2011 New Orleans Mission Trip Memoirs

by:  Crew Chief Neil Jesiolowski

Our First Day of Work
February 14th, 2011


    Today was an awesome day. We met at Little Farms UCC Church and there was a large group of folks from Wisconsin present to do work as well. They were real nice people. When we met them, they gave us three types of cheese, some of Wisconsin’s best. One young man, whose name was Alex, sat with us in the Church and made us all feel very welcome and comfortable. The majority of people stayed in the church to get briefed on safety while the crew chiefs went into another room to receive the assignments for the week. Wisconsin had nineteen people to do work and we had nine. Wisconsin’s group was broke into teams (7-6-6). They were tasked with finishing three homes. The work consisted of primarily drywall sanding and spackling, painting and some trimming.


    Our group was assigned a house in the upper ninth ward, Northeast of downtown New Orleans. The home owner was living in the home, along with her Son and Grandson. This women was scammed by contractors; taking all her savings, when she tried to have her home fixed after the flooding. In addition to that, in the past twelve years she lost a Son, her Husband, another Son and her Sister. Mary Charles was her name and she cried and praised God upon our arrival. It felt really good to be there and it was all we had hoped for the previous night in our nightly devotionals at St Paul’s Church. We reflected on what to expect and what would be the ideal and most rewarding situation to be involved in. That situation would be to work closely with a home owner, fixing their home and having direct interaction and impact on that person’s life.


    The work was started with great energy and excitement. Glen and Claudette started repairing drywall throughout many rooms in the house. They cut out damaged sheets and patched areas that were cut open and unfinished by contractors performing plumbing and electrical repairs. Pastor Suzanne tore out moldy and damaged drywall in a sunroom area that hasn’t been used since the flooding. It was a messy job but no complaints from the Pastor. To my surprise, Betz and Cheryl made quick use of the available power tools and started cutting 2X4’s with a miter box and nailing cats (wooden spacers between ceiling joists,…not the animal) in the sunroom ceiling with a pneumatic framing gun. Donna, Jan, Kyle and Neil removed an old, decaying and badly leaking flat roof from the sunroom and found much more damage than expected. After discussing options for repair with Tim, our Construction Manager for the UCC Disaster Relief, we moved to rebuild the roof structure by installing new rafters to create greater pitch and prevent any future water damage. Several members of the team spent several hours removing debris, moldy material, and roofing material from the home. In total, two truckloads of debris were hauled away.


    In closing, there was a lot of dirt, termites, cock roaches and an occasional frog hindering our progress but at the end of the day, there were plenty of smiles and feelings of satisfaction as a result of our progress.



February 15th, 2011
Prior Day Thoughts for Today


    How God was interacting and present with us as we worked. We wished for certain circumstances to take place and those things were granted to us. We worked personally with a homeowner  in great need and that was evident with Mary.  God was evident in Mary’s words of praise and tears of joy as we arrived and introduced ourselves to her. God gave many of us courage to do things we have never done before and kept us safe as we worked. Another day has dawned and as Donna so eloquently put it in last night’s devotional meeting, “Give us the ability to be open to Gods wishes and open to those who we affect and touch Today”.

 

 

Second Day of Work

 


    Today’s journey starts at another location. We were asked to meet Tim at a home to unload doors and flooring for next week’s mission team. The house was located in East New Orleans right off a major shipping canal that leads to Lake Ponchatrain. This house was located in an area where most  one story homes were submerged to the edges of their roofs. In addition to being subjected to the massive flooding from Katrina, this home was almost rebuilt from the damage of water only to fall victim to a fire. This third generation home was owned by a man by the name of Otis. When we arrived we met his Wife, Son and Granddaughter. The Granddaughter’s name was Lyric.  A beautiful name and equally beautiful family.


    We arrived at Mary Charles’s home around 9:45 AM and everyone was eager to get started. Everyone pitched in, quickly emptying the sunroom of old items, damaged items, and debris in preparation of a full makeover. Pastor Suzanne, Cheryl and Betz continued to prepare the ceiling for wood and insulation to be installed by week’s end.  They also stripped out old insulation. At the end of the day, they sprayed all the walls and ceilings with a bleach solution to kill any mold spores left behind from the high water. The spraying also served to flush out any hiding cock roaches to the delight of Kyle’s stomping feet. Glenn and Claudette continued their drywall and spackling. They surprised Mary later by framing an opening in the ceiling for a pull down attic access. This was a welcome site for Mary. Tim, the Construction Manager, and Betz made Mary’s day even brighter when a bedroom door was installed for the first time since the devastation. This was the first time in five years that Mary’s privacy wasn’t kept by an old curtain hanging over an empty void. Donna, Jan and Neil finished framing the sunroom rafters and plywood started to be installed to the roof.  They are looking forward to tomorrow to possibly finishing this project. The new roof really looks great and Tim is very pleased. On a side note, Donna did a great job of hammering nails, unfortunately, she hit her painted thumb nails as well as the steel ones. At the end of the day, Kyle and Claudette painted all the door and base trim for the entire house, as well as trim for another job.


