Friday, April 13, 2007


April 7: Day Nine, Break Week

Today we returned to California, meaning that our top priority in New Orleans this morning was to pack and load the vans so that we could make our way back to Houston in time for our flight back home. Still, we knew that there were a couple more jobs that we could finish in just a few short hours, so ten of us agreed to get up at 5:30 a.m. and head back to Rosie’s one more time.

On our way from Uptown to the Ninth Ward, we noticed thick black smoke billowing in the air in front of us. As we approached one intersection on South Claiborne Street in the Central City neighborhood, we saw huge flames shooting into the air and a bunch of emergency vehicles all over the streets. A huge old house and an adjacent brick building were being engulfed. It was a highly unusual experience to watch a half block of New Orleans dissolve into fiery embers when we were approaching our 1500th hour of reconstruction labor in just this one week. We drove by slowly, marveled over the weirdness of it all, and then just focused on the jobs at hand.

Once at Rosie’s we scrubbed the floors and grouted the last tiles that we set yesterday, we painted trim, we hung blinds, we cleaned up scattered tools, and we worked on a job or two for Sarah around the corner. Rosie made us coffee and stayed close by, talking about her excitement about the future of the house. Like us, she was still gushing about Janice’s achievement yesterday in walking the new ramp out back. We all took note of what a huge change that ramp would bring to Janice’s life. The folks who went to Sarah’s house learned that she had stayed up late on Friday night to make us homemade pralines, which, as usual, were the best we’ve ever tasted.

The people who hadn’t gone back to the Ninth took responsibility for cleaning and packing up our temporary NOLA home. They doled out our leftover food to other groups staying at our same house and gathered up our dishes, boots, toiletry items, and media equipment so that everything was ready to go.

The folks at Rosie’s and Sarah’s realized that it was time to go, no matter how many more little jobs we could find to do. Because Tommy and Shane were flying out of New Orleans directly (having made separate arrangements from the larger group) we decided to take them back to the houses on our way out of town so that they could finish even more jobs. In that way we got to postpone our goodbyes just a little bit longer.

We collected back at the house where we stayed, made everything fit into the two vans somehow, and headed back to drop Tommy and Shane off for the last time. Rosie had already agreed to drive them to the airport, so all of our loose ends were tying up very nicely. We hugged and hollered and took one last look down the streets of “our” neighborhood: the Upper Ninth Ward. And then we started driving west. And sleeping.

Somewhere along the way we realized why we were so tired: we had completed over 1500 hours of manual labor in this one week alone. Altogether, counting all four of the SMC trips to New Orleans, we have exceeded 10,000 total hours of direct hurricane relief. The numbers work like this on a trip by trip basis:

Jan 2006: 4160 total hours
Break 2006: 720 total hours
Jan 2007: 3700 total hours
Break 2007: 1542 total hours

Grand Total: 10,122!!!

Of course, we could easily count project work as hurricane relief of sorts, but even without counting that work, we hit 10,000 hours! We are exhausted and very proud.

We are also reminded that the work is not over. We know that we made an impact in our 10,000 hours, but we also know that we barely made a dent in the overall crisis still haunting the Gulf Coast. Many homes remain untouched still, almost 20 months after the storms. And people are still waiting. Rosie is waiting for the money promised to her by the state. Sarah is waiting for a reliable plumber to set up her kitchen and bathrooms. Natasha is waiting for the go-ahead from Habitat for Humanity so that she can take possession of her new home. Lisa is waiting for the time when her extended family is no longer is a state of acute crisis, so that she can resume a normal pace sometime in the near future. And thousands of families we haven’t yet met are hoping that a group like ours comes to help them turn the next corner on their road to recovery. Please help them in any way you can.

Thanks for listening, once again . . .


We ate this morning at one of the all-time fanciest McDonald's that we have ever seen.

There was a lot of tricky tilework to be done in the back of the house, as the rooms are not square. Here's the bathroom floor as it slants around the new shower enclosure.

The kitchen, back entry, and bathroom all share this tilework.

Here's a peek at the new floors and newly-installed blinds in Rosie's bedroom.

Once all the paper is removed, Rosie's living room and bedrooms will have these beautiful laminate floors, perfectly painted walls and trim, and lovely ceiling fans. What a wonderful place!

The long drive to Houston included catching up on some web-posting.