Katrina Recovery Team December 2007
Emails sent from students and staff in the Gulf Region.
December 14, 2007
Hi folks. Just wanted everyone to know that the Bucknell Katrina Recovery Team arrived safely in Louisiana about 7:45 this evening after a long day of travel. We checked in to Camp Hope, our volunteer base camp in St. Bernard Parish. The organizers here are expecting about 350 volunteers this week to help with rebuilding efforts through Habitat for Humanity. We had a late supper at a local diner that was not used to having such a large group but they called in some relatives to help with the rush. The location gave us some real local color and the owner Richie Rich talked about how grateful they were to have volunteers help with the recovery. He said that only a third of the 68,000 residents of the parish have returned. Given that 100% of the parish was underwater because of the levee breaks following Hurricane Katrina, it is estimated that full recovery will really take years. Mr. Rich described his own situation saying that his business took on four and a half feet of water over three hours. The roof had also been damaged and it cost him $18,000 to do the necessary repairs to reopen. He chose not to wait for FEMA assistance, and to pay himself for the rebuilding, but many people are relying on volunteer labor to assist with the move back home.
We start bright and early tomorrow morning with a safety orientation to the rebuilding work and will be sent to some home sites. I will try to check in with more info tomorrow.
For the BU KRT
December 15, 2007
Greetings from down south. The Katrina Recovery Team enjoyed a beautiful sunny blue sky day today in St. Bernard Parish. It was hot enough that a few of us got some sunburn, but we also did some hard work and the group is feeling tired but satisfied with what we were able to accomplish.
The day began with a safety orientation and a brief talk about the work of Habitat for Humanity and how the rebuilding work in the parish is going. Then we divided in to two teams. I'll let the students tell what happened next.
Hi I'm Katie Abbott. This trip is very exciting for me since it is my first time in New Orleans. My group spent the day siding a Habitat house. It seemed like quite a challenge at first, but we were able to finish the whole house by the end of the day. I was impressed by how much we were able to accomplish, but it is very overwhelming to see the destruction from Hurricane Katrina in person. Clearly this area is still in need of a lot of help. Tonight we are visiting the French quarter and I can't wait to see this famous part of New Orleans!
Hey everyone, I'm Jenna Crimaldi and I was on the other team of volunteers. My group spent the day working on a house that only had the framing up in the beginning of the day. We spent most of the day framing the roof and starting to board the roof. I have never done any kind of construction before, but the experienced members of the team taught me how to properly hammer a nail! By the end of the day a group of us were up on the roof placing and nailing boards almost on our own! I agree with Katie in how surprised I was with how much progress we were able to make in just one day. I am sure we will all have sore muscles tomorrow but it was well worth it! I am looking forward to sight-seeing tomorrow because I have also never been to New Orleans!
December 16, 2007
Sorry for the delay, but we didn't have enough time or battery power to send this on Sunday.
This is Janice letting folks know that on our non-work day, the group packed in a lot of New Orleans activities. We visited the New Orleans Museum of Art and saw two exhibits about Katrina. We visited a Bucknell grad at Tulane University to hear about his experience following the storm, and the group had a lot of time to shop and explore the French Quarter. I'll let some of the students share their perspectives here.
From Rosy Kim, 2008:
"The great thing about New Orleans is, there doesn't seem to be a class divide like you might notice in New York City. Everyone hangs out together at the same bars."
From speaking with the Bucknell alumnus who now attends Tulane, it was very clear how much he and his wife loved living in New Orleans. Their loyalty, passion, and dedication to this city were something to be commended. However, despite their observation of this seeming lack of class divide, I found that this only goes so far. When listening to jazz, carrying around beers on Bourbon St., or eating a delicious beignet, we can all easily enjoy these activities regardless of class or race. When it involves you and your loved ones' very own survival, the devastation and recovery process in New Orleans tells a very different story about the reality of class divide.
