A heartwarming close to Paul’s story of his adventures in New Orleans:
This week was “women’s build” week for the St. Bernard Project. Over 100 women from all over the country traveled to St. Bernard Parish to, as our t-shirts proclaimed, “work it girl!” The house we worked on belongs to a deputy sheriff who stayed through the storm and rescued people for days afterwards. It’s a 3-bedroom 2-bath house. We installed the insulation and drywall, and by the end of the day on Saturday, the house should be ready for painting. Our team leader, a long-term volunteer with the St. Bernard Project, told us that doing that much work in a week is “unheard of.” Almost everyone began the week with little to no experience, and we became accomplished experts in a matter of hours. So, even if you’ve never done construction work, come to New Orleans anyway! It’s easy!!
I was quite popular on our team, as my extreme height advantage made me the designated guy to do everything on the ceilings. My nickname for the week was “Tall Paul.”
On Thursday morning, I was honored to be a guest at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. charter school in the Ninth Ward. A team from the Louisiana Children’s Museum runs a program there called “Play Power” (I had met a member of the team at Camp Hope during my previous visit). Play Power is designed to help children cope with the mental health effects of Katrina through play activities. The kids in the area have been through a lot: nearly all of them lost their home; children from their school died; relatives perished, and some lost their pets. On top of all that, their lives are still chaotic as their parents struggle to rebuild. I was told that some of the younger ones struggle to overcome a fear of the rain. At Play Power, I met children from 1st grade through the 8th grade, and it was wonderful. I told them about Colorado, about being a lawyer (and that I’ve represented children), and about my volunteer work in New Orleans. They were all curious about my height, and I was happy to oblige when one of the students asked me if I could touch the ceiling. I participated in their activities, and upon request, did one mean hokey pokey! 🙂
On top of meeting the children, it was truly special to join President Bush, Laura Bush, and Brad Pitt on the list of guests who have visited the school. 🙂
And wouldn’t you know it? One of the children told me that I look like professional wrestler, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin! 🙂
Although I did not work for Habitat for Humanity during this trip, I did make a quick visit to Musician’s Village, an entire community being built by Habitat volunteers. What I saw was so heart-warming. Over 350 people (a number quoted to me by a volunteer who worked there that day) were hard at work as far as I could see in every direction.
Although the situation in New Orleans sometimes made me sad and depressed (not to mention angry with the federal government), I had many moments of hope and pride. This was one of them. With the folks at women’s build and elsewhere, I estimated that over 500 volunteers were hard at work in the New Orleans area that day. Amazing and inspiring.
Unfortunately, as the next phase of my life begins with my first day at Holland & Hart on Monday (provided I can walk by then!), I will not return to New Orleans soon – but I will go back. When I set out to do what I’ve done, I had planned to keep my experience low-key and quiet. Once I saw what was happening down there, I decided I needed to spread the word. So please, if you’re able, go to New Orleans and have a physically exhausting yet wonderful experience. My body aches everywhere, and I’m very tired. At the same time, I feel great. I’ve met the most wonderful people – volunteers from all over the country young and old.
When my friend from Boston and I were waiting in the emergency room last night, a woman approached me and said she had seen me working on a house in Violet, LA (which is part of St. Bernard Parish). She had the nicest smile, looked teary-eyed, and gave me the nicest hug. A complete stranger! Soon, all the other people in the room thanked me and my friend for coming to New Orleans to help. The doctors who treated my knee thanked us warmly and kindly. I wish you could have seen the look in the eyes of the deputy sheriff and his wife each day they saw their home take a giant leap towards completion. Please go down there and experience it when you can!
Take care and thanks for reading my emails.