Leaving New Orleans
We are headed out of New Orleans this week, spending the next couple of weeks in Cincinnati. I’m looking forward to a summer of travel, but sad to leave our two very cute grandsons here (oh, and their Mom and Dad, too).
While I’m ready for a rest, it is also sad to be leaving the UCC Disaster Response Group here, knowing it is for the last time, as they prepare to shut down later this year. Since this effort has been my primary volunteer focus since late 2006, I thought I’d reflect back on the experience.
The two months I just finished were my 12th and 13 months here. With an occasional week off, I’ve worked with about 50 groups, 300 to 400 people, over the almost five year period. The volunteers have come from most of the fifty states, plus France and Canada. Of course the satisfaction of the job comes from helping long suffering victims of Katrina get back in their homes, but also from working with so many great people, and from working with volunteers who may arrive unskilled, and leave with confidence in new construction skills.
While most of groups come from UCC churches I’ve had some memorable variety and some memorable moments so I thought I'd share a few:
- The group from France, my very first week. A little different, the guys wearing short-shorts, but willing to travel a long way to help New Orleans rebuild. Viva la difference!
- Garrett, a long-term volunteer, Irish American from MA. He played the pipe organ for the historically black Beecher UCC Church. He’d get that organ “walkin” and Beecher rockin.
- Unitarians from Indiana, free spirits all, like herding cats!
- Two years in a row with U. of Georgia Biz School group, maybe more interested in helping the local economy on Bourbon Street than rebuilding. Not wanting to work in the rain, they gutted a house, but left the debris in the living room, for another group to haul to the street.
- A Jewish youth group from Boston lead by a Rabbi. We worked right across the street from a group in plain dressing Mennonites, which made for interesting lunch time visiting.
- The widow homeowner, whose husband died just after Katrina. She would meet us outside her house each morning, but wouldn’t go in the house filled with a life time of flooded memories. By the end of the week, drawn out by a caring group from IA, she was sharing a life time of memories.
- The 92 year old retired youth minister. He came with a group from PA that had been his youth group 50 plus years ago. The “youth” were now well into retirement age and the 92 year old worked right alongside those “youngsters”.
- Working with home owner, John, a Civil Rights pioneer. He still carries scars from a lifelong struggle against injustice.
- Rich, another longterm volunteer, and a retired minister. He’s growing his hair long to donate to “Locks of Love”, and looked like an ageing hippie. Come to think of it, one of his claims to fame was that he attended Woodstock, so maybe the hippie image fits!
- A police drug bust, SWAT team and all, two doors down from our worksite. A reminder the drug problems haunt many of the neighborhoods we work in.
- Two years in a row, working with a great group of kids from Syracuse. It was a good thing we worked in largely empty neighborhoods, because they loved to play their music LOUD.
- Germain, a homeowner, who despite a limited budget, fixed a hot lunch for my volunteer crew, every Friday.
- Denny, a French Canadian who worked with me for a month. He spoke English “not good”, but had a good heart and a desire to help those in need.
Well, I’m going too long. I ask that you ask God to bless the UCC Disaster Recovery Group as they stuggle to finish the work they still have to do, and bless the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast as another Hurricane Season begins.
Tom & Charlotte Gorham
Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss
Executive for Volunteer Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.