Today we woke up at 6:15, earlier than any of us wanted. After a delicious breakfast at the church, courtesy of Earl, we headed to SBP headquarters in the Lower 9th ward for our final trip debrief with the organization. Tory talked to us for a little while about the project, its future, and the roles we can all play in that future. We got a chance to sign the benches in the SBP garage that all the volunteers have signed over the years. As something to remember our time here, we all got SBP t-shirts and then left for the site.
Since today was our last day, once we arrived on site we all got to work quickly because we each knew what had to be done to accomplish our goals for the trip. Heidi and Ben split us up into different teams all assigned to completely different tasks around the house. There was a drywall team, a mudding team, a taping team, and a sanding team. In order to reach our goals for the week, the stairway that had barely any drywall had to be completed by the end of the day.
At some point in the day, everyone experienced a point where they were so stressed about meeting our goals that they had to step back for a moment. But, when we all realized it wasn’t about us and how it was about building a house to help the city and people of New Orleans recover from Katrina, we all felt reinvigorated and put our doubts aside. By this point in the day the teams had split up and everyone was working on whatever they felt needed to be done and where their skills were best suited.
We managed to finish all of our respective projects on time and we were able to step back and see the progress we had made as a group. The amount of small tasks that go into making a house often go unnoticed, but over the course of our days on site we came to appreciate the intricacies of the construction process. To the untrained eye, what we accomplished may not seem like much, but to us we got two weeks worth of work done in one week, and that felt amazing.
As we had our final after-work reflection period, we had the opportunity to contemplate the time we’ve spent here. It was not so much about the work that we did on the house, it was about the bonds that we forged with each other and the teachers, and how we came together as a group. We also learned how much our contributions, however small, mean to the community of the Lower 9th ward and the citizens of New Orleans overall.
A recurring theme throughout the week has been how thankful the New Orleanians have been for our work in “helping to rebuild their city.” We will most definitely continue to spread the word about New Orleans and the continuing plight of the citizens, as well as the rich culture and history of the city. Most of all, we will never forget the intangibles of this trip. The leadership, the reflections, the laughter, and the interactions we’ve had with so many along the way. It has been all of this and more that has helped mold us into more than a successful group; it has made us a Family.
Trystan and Will – New Orleans 2016
Conrad cuts another piece of drywall
Will must have mudded the ceiling for three days straight
Kirby consulting 2x6 notes….
Duke works on the most complicated portion of the stairs
Trystan securing the top half of the complicated stair pieces...
Ryan works his way up the staircase - final push
Gilly working on his door….
Conrad, Jourdon, Henry and Nick break for the camera
Alex and Andrew prepare more mud
Saying thanks to Heidi, one of our site supervisors
Last day of work is complete…
Back at HQ
Johnny - signing the benches at HQ
A final team huddle
A “hard 6:15” wake up had everyone feeling pretty groggy as we walked down to the kitchen, but a few plates of pancakes and eggs made us ready to head to the site to start work again on the house. After helping Chef Earl clean up the kitchen and do the dishes, we pulled out of the church at 8:00 to go across town and start the day.
When we got to the site everyone was ready to work. After being briefed on our responsibilities by our site managers, Heidi and Ben, we knew our goals for the day and locked in on the tasks ahead of us. We split up into groups of guys working on hanging drywall, mudding seams, applying corner bead, and sanding. The morning session was three and a half hours of non-stop work. There was almost no talking, and all 10 of us were completely zoned into what we were doing. We got a lot of work done, but working with that kind of focus for that long quickly tired us out.
Lunch was mostly quiet, until Mr. Montanez lifted our spirits with some words of motivation. Mr. Kirby Smith wanted to take a few group pictures outside of the house, and Mr. Montanez decided to mean mug Mr. Kirby in every photo, with each picture being more ridiculous than the last. After we finished eating we huddled up and Mr. Montanez gave us a quick pep talk about finding the passion that we’ve shown the last few days, and letting it drive us to really enjoy the work we were doing.
When we got back to work we were just as productive, but the time went by much faster because we were a lot more energetic. The last 3 work hours of the day flew by. When 4:00 came, we had done an impressive amount of work that we were only able to appreciate after stepping back and taking a look at what we’d done. The drywall in the kitchen and the ceiling of the stairs were completely finished, and so many of the seams and corners had been mudded over. The project was starting to really look like a home. After getting the last few screws in the wall and cleaning up the site, we left excited, knowing that the work we’ve been putting into the project was amounting to real and significant change.
