Tuesday, April 3, 2007


April 3: Day Five, Break 2007

No video today. We’re all very tired.

Before we go further, we want to address the concerns expressed by some of you back home about the news that several murders have occurred in New Orleans this week. Though we can make no absolute guarantees into the future, we can say with certainty that we have seen nothing alarming anywhere near where we are working. The murders all seem to be drug-related, with the exception of one that involved a teenager killing his mother's boyfriend (who wanted to kick the teenager out of the house in which the mother and he were living). We are keeping a close watch on everything around us and we are staying close together at all times. We primarily work on main streets in the areas where we are, with big crowds of people around us. We are doing everything we can to be safe.

But now back to our activities of the day. We had a long work day, starting at 8:00 a.m. and ending at 8:00 p.m. We spread ourselves out over a range of Habitat for Humanity sites during the early part of the day, then congregated back on our favorite blocks of the Ninth Ward in the afternoon and evening.

One group continued the roofing job that we started yesterday on Law St. As it turns out, we were a big hit at that site yesterday, as the staff person there had not expected an actual experienced roofing crew to show up. We scored the job in the first place just by saying who we were in yesterday’s vast sea of volunteers; the organizer for the day immediately recognized us as a well-known very productive group and offered us any job we wanted. Because our lead roofing expert, Shane, had just arrived, we chose that job.

Today, then, we sent a contingent of eight people to complete the setting of the trusses. They developed a new method for spacing the trusses that might help to correct an ongoing problem at Habitat houses. The normal way of doing things is to mark the tops of the wall framing so that it is clear where to place each truss. Unfortunately, people often mark the wall tops with no clear sense of the importance of their markings and they are therefore not as careful as we might hope they would be.

On the Law Street house, the markings were not symmetrical on the two walls, meaning that the roof would have been crooked if we had actually followed the lines. Instead, our group determined the distance that should separate the trusses and created a spacer board to place them and nail them. Things went so quickly that the site supervisor started taking notes on how to do this job more efficiently.

Many of us headed back to New Orleans East with our favorite staffer Alicia. She is in charge of all of the houses under construction in that neighborhood and the main office wants them all completed as soon as possible. Her supervisor hopes that now that “her crew” is back (that’s us), we will be able to fix the problems that other volunteers have caused.

We just learned today that many of the groups that come to help are not helpful at all. Alicia said that one college group (to remain nameless) spent their entire time dancing with each other and avoiding the tasks they were assigned. We mentioned having seen some of the high school students at our site yesterday sitting in the middle of the floor and hitting flies with their hammers as their way of passing the day. Alicia said that we had no idea how much we stand out or how well-regarded we are, even by the Habitat staffers who have never met us.

Thus, today we spent much of our time in New Orleans East taking things apart and trying to figure out how to put them back together. On one house, we discovered a two-inch tilt to the porch that made it nearly impossible to deal with the soffet over it in any normal way. We moved into problem-solving mode, realizing that we could not un-do all that had gone wrong on that porch and that it was just a matter of making decisions that were the best solutions based on what we faced. By tomorrow, that porch should be in much better shape.

Several of us worked on placing chain link fences, a move that is one of the last phases of any Habitat home’s construction. One of the fences that we laid out will help to guarantee that the home (Natasha’s purple house) will get a retaining wall that will help to prevent erosion on the low slope of her lot. We also put finishing touches on paint and trim jobs throughout the neighborhood, bringing a couple of the houses to completion in just a few short hours.

After a full Habitat work day, we again headed over to Rosie’s house. There we jumped on some of the jobs already in progress, including the placement of laminate flooring in the front room and both bedrooms of the house. We prepped the kitchen, bathroom and back entry for tile flooring that we think will be delivered tomorrow. We also got things ready to begin construction of a massive ramp out the back door and into the carport, so that Rosie’s roommate Janice will be able to get into and out of the house more easily while using her walker.

While we were at Rosie’s today, we were surprised to see more workers arrive. They had brought new siding for the exterior of Rosie’s house and they began to install it as soon as they arrived. Because of their work, Rosie is now the second house in the couple of blocks surrounding the intersection on which we normally work that has finally been liberated from the huge spray-painted “X” marked on the front of it by search and rescue teams back in September of 2005. As readers of our January blog already know, the first house to erase this symbol belongs to Sarah Mercadel, whose home we painted when we returned this January.

As we watched this huge transformation at Rosie’s house unfold right before our very eyes, many of us were quite overwhelmed. We clearly remember the first time that we walked into Rosie’s house on our first weekend in January 2006. We really couldn’t picture back then that the house would ever possibly look as beautiful as it looks now. Even when we were here two months ago, we completed mold abatement procedures on the decaying shell of her house and it seemed impossible to create something really nice from the skeleton that we were seeing back then.

But now things are really close to being better than ever at Rosie’s. We are eager to move as many things forward as we can in the next few days, before we head back to California at the end of our break. We imagine that she will be able to move into the house within the month. We just found out that her neighbor, Don, whose house we worked on in both of our Jan Term trips, will be moving in by April 30. Sarah, too, hopes to move into her house this month. Natasha should gain access to her new home in the month of April also.

We are very pleased to have played some small role in these families’ opportunity to reclaim their homes from the chaos of the storm. We are happy that their lives will soon brighten up. Still, we can see how many houses still look just like Rosie’s looked back in January 2006. We hope that the families whose houses those are can get the assistance that they need from local, state, and federal agencies. And we wonder what group of volunteers will come back again and again to some of those houses to make sure that progress is always being made. We wish it could be us. . .


Justin, Brianna, Matt, Aaron and Soraya set to work raising and nailing trusses of the Habitat for Humanity house on Law Street.

The flock (including Habitat supervisor David in the green hat) descends upon a scrumptious treat...

. . . of crawfish! Down the road from the Law St. Habitat site there was a ribbon cutting ceremony for a construction company and as part of the celebration there was a crawfish boil. The organizers invited all of the Habitat for Humanity volunteers to dive in to a pile of shellfish and spices.

Overlooking the neighborhood around the Law St. site, Justin hammers down a truss.

Aaron intensely examines his work while contemplating his next move.

Combining forces with a group of framers from Maryland, the SMC bunch raises the sheathing for the gable.

Shane prepares to hammer in the sheer wall on the gable as Emily checks measurements to ensure that it is positioned properly.

Sarah takes a turn painting her security doors the same deep blue color that we painted her house trim back in January.

Soraya and Rosie share their love of art, smiling ear to ear.

Tommy drills down a piece of subflooring that will support a new tile floor in Rosie’s kitchen and bathroom.

Jed exhibits the harsh effect a 12-hour work day in the sun will have on one’s skin tone.