New Orleans Trip: Tuesday

Today, most of the volunteers went to the New Orleans Food Bank. A few returned to the Animal Shelter and some returned to the Lazarus Project working with AIDS patients. Also, the two construction crews at Ms. Evelyn’s and Ms. Severe’s houses returned to their sites.

I went back to Ms. Evelyn’s house today. Some of us helped jack up a corner of the house that was sinking. I worked on exploring the possibility of stripping the paint from the baseboards and doors, in order to restore them to their original condition. This is a long-term job, since there is a huge amount of woodwork to be repaired in the home. Once we can set up the best techniques, then the crew leader can direct future volunteers more effectively.

This brings up an interesting situation with this organization. All of the staff and leaders are young adults, many working through Americorps, and probably all in their 20’s. Few of them have extensive construction experience, but they have an unbridled passion to do a good job restoring these homes.

Dallas, our crew chief, is from Portland, Maine. He has a fiction writing degree from Colorado and is an energetic and idealistic young man. He badly wants to not just return Ms. Evelyn to a house, but restore her home to as close to its original condition as possible. Of course, we are doing this with little money, but a lot of labor. So, there are times when we volunteers have suggested want seem to be logical ideas and shortcuts. But, Dallas is undeterred.

The point is that, whoever is right is not important. What matters is that this young man and the dozen or so other young people leading these projects are learning vital skills while performing valuable public services. This experience will make them even more amazing people who I am sure will contribute immensely to society. So, whether they make the decision we older and perhaps more experienced adults would make is less important than the fact that we respect their authority and give our best efforts to help them achieve their goals for their projects.

So, coming to New Orleans is about directly helping victims of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. It is also about training the next generation of citizens in leadership and giving them the confidence to strive for their dreams.

Another important aspect of our trip to New Orleans is infusing our energy and our financial resources into the community. Several of us have reported conversations with local residents thanking us just for being here. Today, our crew ate lunch at Cafe Reconcile, an absolutely fascinating organization in Center City. This five-story building currently is a restaurant where young people learn all of the skills of the hospitality business. In time, the upper floors will be developed into a banquet hall, classrooms, space for entrepreneurial enterprises, and short-term housing for students. The food was amazing – collards, okra, pork chops, crawfish bisque, among other things.

Tomorrow, everyone will be going to the Ka-Boom playground site.