Hurricane Katrina was devastating to be sure, and the damage purely caused by mother nature is truly a frightening thing. However, Katrina did not create any new issues here in New Orleans so much as it did illuminate and amplify the already existing but constantly ignored problems of American society. Was it a coincidence that the majority of the people affected who took the biggest hit lived below the poverty level? Was it a coincidence that the poorest parts of the city were below sea level? Was it a coincidence that most of these people were African Americans with some of the lowest educational attainments in the country? As if their life was not difficult before Hurricane Katrina, I can barely imagine what their continuous struggle to recover even two years afterwards. Most of them did not have insurance or health care; the few prized possessions they had were all flushed away, and for some of them, they also had to recover from losing loved ones and pets.
Meanwhile, the vicious cycle of poverty and lack of opportunities for upward social mobility was fueled by decades of corrupt leadership. To make things even worse, this corrupt leadership seems to be a vicious cycle in it of itself; the very population voting for their government are generally not educated and showed ignorance or apathy towards voting, which is part of the reason leaders already proven to be rotten to the core continue winning elections. From the short time that I have been here, I have found that New Orleans is an amazing city rich with so many interesting cultures that come together to create a unique atmosphere unlike anywhere else I have been. Matt, the Bucknell alumnus, and his wife loved it; Melvin the local guy who helped us put sidings on the house the first day loved it, and after spending just two days here, I love it. Yes, it highlights some of the biggest problems of American society relating to race, class, poverty, and the difference in qualities of education throughout the country. However, it is so special with so much potential and it deserves all the attention that it received. It breaks my heart to notice that the media coverage amount for Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans decreases every day. At the same time, I feel so thankful to be part of this trip and have the ability to make at least a tiny difference. It makes me wonder if there could be a bigger solution to the overall problem in New Orleans.
The recovery process from Hurricane Katrina is only the beginning, and it does not eradicate the core of the problem. I would like to come up with one simple solution that will fix everything but it seems, along with every other problem in life, that this does not exist. However, if I had to pin point one area that needs immediate attention, I would say that it is the education of the masses. It is only with education that some of these people living in poverty have at least some opportunity for upward social mobility. Education can also allow for prevention of this mass destruction from future natural devastation through better preparation and possible successful campaigns of those candidates who are not corrupt to pull this area out of depression. Am I being too optimistic? Perhaps. But I try to look on the bright side; I'm only 21, full of ideas and energy, and I still have so much more to do.
And from Corey Teitz, 2009
Even though I have only been here for two days, I can already say that the city of New Orleans has given me more through this experience than I could ever give back. Before I came down, I thought I had a good understanding of the destruction that happened here, but videos, pictures, and articles can't convey the damage that was done to the heart and soul of the city. Every person I talk to has their own story about this horrible event, and it is clear that Hurricane Katrina will not be forgotten any time soon. When traveling around the city, it is hard to believe that this storm occurred more than two years ago, when I first entered college (I am now in my junior year). I feel like that was so long ago and I have accomplished a lot since then, but down here there are people who are still trying to get their lives back together after the storm. Sure, there are areas of the city that are back up and running and tourists are encouraged to enjoy New Orleans as it was before the storm. But there are also people who have been living in trailers and tents for two years who are unsure if they are going to be able to rebuild here. There is so much work that still needs to be done here, and I hope that our work can help these people regain some sense of stability in their lives. I also hope that this experience will help other people realize that everything is not back to normal yet in the Big Easy.
