Paul is a good friend of mine from law school whom I am honored to have as my first ever guest post here on Law and Motherhood. Paul was kind enough to email me about his adventures working with Habitat for Humanity. He was also kind enough to consent to me posting those adventures here:
Hey everyone. Just thought I’d send out an update on my activities here in St. Bernard Parish. I had planned to keep this low-key, but after seeing the destruction down here, I thought it was important to spread the word about what’s happening here.
I’ve worked four long days down here now and at the end of each I’m completely exhausted because of the heat and humidity, but we’ve gotten a lot of work done! Like one of the founders of the St. Bernard Project (see details below) told us, one person can do more for the Parish in one day than the federal government has in two years. So true.
I’ve attached three photos. The first, in which I’m up on a ladder, is at a Habitat for Humanity location I’ve worked at on two nonconsecutive days. It’s a brand new home for an elderly woman who lost everything in the storm. The water was 10 to 15 feet deep in her neighborhood. Her home will probably be ready by Thanksgiving. I’ve been climbing on ladders and roof joists and hammering in nail after nail (not to mention fighting off thousands of insects, which you’ll see in the photo).
The other two days, I’ve worked with the St. Bernard Project, which was founded by an attorney and a teacher from Washington, D.C. who were fed up with the lack of progress down here. The project is dedicated to gutting damaged homes and rebuilding them one by one. With volunteer labor, they can do it for $10,000 per home. Very impressive. For a good description of what they do, see the Anderson Cooper CNN video posted here. For more information about the project, see this link.
At the first home in St. Bernard Parish, I was a “mudder” for most of the day, filling in the seams in the freshly-installed drywall. The interesting thing about this home is the view out back (see second photo).
In the background you’ll see the “K” in “Big K Mart,” which is now closed (stores from nearly all the big chains – WalMart, Winn Dixie, Taco Bell, McDonalds, etc. are still closed up). I saw a video in which the water was up to the “K.” By the way, I’m not the guy in the foreground, that’s another volunteer with male pattern baldness. 🙂
At the second home in St. Bernard Parish, I was a caulker, painter, and roof-attic-stairway-installer. This home was also gutted and rebuilt from the inside and should be ready (at least from the inside) in about two weeks. I met the woman who will live there. She’s a single mother with two children and is super-nice. Her elderly mother lives with her and is in a wheelchair. The rebuild is sponsored by Tide, which chipped in about $3k (they shot publicity video while I was there).
The third photo shows me in front of the “Tide house” with the project leader, Nick, who comes from Columbus, Ohio. He has been working down here for two months. Please note the “x” on the front of the home. All the yet to be rebuilt homes have this. The top of the X is the date of inspection. The left is the rescue unit identification. The bottom is the number of bodies found (a zero is good – I was told that a nursing home in the area had a 35). The right is the number of animals found.
Probably the most amazing thing about being down here is the people I’ve met. There are folks here from all over the United States who have given up a week or two or three or more to provide free labor for the rebuilding process. It’s a great feeling to be here. Each day I’ve worked with a crew of a half-dozen or so people. There are a lot of Americorps volunteers down here – all idealistic young people with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. I can’t say enough good things about them. We all stay in a former middle school that’s now a volunteer center. The classrooms are barracks. The cafeteria is used to feed volunteers (free!). The gym is now a warehouse. Someday it will be a school again.
Finally, if there’s a way you can come down here to volunteer, please do so. It’s depressing, frankly, to see how many homes and businesses are still destroyed after two years. Along any residential street, you’ll see house after house with trailers in front of them. Residents are living in these “FEMA trailers” (usually parked in their front yard) while trying to find a way to rebuild. Many are abandoned altogether. Some are nothing but the concrete foundation. Since no one had flood insurance (it was too expensive to have anyway), jobs are now hard to come by (unemployment was only 4% pre-Katrina), and the government has been very unhelpful – it’s difficult or impossible for them to rebuild. These folks need your help.
Thanks for reading! I’ll be here Th and F, after which I’ll be flying to California to see my nephew play football. After that, I might come back here to do some more. I’ll try to send out another update before I leave.
Take care (and please remember the residents of New Orleans and surrounding communities!),