For dinner we headed to a tiny barbeque place with old-fashioned posters on the wall and a massive smoker out back cooking up the meat. Pulled pork and beef brisket satisfied the hunger that we’d worked up after the long day. Then we made our way back home to reflect on the day, set tomorrow’s goals, and to unwind.
While the days have been long, they have been incredibly rewarding, and the thirteen individuals on this trip have reached a point where we’re working as a single unit. Anytime one of us seems to lose focus on a task, there has always been someone there to get that person back on track. In many ways, this trip has been a physical and emotional journey for all of us, but through that journey we have gained perspective and a greater appreciation for how fortunate we are.
Back at it tomorrow!
Conrad and Duke – New Orleans 2016.
Cleaning up after breakfast
Hanging drywall, enthusiastically
Conrad “supervising” special drywall in what will be the kitchen
First “mean mug” shot
Second “mean mug” shot
Final “mean mug” shot
Site supervisor Ben is pretty happy with Nick and Duke’s work in the staircase
Duke finishing up the ceiling
Clean up during a rainstorm outside
End of the night - divyed up the King Cake to see who would get the prize…. CONGRATS RYAN, It’s a baby!
Another early start for the Katrina Krewe today, but with the help of a hearty breakfast we were on our way to 4515 Feliciana once again. We were all super excited to get to work, especially after learning all about the storm and its devastating effects yesterday. Touring around the lower ninth ward really hit home, and, as a result, the boys were extremely motivated and dedicated to the work. We are finally beginning to see some real progress, and the frame of the house is really coming together.
When we first pulled up, however, there was a large group standing in front of our house! At first, we were surprised and slightly put off. The general consensus was that this was our place to build, and we felt territorial. (In the end, they worked on the outside the house, so we were really fine with that). Later in the day, we discussed these feelings and realized that they signified both good and bad responses. On the one hand, we were proud of the ownership we started to take in this project and how badly we wanted to affect personal change. At the same time, we realized that this was somewhat selfish, and that the more people volunteering the better. After all, we were lucky to have any job to do and would be grateful to do whatever our supervisors asked us to do.
We started out the work with a healthy amount of sanding for the mudding team, while the drywall team did their thing. Shortly thereafter, each group switched jobs and the “mudders” got the chance to “drywall” and vice versa. In this, the former dry wallers gained respect for the perseverance of the mudders, and, overall, our work today brought us even closer together. Throughout the day, the boys saw that we weren’t just screwing in nails or sanding corners, but striving to build a house for a family that would help to rebuild a wonderful community.
During our daily group reflection, we were all very proud of how hard we worked that day. There was no standing around, and everyone was looking for next task whenever possible, which was aided by the strong group dynamic. There’s no question that our respect for each other and this task has made the work go both better and faster. Despite the fact that many of us have been feeling that our work has “just a drop in the bucket,” Willy J pointed out that “It may just be one drop for the city, but what we’re doing will fill a whole bucket for a family someday.”
In the face of the hard day’s work, a quick (or not quick, depending on who you ask) round of showers reenergized us enough to rally for dinner. Another delicious affair filled with laughter, comradery, and for some, some adventurous first tasting of oysters. We all had a great time, and a feel as though we’ve grown closer with each day that has passed.
Henry and Andrew - New Orleans 2016
Sanding out a drywall seam
Sanding and framing
Finishing up a ceiling light outlet in the drywall
Thin strips of drywall complete a doorway - harder than you think
Brown Bag lunch break, packed at breakfast by the boys
End of day celebration
Today was not our typical early morning, nor was it a workday. Instead, we started the morning off with breakfast at MOJO, a local coffee shop, where we met Will, a photographer who resides in New Orleans and will capture our experiences for the next couple of days. Our brief meal was followed up by mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe, a historic Roman Catholic parish in the heart of the city with a distinctive free-spirited vibe. The morning’s gospel and preaching were accompanied by Jazz and a celebration of the church’s 200th anniversary. Delivered to a truly multicultural congregation, the mass proved to be tremendously inspiring with its joyous, engaging service and welcoming parishioners. The experience was overwhelming for many reasons. The one that stood out most was the musical approach to what can be a repetitive custom. We carried the energy from OL of Guadalupe with us for the rest of the day.