December 17, 2007
Today the Katrina Recovery Team traveled to Waveland Mississippi where the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed in 2005. There was still evidence of the damage and displaced families. We worked in two teams with the Walls of Hope program which is rebuilding homes for elderly, disabled, or single-parent families. Here are perspectives from two Bucknell students:
Today we took a road trip to Waveland, Mississippi, about an hour away from camp. Half of our group worked with Chris and Brian from Walls of Hope on the construction of Melissa's house. Melissa was right there with us and she really knew her stuff: she had just finished an addition to her house when the storm hit. We had the entire house insulated in about two hours, the task that was supposed to take us all day. So we got to start hanging drywall in two rooms and by the end of the day we had made really good progress. Melissa got a cake for Brittany's birthday, which was really sweet, and she also kept trying to invite all 12 or so of us into her trailer to get warm. She knew just as much about hanging drywall as Brian and Chris, the Walls of Hope leaders, did! I think everyone on our team learned a lot from today, both about construction and the effects of Katrina on the Mississippi area, which got much less press coverage than New Orleans. Chris also took us on a tour of the Waveland area, and it was really shocking to see places by the beach where houses had literally been blown away, leaving nothing but their foundations. However, there was also a sense of hope seen in the large numbers of people choosing to rebuild their large gorgeous homes right back on the gulf coastline.
The second team worked on the demolition of a house a few blocks away. Our first task was to clear the last of the personal possessions and furniture from the damaged home. Pat, the owner lived in the FEMA trailer next door and directed us as to which items needed to be saved. The house had been under eight feet of water and the roof had been ripped off by a tornado. Before a temporary tarp could be put on the roof, Hurricane Rita had dumped several inches of rain inside the house. Now two years have passed and Pat is still living in the trailer with her family. When asked if this day was bittersweet, her response was that it was only sweet for her. Once the inside was cleared, a Bobcat was used to knock down the house. All the debris was then sorted into either the dumpster or a controlled burn on the side of the lot. Everything was going well until mid-afternoon when the Bobcat fell into quicksand and was engulfed, sinking in further as we tried to dig it out. When we left, more than half of the house had been burned, the dumpster was filled to the brim and the Bobcat was still stuck in the mud. Overall we accomplished quite a lot and Pat thanked us continuously.
From Norah Patrick:
The two groups met up on the Gulf of Mexico for a group reflection and a meeting with Bay St. Louis resident Chris Lagarde, a Katrina survivor who had weathered out the storm and who the Bucknell team had helped out last year. He shared with us his story of Katrina and how it affected the town of Bay St. Louis and invited us back to his house for a home-cooked dinner. The dinner, gumbo (a Southern stew made with chicken, andouille sausage, okra, and cajun spice) , was quite possibly the highlight of the trip. The hospitality of Chris and his family who were feeding not only our group, but another volunteer group, was amazing. We spent the night around a bonfire in his front yard, singing along with the guitar (played by several talented team members) and making s'mores. The trip to Mississippi showed us not only the different impact of Katrina on different communities but the thankfulness, optimism and overwhelming hospitality of the storm's survivors.
December 18, 2007
Dan Ryan '09
Today, it was back to work in good old St. Bernard Parish for the Bucknell Katrina Recovery Team. Me having joined the group on Sunday, it was my first time actually working in Louisiana. We split up into two groups; one went and worked on the siding of a house, while my team worked on putting together the roof of another house down the same street. The day started out relatively cool and overcast and turned out to be comfortably warm and sunny - a perfect day for rebuilding in New Orleans. The highlight of my workday was definitely the two neighborhood puppies that came by to see if they could steal a bite of our lunches down on the ground while we were up blocking and laying plywood on the roof. One thing about doing recovery work for Katrina that I've been thinking about is that a group like ours can only do so much in a week's time. It can be hard at times being assigned to a half-built house for a day or two and only be able to contribute maybe a part of the roof, for example, or the insulation and a bit of dry wall. I spoke with some AmeriCorps people today who said they had been there for the entire completion of a house over a few month's time earlier this year, and admittedly I was a bit jealous of that. I'm the kind of person who tends to like to see the results of my work right away. Working here for only a week almost might make one feel as though he or she isn't contributing that much. As I thought about it more, however, I realized that this opportunity for us to spend a week here actually does matter - a lot. Today my group put together most of the roof of someone's new home - something that is definitely an important part of the house - and if it weren't for us there wouldn't be a whole house in the end. Our effort alone won't make a whole house, and it isn't expected to - our effort will add to the sum of everyone's contributions that will make a whole house for a family to live in, a family whose previous house was destroyed in a storm two and a half years ago. You should try to have that mindset if you're only here for a week, and it's such a rewarding feeling knowing that you were able to make a contribution like that.
