topics ranged from school, saints football, and life style.

Campus Security demonstrates the importance of maintaining a safe and happy atmosphere for students.

“You can do it if you but your mind to it! Or should I say just do it” – Mr. Pitts
Fellow Oneder, Juan enjoyed the hot sun painting the front porch of Mr. Pitts. At the end of the day, Juan left the porch with many fun stories.

Shawny and the rest of the group gets to work cleaning the studs in Rosie’s house to prepare for sheet-rocking in the coming days.