    In closing , we were tested Today. Tools weren’t readily available as everyone was in need of the same tool. At times, the tools were malfunctioning. But, no one panicked as everyone’s frustration grew. We all worked together to cope, adjust, and accomplish many tasks.


February, 16th, 2011
Prior Days Thoughts for Today


    We need to be observant and listen. This is a common theme in our devotional readings. Try to observe how God is present as we do our work. With that in mind, Betz has asked that the team be observant to the needs of Mary. Members of our team have brought money from those who couldn’t attend this trip but still wanted to help in some way. Our church also made money available to obtain additional gifts for either the homeowner or the Hurricane Disaster Recovery Fund, whichever is most appropriate. Going into Today, we have some ideas of Mary’s needs but wanted to bring validation to those ideas. In addition to observing Mary, we will also be given a tour this afternoon to view the impacts and devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina on the City and Suburbs of New Orleans. I am sure we will all be affected by what we see and learn and it may be hard to see God when bad things. Like this, occur.

A Half Day of Work


    Today we have a half day of work. Big projects were close to being done so, some of us put pressure on themselves to get those projects completed. Neil, Jan and Donna installed drip edge, fascia, and roll roofing to the sunroom. Aside from some flashing and tarring of seams, the roof is basically water tight and very near completion. Tomorrow there will be about two hours of tarring the flat roof seams and shingling the main roof of the house and this project will be done. Pastor Suzanne and Cheryl (AKA Gunner or Cookie) finished the cats in the sunroom. The ceiling is near ready for wood and paint. This was also a long and challenging project and you could see, as well as feel the smiles on their faces when they were asked if they were done. Great Job!


    Betz and Kyle insulated the Sunroom and painted more trim for other projects. Glenn, the master spackler, put finishing touches on the drywall repairs throughout the house. He is readying to install the pull down attic steps as well. Claudette kept the Construction Manager, Tim, in check as they continued to install doors for Mary. As you could fully appreciate and usually take for granted in everyday living, a bathroom door was installed and return to Mary’s life. Many more God Blesses and Tears were reported flowing from Mary’s face. Happiness for her and a milestone goal for us.


    At the end of the day, we all tried to see how much tar each of us could get on our shoes, clothes, hands and tools as we cleaned up from the messy roofers. The van ride back to St Paul’s was a welcomed ride. However, the air was filled with heavy anticipation for the Katrina Tour as well as the strong odor of gas from the cleanup.






February 17th, 2011
Prior Days Thoughts for Today
Country Road, Evening Tree


    He lost a Mother and Granddaughter from a period that spanned a sunny morning to an evening sunset. A levee broke on the Industrial Canal and swept Robert Green’s home from its foundation along with most of his neighbor’s homes. His home sat on a country road, 250 feet from a commercial waterway that breathes life into the economy of New Orleans. That same life giving channel took the lives of many in that neighborhood the day after Katrina made landfall in Mississippi and East of New Orleans. When the levee gave way, 25 feet of water pushed Mr. Green’s home down the road a quarter mile where it became lodged against a large tree that still stands there Today. A wreath on that tree is fastened 10 feet off the ground and is displayed in memory of his Mother who passed away on the roof of the floating home at 1:00 Pm. In memory of a Granddaughter, Nai Nai, who fell off the roof and was swept away and lost in a 25 foot deep torrent.


    This tragedy unfolded in the lower Ninth Ward, East of downtown New Orleans. This was the area of New Orleans that witnessed the most devastation by the flooding. This area is now witness to the strength and faith of Mr. Green. He welcomes those who wish to hear his story and opens his doors to his home to show pictures on his walls that detail his trials and tribulations. He is truly a man of great faith and conviction. He wants all who cares and all who doesn’t know to…..Know…What really happened here.


    Today he lives in a newly constructed home. An environmentally friendly “Green” home built with “Green” products, solar energy, and a home designed to withstand flooding and sustain life during a flood. This community is being rebuilt with funding provided by the actor Brad Pitt and his foundation. He comes often to view the progress and he has befriended Mr. Green. Other famous actors have befriended Mr. Green as well. Wendell Pierce; from the HBO Mini Series titled Treme’, is one of those friends. Treme’ is a post Katrina story of survival. Wendell Pierce pulled up to Mr. Green’s home as we were visiting and he spoke to all of us as if we were long time friends. His words will forever ring true in us, in our hearts and minds.


