Monday, March 10, 2008

After the UNCA crew!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Back to Reality

At 8 am this morning the bus pulled into Asheville.  With sleepy eyes and a week behind us we filed to our cars and rooms.  Tomorrow we will go back to class and to the mundane activities that are part of our daily lives.  Yet, we will never forget the things that were part of our lives for the last week.  We accomplished what very few in New Orleans have accomplished.   We helped to seal a house in two weeks.  Close to 8 houses out of over 100 that have already been built have claimed this achievement.  What started out as a an unclear sea of 2 by 4's now is one step closer to becoming a home.  For 5 days, it was all that we could think about. What was the task that was going to be accomplished next, how were we going to see our progress today?  Often prying ourselves off of the house at the end of the day, we came to see the fruits of our labor in the smile and compassion of our homeowner.  His presence on the worksite everyday, the food and drinks he provided, gave us motivation to work faster.  

At the end of the week, we had a house with distinctive walls, decipherable rooms,  a roof with shingles, a tveked exterior, and full hearts.   We came out of the trip with new friends and lots of memories.  We saw the destruction of Mother Nature, the ignorance of humanity and the beauty of humankind all in one week.  We were one of the smallest schools and yet we were the largest team.   We were part of one of the largest volunteer movements in America.  We didn't give up our spring break to work, we made a difference in our country by helping to shape a world in which we want to live.  That doesn't take work, it takes love and compassion for our fellow humans.

I would like to thank the other 46 team members that joined for this awesome week.  May our example lead others to follow in our footsteps....


Saturday, March 8, 2008

Final Day

We are scheduled to leave in an hour and a half, and for the first time this week I feel somewhat capable of trying to put into words what this trip has meant for me. I have been to New Orleans many times, but never after Katrina until now; I was not expecting what we found upon arriving. On Monday, driving through neigborhoods that were devastated during both the hurricane and the flooding, I was shocked and outraged to see a city in our country, over two and a half years after the storm, in such poor conditions. Many commented on how it looked like the storm could have hit just one month ago. The shock of seeing such poor conditions here has made working, being just a tiny part of the relief effort, so much more valuable. I wish I could have done more, and I wish I had come much sooner.

The week has been full of hard sights. We drove past hundreds of people living in tents underneath a bridge, people who had homes before Katrina and now have nothing. We met people who were directly affected by Katrina, heard their stories, saw their pictures...Everyday we passed house after house with a cross on each door, telling the number of bodies found within the homes, still there as constant reminders of what was lost to the disaster. So many times I have wondered how this could have happened to our country, but more importantly, how have we continued to let this happen.

I could try to continue, to convey how many times I looked at the house that I helped build and was filled with a sense of pride and devotion to this cause, or try to convey the number of times that I have cried on behalf of those that were so hurt and lost from all of this, or try to convey how much I want to graduate in May and turn right around and come back, but my own, personal experience is not what was important about this trip. I hope all of the students who came were affected by what they saw, and inspired to do more good in the future. I hope that the families who will move into the houses we built will love their new homes, and I hope that many other, less fortunate ones will also be able to move into houses of their own. I hope, more than anything else, that I can inspire others who did not come on this trip to come, at some point, to see the state of one of our own cities, and step up to help. Several people were suprised to hear that I was going on this trip, and asked "Why are you giving up your spring break to do hard, strenous work instead of relaxing somewhere and having fun?" To this, I reply that in no way have I "given up" my break; I went somewhere that needed help, learned how to build a house, met many new people, cried a lot, laughed a lot, and return to Asheville with many wonderful memories of my last spring break ever in college. I am proud of myself, and I am proud of those who have contributed to helping those who have suffered so much.

The Last Day

Today was our last day of our spring break in New Orleans. I'm not even sure I can accurately describe how wonderful this experience has been. I've been on Habitat trips before, but this one was different. At our job site, led by a 23 year old Habitat construction leader, we saw a cinder block foundation and a maze of wooden frames become a house.

It's amazing the work that 50 college students can do. To everyone from UNCA who came on this trip, I am in complete awe of you guys. This week, I've seen students operating chop saws and circular saws, balancing on unstable beams 20 feet in the air, and nailing walls into place. We've all become masters at some task in homebuilding. I, personally, am a master shingle-er and truss secure-er. And to think, I was terrified to be on the top of an 8 foot ladder the first day. My mom would be horrified to know that my feet were on solid ground for only a total of about an hour every work day. But the sweat, the cold, the rain, the hammered thumbs, the splinters and the sunburn were utterly worth knowing that a family is going to have a home because of us and others like us.

Aaron, our leader, gave a speech at the end of the workday today that got me thinking (which, by the way, we had to practically tear people off the roof to get them to stop working). He was talking about this volunteer movement that we all seem to have been swept up in. Sure, many of the young adults in our generation are more focused on partying than working, but aside from our faculty supervisor, Greg, no one working at our site was over the age of 25. That is amazing. The youth of our generation are active, are sympathetic, are energetic and eager to help and make a difference. What more can you really ask for?

I guess to close it all out, I have to say that this is not an ending. Many of us are already searching for the time to make our own trip down here, (Camp Hope is not just for school groups! Come down and bring your friends for 22 dollars a night!!!). As I write this from the Camp Hope hangout room, I see other students on spring break just arriving and preparing for a week of work. What they don't know yet, however, is that in the process of getting down and dirty in the Louisiana sun, they are going to be directly changing someone's life. That being said, for everyone reading this, please keep our homeowner, Julius, in your thoughts and prayers because in a few weeks, after two and a half years of waiting, he and his family will be moving into a house -- their house -- and I am absolutely honored to have helped.