After finishing at our work sites for the day and getting back to Camp Hope, there was a mad dash from the vans to the showers in order to see if there was any warm water left. Some of the guys claimed to enjoy a nice hot shower, but I myself definitely did not have the same luck. Anyways, we soon left again for downtown New Orleans to enjoy a Christmas musical performance by Philip Manuel and Leah Chase in the St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. This beautiful cathedral (inside and out) is actually the oldest continuously-operating Catholic cathedral in America. The music was really great and a relaxing ending to our day of hard work. Afterwards I went to a nearby restaurant with a small group and had an excellent dinner that included great food and an even greater waiter - we even got talked into having ALLIGATOR as an appetizer! Only in New Orleans. I'm definitely looking forward to the rest of this week.
December 19, 2007
It's Wednesday evening and folks are pretty tired after a long day of work completing some of the siding job, and on the construction site. Today a number of individuals from the Katrina Recovery Team worked on painting the interior and exterior of another Habitat for Humanity house on our block.
Tonight after dinner we also heard from Carla Robertson, a Bucknell graduate from the Class of '89, who spoke about the school situation in New Orleans where she now lives. She provided a lot of information about the complexities of the situation here and how children and their families have been affected. Carla also spoke about her involvement in the Teach for America and Teach NOLA program which recruits new college graduates to teach in needy school districts. This area is certainly in need of caring and compassionate teachers in the classrooms since providing a sense of normalcy and psychic stability is part of the rebuilding process.
Here are some thoughts from Dan Anderson, who has been doing some thinking and questioning '08.
I was curious to see what my reaction to seeing the devastation down here was going to be. I was sure that at some point I wouldn't be able to handle it and I would break down. After seeing all the footage and hearing all the stats I planned to be blown away. Driving to Camp Hope on the first night I watched the reality fly by my window under the cover of darkness. We could only see so far into the black, but it was enough to see that wasted houses were everywhere. The next day showed us how little we had actually seen that first night. Two days ago, we drove out to Mississippi, only to be met with more depressing scenes. During our travels, we were faced with poverty, injustice, destruction, and heaviness. But for me, the reality is that watching through the window was no different than seeing the video footage or pictures that the media flooded our imaginations with. We could sit in our comfortable minivans where we could control everything. We set the temperature, we choose the music, we adjust the seats, we could close our eyes. I find it amazing how close to all of this I can come and still remain untouched.
What changed my perspective on the situation is when I had to pound a nail, lift some plywood, or paint a wall. It's not until the storm invades our physical space that we can begin to taste its effect on people down here. When the muddied waters of the Mississippi stain our clothes, it somehow stains our lives also.
Yesterday I was given a job that seemed to me unnecessary and pointless. I slammed my finger with a hammer about twenty times trying to nail through metal. It wasn't till my finger was bleeding that Katrina invaded my space. Of course that was miniscule compared to what has happened to people's lives here, but you see where this is going. It's not until I don't want to be down here that Katrina is felt. It's not until I'm inconvenienced and put out that I get angry that the government is doing a terrible thing to these people. It's not until I talk with a guy who lives down the street and shake his hand and listen to what he is dealing with that I want better levees built and better aid given. Once this trip shifts from vacation, or resume builder, or just that chance to get away from home, that the devastation actually enters my life.
I've been challenged on this trip to think about exactly what is going on here. Why do a bunch of students give up part of their winter break to come down here to help people they've never met in a place they've never been? Maybe the rest of the week will have some answers.
