Friday, March 28, 2008

New Orleans - Part Three (final!)

Only I could take a month to blog about a 6 day trip. If it was just a vacation I wouldn't have bothered, but I really want to show you everything. This is the last post - I'm anxious to resume my knitting posts because I'm knitting mitered squares in the round and I'm feeling like a genius. Let me show you where we stayed and worked and then I'll be done. So, without further ado, welcome to Camp Hope!

This is where we stayed. It is currently the largest volunteer camp in the US. The week we were there it housed 500 people. They were expecting almost 1000 the week after as college kids come to volunteer over spring break. It is in a school in St. Bernard Parish; the population of St. Bernard isn't back up to pre-storm levels so there aren't enough kids to warrant re-opening the school yet. In the meantime, it is Habitat for Humanity's camp.

It's not the Ritz but it is well run and safe. They have strict rules of conduct there (no drinking, boys sleep in one hall, girls in another) If I had college-age kids I wouldn't hesitate to let them stay there. It even has several TV rooms and a large computer room. It is staffed by AmeriCorp volunteers who work really hard. I don't think my time in NOLA would be quite complete if I hadn't experienced Camp Hope.

My bed: (Here is the required knitting content - you can see the Friday Night Knitting Club poking out from under my Stitches & Scones bag.)

There are 30 beds to a room. Our room only had 6 people in it, but most of the rooms were full.

There are two shower choices: freezing cold inside the school or warm in an outdoor mobile shower unit. After taking the coldest showers ever the first night, my group happily waited in line each day to take warm showers here:

The surprise of the trip was that the food was pretty darn good. During the week the AmeriCorp volunteers cook breakfast and dinner for between 300-1000 people a day (you make yourself a sandwich for your sack lunch). Over the weekend volunteers from St. Bernard help make the meals, and they're usually local recipes. The night I got there I had really good red beans and rice.

Our group of six worked at the same house for the entire week. Here's where my photos get a little less dramatic. If anyone was hoping that I spent the week in a hard hat with a sledgehammer knocking things down, you will be sadly disappointed. Historic preservation enthusiasts generally pooh-pooh knocking stuff down with sledgehammers. This double shotgun house is a couple neighborhoods away from the French Quarter. The homeowner would have qualified for a Rebuilding Together rehab before Katrina. After the storm the home improvement needs became even greater. His roof was damaged and leaked water into parts of the house. His house also had 2 feet of water during the flooding. By the time we got there, the walls had been repaired and the new kitchen cabinets were in place. We were there to paint the interior, put up crown molding and install carpet. Unfortunately we didn't get to the carpet due to some issues with the floor.

There are no before and after photos of the painting because we painted white over white. Except the window sills. It would have been nice if I had taken after photos of those.

My "crowning" achievement of the week (hee hee!): I learned how to cut and install crown molding. See that crown molding next to the ceiling. I cut that!

Before the house is officially finished, Rebuilding Together will re-glaze the windows.

On our last day we started fixing the holes in the floor. There were three major holes in the floor. For those of you with basements and concrete slabs under your houses (most of you probably), don't freak out that you can see the dirt ground through the holes. My home is built the same way (fortunately no holes). This is typical of older homes in the south. It's fun in the winter when you feel a cold breeze coming up through your hardwood floors.

Grady, our house captain, cutting out around the hole. I learned how to secure the joists and patch up the hole. I also spent a good portion of the last day pulling nails out of the floor.

The house was close to the Rebuilding Together warehouse. I don't think all the RT volunteers get to visit the warehouse if they don't work near it. We had a great opportunity to see how the entire organization was run and to meet the other house captains. It was also nice to be close to a working bathroom and the staff break room.

Eating lunch on the RT balcony:

Rebuilding Together has a new salvage store at the warehouse. A few month ago they finally convinced FEMA that donating important architectural elements to RT would be much better than adding them to the landfills. These are all from FEMA-funded demolitions. The salvage store is doing a brisk business with lots of people needing to replace these items on their homes.

One more photo. This is from a very badly damaged home in the Lower Ninth. It nicely sums up my trip. The National Trust has an article about it in their newsletter which describes what it was like better than I can. When I start writing about it, it sounds cliche and mushy. I'll just say that if you have ever considered doing a trip like this, do it! There is plenty of work for unskilled volunteers like myself. You may be surprised to learn what you're capable of doing (like being in charge of the chop saw!!). I really do feel like our group helped with the rebuilding effort. When I got home I spent a few days counting my many blessings and hugging my dogs. I am definitely going back.


Opal said...

Very inspirational. You really did a wonderful thing.

mary said...

Hey Christine!

It's Mary from the Trust in Washington, DC. We volunteered together in New Orleans with RTNO. I just read your blog from the RTNO website that is very good.

I'm so sorry I forgot to send you the photographs of you cutting crown molding on the scary saw machine. Please provide your email address and I'd be happy to forward them along.

I hope your doing well.
Talk to you soon.