Sunday, June 26, 2011

I've Got the Poison!

The last six days feels like six months.  I have no concept of time anymore.  I don't know what day or date it is most of the time.  I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.  I am enjoying the work here and staying really busy, which makes the time pass much faster.  Only four more weeks are left on this project.

This week we have been splitting the team between work at the Forest Lake Baptist Relief Center and doing home assessments. Since the Relief Center is only open from Wednesday to Saturday, we spent a little bit of time out at Soma this week as well.

Monday, Thursday, and Friday I helped with housing assessments.  It still hasn't sunk in the scope of devastation, but being out in it and taking pictures definitely gives us perspective.  While we were out in Alberta City this week, we actually got to talk to some homeowners that were home, which we haven't really had the opportunity to do yet.  I spoke with a woman who weathered the tornado in her bathtub with her two kids, the tornado passing right over their home.  She had trees down in her back yard and over $7000 worth of damage to her roof, but she and her children walked out unhurt.  She also told me that her neighbor, 9 months pregnant at the time, rode the tornado out in her bathroom, survived unhurt, and gave birth to a beautiful baby two days later.  What a blessing during such a terrible time for many people.

Tuesday and Saturday we worked out at Soma.  On Tuesday we worked with three men from North Carolina and an individual from Tuscaloosa.  We worked on an area known in the community as the Callahan Farm.  The men were cutting down and pushing the brush, and we were swamping it out to the roadside.  This is how I think I have acquired my small patch of poison ivy on my arm.  The men we worked with were so inspiring.  They were all in their 60's or 70's and working like they were in their 20's.  The purpose of the work we were doing was to clear the property, so a community garden could be built.  Also, the man running the heavy machinery from Tuscaloosa runs a machine shop in the area.  He was not affected by the tornado and decided to donate his services to all of the volunteers, so he has been sharpening chainsaws.  He sharpened over 2000 chainsaws when he decided he could be doing more and went and bought a Bobcat.  With that he has been helping the sawyers clear brush, minimizing the use of their chainsaws.  What an awesome thing to recognize how fortunate you are and to want to give back to your community and neighbors in such a way.  When we went back out on Sunday, we worked with a couple guys down from Ohio.  In order to have a house demolished, the city was requiring that some trees but cut down and off the house, so again we were doing the same type of work.  This time it hit a lot closer to home though.  Digging through the debris to get to the bigger pieces of wood and larger limbs, we found a lot of personal items from the home.

Working at the Relief Center is another opportunity to talk to people, which I took full advantage of.  Working there we did a wide variety of tasks, but mostly sorting donations and walking around with the customers.  I really enjoyed walking around with the people and helping them find things like clothes and sheets.  It kind of took me back to my American Eagle days, but for a much better cause. We won't be there this week because they are closed, so we will just be at Soma, the VRC, and doing assessments. 

We have four more weeks here.  Everyday I am more and more excited to be seeing friends and family again.  Thanks to everyone for birthday wishes and cards, it all really meant a lot to me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Roll Tide, Tuscaoloosa, Alabama

I arrived in Tuscaloosa, AL last Tuesday afternoon.  As soon as we arrived, my team and I went and registered with FEMA and got straight to work.  Ever since then I have done a variety of tasks; we have done debris removal with the Perry Point, Maryland team, worked in the Volunteer Reception Center registering volunteers and logging volunteer hours, worked in the Salvation Army Distribution center helping to organize the items as well as gather and load carts for people, and finally, working with the city doing housing assessments to build a database.  Not everything has been super entertaining, but it has all been needed and very fulfilling. 

Needless to say that it is hot down here, welcome back to the South.  The heat and humidity makes the debris clean up and even the housing assessments tiring work.  With the debris clean up we are helping with the initial phases of dragging limbs and bucked trees out to the street and with the final phases of raking cleared lots and removing smaller debris that was left behind by the heavy equipment.  With the housing assessments we are given a quadrant within a zone to focus on.  We go to the addresses given to us, photograph the front and back of the property, and fill out an assessment form.  Doing that in some areas proves to be especially difficult when entire blocks have been destroyed and there are no house numbers to go by.

As for the other work, it is pretty mindless tasks.  Logging hours on the internet database, registering volunteers, sorting canned items, de-barcoding items, putting together snack bags, but are still rewarding.  We have gotten to meet some awesome people helping at the VRC and Salvation Army, not to mention providing people who have lost everything with some supplies that would normally be taken for granted.