December 20, 2007
From Alexander J. Tuller
The entire team, despite cold showers and tired bodies, gathered in the morning with smiles on their faces. The zeal and commitment with which the team approached the house building in previous days was still easily present, and the Bucknell Service group piled into mini-vans and drove off with students excitedly talking about their ambitions for the workday. I happened to be working on placing sidings with a small group of students on a house further down the street from the roof-construction-team. We poured out of the van, and after a rousing pep-talk by a fellow student we got to work—that’s when the rain started coming down.
In retrospect I’m partially thankful for the rainy day. To echo the words of many of the bluesy radio stations we sat huddled under our house looking out into the real “beautiful and rainy New Orleans.” We had been so caught up in the aspirations of our immediate labor that I personally had forgotten how to tie it into a larger picture. The rainy day gave me a chance to slow down and think about just how nuanced and complicated a problem general relief can be after a natural disaster. Weather trapped us in the house we were creating—the same elements that destroyed the original house—and thinking about that contrast helped me empathize in a way I hadn’t thought I could. Sitting around with other Bucknell students talking about the economics, politics, social constraints, and government policies (structural inadequacies?) that created the relief landscape we were familiarizing ourselves with has become a memory I’m sure I will never forget. It was refreshing to finally start asking why we are down here—not why we personally wanted to come, but rather why it is necessary for the bulk of relief in New Orleans to rely on the good will of volunteers like ourselves.
From the state that can’t decide if it wants to be water or land,
And from Nicole Mott
After four productive and rewarding workdays, today wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Today was very rainy day and difficult to get work done, with a house that needed tarpaper and shingles put on the roof. Over the past few days I have helped construct the decking on a roof and the demolishment of a house, which has sat with mold and cockroaches for two years.
However, today because of the constant rain a small group and I were sent back to Camp Hope, in which the bottom floor is still being reconstructed. It was today that I realized, that there is always work that can be done after Katrina. Even though we weren’t constructing a new home, a group and I worked on rebuilding the old middle school, the current Camp Hope. Other students stayed on the worksite and did work inside or some students took a tour of the famous Brad Pitt “Pink Homes”. Today I realized the continuous work that can still be done in this region even two years post Katrina.
December 21, 2007
Greetings everyone. There are two final messages below from members of the Katrina Recovery Team that were meant to be sent from the airport yesterday, but the airwaves were not cooperative. However, fate was kind and allowed the large group to successfully make connections in Chicago and return to the northeast.
From Dana Marie Apruzzese '10
Waking up this morning was not unusually difficult as we had been out late the night before having a fantastic time at the local Rock ‘n Bowl. It was truly a rockin’ night as we got to participate in many southern traditions including all different forms of dancing, experiencing a true zydeco band and showing off our bowling skills, or in my case (along with many others) coming up with ways to hide my embarrassing bowling skills.
Our last day of work was bittersweet. It was immensely rewarding to see much of our work and goals of the week accomplished. Our group split up to continue working on the several different cites on Caluda St. Many of us had overwhelming feelings of accomplishment by finishing certain sections of the particular houses while still feeling small amounts of frustration that we could not put the finishing touches on all the houses and welcoming the families into them ourselves. My group was able to stand back at the end of the day and proudly look out our newly roofed and half shingled house. It was truly a wonderful feeling to know that although we could not fully finish the house we could still make a difference in helping put a roof over the heads of a family that had been waiting so long.
The bitter feelings came later in the day when our entire group took a tour of the lower ninth ward where actor Brad Pitt has started his pink houses project. (See http://www.makeitrightnola.org/ ) It was extremely inspiring to see the obvious passion he has poured into this project along with the models of the environmentally-friendly homes he plans to build to replace those that were destroyed. It was still very sad to witness the hundreds of empty lots where houses once stood, and spots where some houses were still standing sunken in as if the storm had just happened weeks ago. Even though the images of the wrecked homes were quite distressing, the feeling that there are still thousands of volunteers that are coming to help the area truly satisfied my bitter feelings. A song that I immediately thought of and started humming while walking through the symbolic pink tents was the chorus of “Pink Houses” by John Melloncamp. It goes a little something like this:
Oh, but ain't that America for you and me,
Ain't that America, we're something to see baby,
Aint that America, home of the free,
Little pink houses, for you and me
What a truly wonderful and rewarding experience it has been! (And although a little corny) America is equally a home for many and those many need the help we are here to give.