Lynn Dodge

P.s. I have to say a special thank you to Greg, our faculty supervisor. You were such a wonderful and positive influence on this trip. Your support at the worksite, at camp and downtown did not go unnoticed or unappreciated by anyone. Thank you.

Friday, March 7, 2008

I just wanted to comment on Hunter Weaver's great contributions to our group! We were putting in the siding pretty much all week and here he is, tall and strong ready to conquer to world and help out with anything and everyone. Whenever we couldn't do something, the first thing anyone would say was "where's Hunter?" It was a great pleasure seeing how everyone found their niche in the work that we did, so we could be the most efficient.
Another cool part of today was eating King's cake...mmm! The homeowner came by with food for an army and it was delicious, and she kept repeating and repeating how thankful she was - it was so wonderful to see the direct impact that we are having and how appreciated our help is
Go Henry Conick Jr. group booya
-Sara Papathakis-

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Day four - Another productive day is at an end

I continue to be humbled daily by the efforts and accomplishments of our students that surrounded me and that I am privileged to work with. These are truly special people and have represented UNC Asheville very very well.

Today was another highly successful day at all three work sites. Megan Graham continues to do a spectacular job at the Walkers location, while Erin Ball is equally efficient and outstanding at both Decatur sites. I continue to be amazed at the compassion, work ethics and desire for excellence exhibited by all our students. Both yesterday and today were filled with examples of personal courage and selfless service. The senior Americops staff member at Walkers has continually praised everyone for their motivation, skills and desire for excellence. He stated that our UNC Asheville students have out-performed every other group this year, been more motivated and approached each task with a genuine desire to do any and every task necessary. All three locations have daily exceeded their respective work plans and pushed each and every project forward by days. Each and every student is now working independently on projects and our Habitat and Americorps coordinators are working on separate projects during the day.
I am amazed by the cooperation and willingness to push personal boundaries by every student present this year. Individuals with a fear of heights are climbing ladders, lifting and placing sheathing boards and nailing them in from a height of 25 feet. Others are crossing trusses as easily as they would cross sidewalks on campus to nail in cross beams, place blocks and other timber. The remaining students are performing the countless tasks necessary to ready the buildings for roofing, siding and interior work. Everyone student has eagerly asked for additional work and when asked, has replied in a self-deprecating manner to say that their efforts were minor at best. The Walkers group met Jerrius (the future home owner) both yesterday and today. He, his fiancée and daughters were very appreciative of everyone's efforts and could not give enough thanks to everyone. He provides ice cold water and soda today for everyone, greatly appreciative on a warm day!

Each and every student has had a personal accomplishment over both days that deserves personal comment, I only wish that I had the opportunity to record them. I am very confident in saying that the future of our University and culture if these students could be considered the norm for their peers.

We went into New Orleans today and everyone enjoyed the opportunity to experience the NOLA culture and un-wind just a bit. The entire groups was singing on the return trip, as well as extolling the efforts of the men's basketball team! Go Dog's.

It seems that we have only arrived, yet all three work sites attest to the fact that we arrive and set the standard high for accomplishment! Students volunteer daily to help Americops staff serve meals. The HFH staff have often commented that they wish it were possible that UNC Asheville students could come each and every month.

The efforts of our students have ensured that the residents of St Bernard Parrish know that they are not forgotten and that people are still willing and able to assist them in recovering their lives.

Greg Dillingham
UNCA Staff representative

Popsicles and Tents

I had a great day at the job site and we got a lot done today. Not only did we get to help build a house, work with some pretty sweet volunteers and help out in New Orleans; but we also got a visit from the ice cream truck. After lunch our team took a lovely little break to run towards the music-playing-truck of frozen goodies. We also got a gift of oranges from Jonathan, the neighbor down the street. Then later that afternoon the owners-to-be stopped by and dropped off some blood oranges with the stems and leaves still attached. By the end of the work day I think we all agreed that it had been a most successful day.

"Downtown, things will be great when you're downtown."

After work we rushed back to the compound to take showers before we got our first chance to hit downtown a la noche. We piled on the bus at 5 pm and tried to leave a couple people behind, but they ran and caught up. Once downtown most of us went to the famous Cafe du Monde for cafe au lait and beignets. What we didn't expect to get at the Cafe was Criss Angel MindFreak who was shooting an episode of his strange magic show.

Enough of downtown, I wanted to make a plug for the absolute devastation that still exists in New Orleans. Driving to and from the job sites and downtown we've seen so many houses that can't be described with words because they are still in such disrepair. On the way back from town tonight, we saw tents and bedrolls set up next to the highway and underneath an overpass. To be cliché, it really hits home to see this kind of poverty and meet the people who have been impacted by something like Katrina. Steve, our bus driver, drove us into the Lower 9th Ward to see ground zero. Many of the houses were gone and Steve explained to us that the state had seized most of the property, only to turn around and sell it to the highest bidder rather than try and rebuild the community. There's a reason people always say these kind of trips really mean something to them and that they gain a better understanding about certain problems in the world. I think it was said best by something we saw spray painted on a building, "Wealth in the face of poverty is an assault on our humanity."