For the remainder of the morning and the early afternoon, we spent our time in the French Quarter learning about the history of Katrina and its aftermath. We visited the Presbytere Museum, one of Louisiana’s State Museums that lends itself to giving tourists an idea of its history. It was here that we learned how massive this storm’s impact was over New Orleans and how hard New Orleanians have worked over the past eleven years to rebuild and revitalize their city.
After our visit to the museum we toured the lower ninth ward, an area of the city where Katrina did most of its damage. More than 1,800 lives were taken and many more were turned upside down. What stood out the most was the endless expanse of open lots where previously there had been rows of houses and families. Our tour guide, a local survivor named Noel, explained how entire families had been destroyed and how, in the absence of proper deeds or inheritance, the lots were left unclaimed. We also stopped by the reconstructed levee, where we learned about how efforts have been made to prevent another catastrophe.
The night ended with a unique experience at a New Orleans icon. Thanks to the generosity of security chief Ms. Lisa, we were given a tour of the Superdome. While we were excited to see the arena and tour the Saints’ locker room, Lisa herself proved to be the most interesting story of the night. She detailed her experience running operations during Katrina and the horrific conditions she faced before and after being evacuated to Texas. Throughout her story, Lisa’s resilience and toughness shone through. The poise and professionalism she displayed during the storm had a massive impact on thousands of lives, and the quiet heroism of regular people like her is what has allowed New Orleans to get back on its feet.
The first two days of the trip have been deeply affecting; we can’t wait to get back to work on the Feliciana house tomorrow.
Ryan and Jourdon - New Orleans 2016
Exploring the French Quarter
Group in front St. Louis Cathedral, after touring the Presbytere (Katrina Exhibit)
Performing in the French Quarter
Touring the Lower Ninth Ward
Time for reflection and journal entry
Inside the Saints locker room at the Super Dome (with students from the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Greenwich)
“Hard 6:30am wake up,” which according to Mr. Montanez means 6:25am. We had just spent our first night at the Annunciation Church.
A short, rocky, three-hour flight landed us in New Orleans. After getting our rental cars, we headed to the church where we met Father Duane. He introduced us to our new home for the next week and gave us a brief history on New Orleans. We woke up the next morning at a hard 6:30. We travelled about 20 minutes to the St. Bernard’s office where we met Tori, a Tulane graduate from California who introduced us to the St. Bernard project and how it worked. She was very cheerful and optimistic, yet gave us the sobering facts about the travesty that was the result of Hurricane Katrina. Over fifteen hundred people were killed and one million had their homes taken away from them in the span of five short days. Despite all the time and money put into this restoration there is still a lot of work to be done. With this knowledge in mind, we headed out to the job site to get started. Upon arriving, we met Heidi and Ben. They were volunteers themselves, but would be our site managers for the duration of our work. After a “long and informative” introduction, we finally got to work. The beginning was rough to say the least. Whether it was hanging the Dry Wall or Mudding, very few of us had any experience. We quickly experienced every setback possible. However, it was not long before we began to settle into a nice rhythm. We split into two teams and each worked on different parts of the house. As we became more experienced, everyone began to loosen up. Mistakes were laughed off and the work progressed well.
Around 12:30 Mr. Montanez and Mr. Gilsenan grabbed us Subway sandwiches and we settled outside for a meal. Earlier in the day, our group had made a pact to give up our cellphones. Lunch became an opportunity for everyone to engage in discussion with one another. At the end of the day after cleaning up we looked around the house while walking out, seeing the progress we accomplished. Although the edges were rough we were proud of the work put in and we were determined that this would be the worst work of our time here. If we really want to help the process of building the house we have to improve our work, both results and effort everyday. Although there is a long week of work ahead of us we are all excited to make a home.
Our day ended with a dinner in the French Quarter and a New Orleans Beignet from none other than Café Du Monde. We returned home to have some more team building exercises and reflection time that gave us an appreciation for a real days work.
It has been an amazing day one. We were all excited to experience the treasures New Orleans had to offer but we are focused on our main goal to make a difference in the community.
Tomorrow we will tour the Lower Ninth Ward and see first hand the devastation that is still the reality for many. We look forward to reporting at tomorrow’s end. Stay warm and good luck with the snow.
Alex and Nick on behalf of Katrina Krewe 2016
Orientation at the St. Bernard Project HQ
Prepping drywall with Ryan Callaghan, Conrad Graf, and Alex Okinaka
Mudding a wall with Jourdon Delerme-Brown
Cutting drywall with Trystan Sarcone , Conrad Graf, and Ryan Callaghan, and Alex Okinaka’s boots
End of day team photo!