And from Jason Kim, ‘08
So here I am in our camp’s common room trying to figure out something profound and meaningful to say. It’s certainly not an easy task at the moment considering that I’m attempting to accomplish this in the wee hours of the morning after being up and about since 6 am today. However, after bearing witness to what we have seen and done together as a group here this past week and being the last one to update you all about our various adventures, to a degree, I feel a sense of pressure of having to conclude this experience with something noteworthy. But at the same time, words cannot even begin to describe how honored I am to tell you all about what we’ve accomplished in just only a week.
Although today was our last day in Saint Bernard Parish, we all went straight to work on our assigned houses on Caluda Street with the same energy and enthusiasm that sustained us through frustrating episodes ranging from boards and nails that refused to cooperate to inclement weather that put us behind schedule this week. Regardless, no one complained or faltered as they worked and the end result truly illustrated that. It was truly humbling to see a house in its early stages with just a few strips of siding to begin with last week transform into almost a full-fledged home. Granted there were still some finishing touches needed, but it was reassuring to know that at least one more deserving individual or family out there would be moving back into a place to call their own again.
Afterwards, we as a group had an opportunity to travel to parts of the lower Ninth Ward through an audio tour. Even after watching the events of Katrina unfold on television so long ago and watching documentaries about the devastation and its effects, I have to admit that I was not prepared to observe those locations in the flesh. In short, it was simply heartbreaking to see the destruction of those areas and how some places still looked the same even after two and a half years. For someone who was complaining about finals and papers and the rigors of being a college student and a young adult the week before, I without a doubt was a different person when I left the area.
This entire experience has been bittersweet, which included many highs and lows in just a short amount of time. But in the end, I honestly wouldn’t have traded this opportunity for anything else in the world. I was blessed with the chance to come down here with my fellow Bucknellians from all walks of life united under one common goal: to help those in need. Although we are all heading our separate ways now, I feel as though I share a special bond with every single member of our team that can only be emulated through an experience such as this one. Despite their grave misfortunes, the locals overwhelmed us with their love and generosity that I do not believe you will find anywhere else. That kind of affection the residents have for their city just goes to show that through continued hard work, dedication, and compassion, I think that this place will be okay. But more importantly, after what has happened and speaking with countless volunteers and locals, what we find through this whole ordeal is, wisdom.
It’s funny, one week ago; I arrived in Louis Armstrong Memorial Airport with basically no brothers and sisters. Tomorrow, I leave the state of Louisiana with 25.
Until next time,
Class of 2008
December 22, 2007
It's Sunday morning after a long day of travel and an intense week. I just want to say that the participants were a delight to work with and did a great job; you should be proud of those you know who made this trip. The sacrifice of a week's worth of time was very small compared to what others have lost, but the Bucknell team put muscle, sweat, thoughtfulness and caring into the work of helping those in Louisiana and Mississippi recover from the tragedy of Katrina. Overall, the sentiment of the group remains upbeat and while those down south were grateful for our efforts, we owe them our deep appreciation for the insights and experiences they shared and the lessons we've learned.
Our team wants to do more when they return to campus in January to help raise awareness about the continuing struggles of the Gulf Coast and to explore ways that we can continue to make a difference by possibly:
* raising funds for rebuilding homes,
* helping to provide supplies to under-resourced schools
* advocating for restoration of coastal wetlands and barrier islands, and
* getting elected officials to legislate fair and adequate insurance policies and practices.
Thanks for your support and enjoy your time off.
Katrina Recovery Team