Our living arrangements couldn't be better.  Our sponsor is the Forest Lake Baptist Church, which was right in the center of the tornado's path.  The church suffered roof damage, as well as lost several stained glass windows, but has been a beacon to the community, offering refuge immediately after the tornado in fear of another, as well as providing a relief center with supplies, much like the Salvation Army.  We are staying at the church in their "youth chamber," basically the basement.  We have a fully functioning kitchen, air conditioning, a game room, and they have been provided with a shower trailer from the Texas Baptist Convention, which is also air conditioned and provides laundry services.  Our gracious hosts, Debbie and Kyle (church couple) make sure we have everything we need, including providing a hot meal for us every night.  How fortunate we are to be provided with such gracious accommodations during a time like this.

Words do not do the destruction justice, so here are some of the pictures I have taken since I have been here.  I will try and update our work here as often as possible.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Roll Tide

We arrived in Big Bend late Thursday afternoon.  Our sponsor, Laura met us at the trail crew bunkhouse where we would be camping.  She seemed really cool.  She herself is an AmeriCorps NCCC alum and actually worked in Big Bend as a Corps Member, now she is the Trail Crew Leader in the park.  She gave us Friday off to explore the park a little and get settled in to our camp.  The view around the campsite was beautiful.  We could see the "window" where the sun sets and were camping in a basin surrounded by the Chisos Mountains.

Friday, we got up early to try and beat the heat and went hiking on the Lost Mine Trail.  It was a pretty easy hike. It was five miles round trip up to a beautiful view of the Chisos.  It took us most of the morning to hike, so we decided to just relax for the afternoon.  That afternoon we got word from Denver that we would be leaving Big Bend on Sunday to go to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to help with the recovery efforts from the tornado.  We all had mixed feelings.  Obviously we were all excited to be going to help in an area that is clearly in need, but were disappointed we wouldn't get to spend time in this beautiful area.  We decided that we would make the most of our last day on Saturday, so we got up and made a huge breakfast and headed for the Hot Spring. 
The Hot Spring is a popular location in the park.  It houses ruins to a Hotel/Spa from the 1940's.  There were the remains of a general store, what looked like rooms, and one other building, as well as one of the hot springs.  We checked out the ruins on our way to the Hot Spring, but the Rio Grande was the real high light.  It is pretty low for this time of year, but the current was still surprisingly strong.  A few of us walked across and touched the rocks on the other side, claiming we had touched Mexico even though anything in the water is considered neutral territory, neither here nor there.  It was really cool to swim there and enjoy the afternoon with the team.

We left today and made it to Stephensville, TX.  We will stop tomorrow night in Mississippi and arrive in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday.  We will be working with CitiIMPACT Ministries, through a local Baptist church.  We have orientation as soon as we get there and jump head first into work on Wednesday morning.  As a team we are going to "assume the details and enhance distribution of supplies."  We will also be helping to develop another volunteer center, which will house 1-200 volunteers at any given time.  Finally, we will also be involved in developing a long term recovery plan, including case management.  The project will definitely be emotionally intense, but I am looking forward to going down there and making a difference for these people. 

As of now, I do not have a mailing address, however, as soon as I get one I will post it.  Look for stories about the work I am doing here, the people I am meeting, and the stories they have to tell!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Good Bye Houston, Hello Big Bend

We left Houston today, and I can't say I will miss it.  I loved the work, but the city was huge and the humidity was a killer.  We ended up completing 25 roofs all together.  It certainly didn't meet the original expectation of 99, but with the houses we were given, I don't think we could have completed anymore.  Most of the homes we worked on needed their entire roof covered, rather than a lot of houses that just needed patchwork.  I know that we made a difference to those that we helped, but I am disappointed we couldn't get to everyone.  Our sponsor couldn't tell us what would happen to the other homes and whether or not they would be helped.  It is sad to think that some of these people might lose their homes that have been in their families for years and years.

Having Arlyn and Madison come visit for the weekend was great.  It was definitely a pleasure to have them both and just the taste of home I needed to make it through.  Their flights were delayed on the way on Friday, but they made it to me by Friday evening thank goodness.  We spent the weekend catching up, going out to eat, shopping, and going out.  We visited the aquarium and had a picnic in the park with my team.  I love getting together with them, we never miss a beat.  I felt like we had just gotten together the weekend before.  I was sad to see them leave, but I assured them I would be home soon enough.  If they were upset, I would never survive.

Now, my team and I are on our way to Big Bend National Park.  I will be camping there for the next seven weeks unless we are called for disaster, which I feel is a slim possibility at this point.  While at the park we will be doing general trail maintenance, re-vegetation, and helping host a Day of Service in Terlingua.  It is going to be tough with high temperatures and little access to the internet or cell service, not to mention Chris and my communication is only once every several weeks.  Y'all be thinking about me, and write me letters!