Saturday, January 27, 2007

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.

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