He said, “Thank You for Coming to New Orleans and helping us out”. “We greatly appreciate it and Thank You for stopping and talking to my good friend Mr. Green. “Come and see us anytime, we would like that”. God Bless”.

   In closing, Mr. Green awoke inside his home on a country road East of downtown New Orleans and by evening, sat on top of his home against a tree a little further East of New Orleans. He lost a Mother and Granddaughter that day, But never lost his faith.



Our Fourth Day of Work


    Today is all about Team and Perseverance. We knew going into Today that it would be challenging. Many tasks had us working in close quarters and the week was drawing to a close. The pressure was on to get much done for Mary in little time. Today, as a team, we did great! No personal Call Outs Today. This is what we did.


    Most interior doors were set, trimmed, prepped for paint and door knobs installed. A ladder to Mary’s attic was installed. Siding was replaced on the side of her home. The main roof was shingled and the entire roof was caulked, tarred and flashed to ensure that it was water tight. The ceilings were insulated in the sunroom, laundry room and closets. A new exterior door was installed to a once boarded up sunroom. Ceilings in the laundry room were prepped for wood. The sunroom ceiling had wood fastened to it. The attic was modified structurally to accommodate an AC unit for the hot New Orleans days. Most Importantly, Mary’s kitchen cabinets were removed from the home, stripped, disinfected, sanded, stained and prepped for polyurethane and reinstallation tomorrow.


    We worked later than usual but everyone wanted to finish what they were doing. We were tired but there was on task left to do. Drive to Lowes and shop for Mary’s needs. We know tomorrow is going to emotional for everyone….Can’t Wait!


February 18th, 2011
Prior Day Thoughts for Today


    Last Day…One to Go! Anticipation is high from our shopping trip. We bought flowers to brighten the outside of her home and CFL light bulbs to brighten the inside. We bought her a bench for her to sit and reflect upon the experiences that she shared with us. We bought Food Cards to fill her new cabinets with much needed groceries.  This gift will also provide Mary and her family with nourishment.  A lot of things to get done so “Let’s Go”.


Last Day of Work


    It was a gift giving day. We arrived at Mary’s house right on time. Everyone seemed to leap from the van and excited for many reasons. The last day of hard work, projects close to being done and gifts of Love for Mary. We wanted to give the flowers and light bulbs to Mary right away. Mary wept, as did most of us. Then everyone gathered themselves and off to work.


    Kitchen cabinets were polyurethaned and they were reinstalled in her kitchen. The wall cabinets were installed much lower this time. Mary really appreciated that. The kitchen looked amazing! The last doors to her rooms were installed and a crew was right behind the installers painting them with a glossy white paint to make Mary’s home even brighter. The sunroom ceiling was trimmed and painted. It looked like a room now. The last task was to plant the flowers for Mary. We purchased large concrete planters and as they were planted we set them around the outside of the home. Mary seemed giddy over them. Tim, our Construction Manager, praised our team’s work. He seemed fulfilled by what we accomplished in just five days. You couldn’t wipe the smile from his face. Now on more surprise for Mary.


    On the first day, when we pulled up in front of Mary’s Home, you couldn’t help but notice three old, crumbling cinder blocks arranged in a manner to support an old wooden plank to form a make shift bench. Mary would sit on this bench every day praising God and constantly thanking us as she observed us working on her home. We knew this was an important place for her. A place she would use so often to reflect and pray. We had to do something about that place. We purchased a Stone bench and on the bottom of the bench each team member wrote Mary a blessing. These blessings were to remind her: not who we were or what we did, but how much we were touched by her strength and faith in God. We may have did a lot for her but,…. she did more for us as Christians and Human Beings. There wasn’t a dry eye in front of her house that day. Mary was overwhelmed with Joy and; typical of Mary, she praised God. As we continued to cry, the mood changed to smatterings of laughter as someone shouted, “There’s no crying in construction”.


    In the end we loaded up our van, said our final goodbyes to Mary and started to drive away. As we pulled away from Mary’s home, there was mixed emotions. Joy and Sorrow, A Sense of Fulfillment and a Sense of Emptiness. But most definitely there was an Everlasting Image of Mary. She was sitting on her new bench, still weeping. She was shaking her head and gazing skyward, praising God. This was an image and a trip that; I think, anyone involved will never forget. Thanks be to God for leading us down this path and allowing us to do his work for Mary’s Sake……… and Ours.


Let’s Go Home!
    


 

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CONTACT INFO

Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss
Team Leader, Global Sharing of Resources
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44115
216-736-3214
blaufusm@ucc.org