Saturday, December 31, 2005

Greetings from Biloxi the Sequel

Greetings from Biloxi Redux

I’m back in Biloxi with Handson again.

I will have more to report tomorrow (I only got in about 5PM today), but a fast first look finds that the city has come a long ways, but has an equally distant wayS to go.

While some casinos are opening up and businesses are getting back to something approaching normal operations, street lights, signs, and downed trees still litter the region and scores of thousands of peoples’ homes are either gone or uninhabitable.

A simple example of what the city is like now: upon arrival I did the exact same run I did in early October. Indeed I was shocked at how vivid the memory of the run was! Even in the dark, the course was seared into my mind. I remembered the house where the lady was hanging a blue tarp and who had been so gracious when offered a hand. The house is still there. So is the blue tote.

On the run I was struck by the large number of FEMA trailers even in the section of town that I thought had not been hit too severely. Also surprising, even though I know groups, inculiding Handson helped with some of teh decorations, was the large number of Christmas decorations hanging on many of the damaged homes and trailers. It is almost as if it was the owners' way of saying: you can destroy our homes, take our valuables, and even kill some of our friends and neighbors, but you can not take away our spirit.

At Handson, the people, although largely different than in October, are still as nice. Again as I said before, almost “too nice.” They can’t really be as caring, kind, and considerate, can they? In every one of my dealings so far, it sure seems that they are.

The work has changed some. Mold abatement has replaced tree removal and gutting as the “cool” jobs. Work is being done on so-called lower priority jobs such as street clean-up and cemetery fix-ups. These are obviously important quality of life jobs, but are not the first things one would do after a catastrophe.

In a way, Biloxi is responding like a sick patient who is getting better, but that you can still tell is no where near back to normal. And remember, I only saw the parts of town that were least heavily damaged. Over the course of the next week I will report from some of the more severely affected areas.

Short Bits:

*The view from the plane on the way in showed much damage still exists in surrounding areas. I tried taking pictures but to not think they turned out

*Overall, any fear that there would not be enough work for our March trip has been driven far from consciousness. Indeed, the idea of another fall or summer trip has arisen. But one thing at a time. March comes first.

*Dinner was lasagna, salad, garlic bread, and corn.

*It was in the upper 60s when I ran at 6pm.

*Handson has more people now than in October. I would guess 100? Darius gave an interesting talk on the history and future of Handson after the nightly meeting. He laid to rest most of the concerns people have been having about HandsonNetwork. It seems like a great match and there should be some real synergies.

*On Saturday, Jen and I plan on working with the Humane Society in the AM and then on the cemetery clean up/fix up in the afternoon (the mold crew was filled)

*The internet hook-up is still frustratingly slow.

*Closed circuit for Suzanne: I brought my own orange juice this time ;)

Friday, December 30, 2005

The news is not all bad: The worst of times, the best of times.

Dickens had it right. “It is the worst of times, it is the best of times.”

There can be no arguing that Katrina was a horrible storm. It damaged property, destroyed homes, and took over 1300 lives. It was bad, indeed really bad. But it also brought out the best of many people.

You read that correctly. It brought out the best. Sure, it may not be the news we see on TV, but the good news is out there.

Now before I get people upset, to focus on the positive is not to deny the negative. Katrina did bring out the worst in some—the lootings, the deaths, the killings of pets (from both abandonment and from shooting), and the barely concealed racism are all serious problems that must be rectified and rectified quickly. But for now I want to push the negative aside and focus on the positive.

It is too easy to overlook the positive. Bad news gets ratings, and hence press coverage. Good news gets brushed aside. But for every incidence of looting or shooting, there have been literally hundreds of cases of neighbor helping neighbor and of volunteers going above and beyond any reasonable call of duty. Each of these thousands and thousands of selfless heroes deserves to be made known and the story of their valor be passed along as both a reward to them for their action and as an example for other both now and in the future.

Unfortunately today we’ll only meet a few of these heroes. They may not be the best examples, but they are examples I know and because of that I will share their stories. Dave Driscoll, Ron Flores, and Christine Francis but I trust that their stories will be example enough to convince you of the good that the storm has wrought.

Dave Driscoll (who I was fortunate to work with in Biloxi and later interview for podcast) has given seven weeks to the people of Louisiana and Mississippi. Seven weeks. In an era when attention spans are measured in seconds, Dave has worked for seven weeks without receiving a cent.

Dave has worked with Handson, with DisasterCorps, and independently with a friend from New Orleans. He has gutted flooded homes, hauled garbage, cared for abandoned animals, handed out food, clothes, blankets, cleaning supplies, bikes and even Halloween candy. He has served as an airport shuttle service, cleaned lots for FEMA trailers, and most importantly shown the survivors that they have not been forgotten. From all if us, Thank you Dave!

In the days after Katrina, chaos reigned. Reports of lootings, shootings and death (of people, animals, and even a city) filled the airwaves and the papers. And on NOLA’s volunteer forum a hero rose above the rest of us. Ron Flores, Ronnie, had been in the midst of a move from Covington Louisiana to Las Vegas when Katrina decided to alter his plans.

While FEMA and virtually every other large relief organization were spinning their wheels, Ronnie dropped his plans and returned to the Gulf Coast. With seemingly endless energy Ronnie was everywhere. He was online, on the phone, and on the ground. He was there at 7:00 AM and at 2:00 AM. Directing supplies to those in need, encouraging would be volunteers, while simultaneously working himself “gitting ‘er done.”

Ron became an instant legend.

My first direct interaction with this legend came as a result of an attempt to find a place to volunteer in early October. I emailed him at about 1:00 AM. He got back to me almost at once telling me to call him. I hesitated. “do you know what time it is?” I responded. “Yeah, so what?, I’m up.” So I called.

By the time I hung up Verizon was a little richer and I had been sold on the importance of volunteering, on HandsonUSA, and on various ways we could help from hundred of miles away. I was just lucky he wasn’t selling used cars or I would be driving a 1975 Pinto.

Not knowing Ron, I fully expected him to fade into the horizon as more established relief agencies got their footing. After all, it takes quite the person to be the “go to person” for hundred and then suddenly step aside and take a smaller role within a larger group. But when we got to Biloxi, there he was—cutting trees, clearing lots for trailers, and still leading by example. Lead on Ronnie, lead on.

The final hero, or more appropriately heroine, is Bonaventure’s own Christine Francis. I did not know Christine prior to an email I received from her in September. She had heard I would be taking a group of Bonaventure students to Mississippi and wanted to go. However, she was busy with a job and school and could not make the meetings. Then she could not make the make-up meeting. But she wrote that she still wanted to go. Finally, when we did meet, she seemed both too busy and too nervous to go. She went anyways.

By the end of our October trip she was so sold on the idea of helping that she has to be talked out of dropping out of school to work in the affected areas. Back at Bonaventure she quickly assumed a leadership position in the planning of our March trip.

In late November she announced that she was forgoing her Christmas break at home with her family and instead was going to volunteer in Mississippi for the entire break. What is that about college students not caring? Christine made short work of that stereotype. Keep up the awesome work Christine, you have done more to show that college students care than you will ever know.

In coming blog entries Iplan to introduce you to more of these heroes, but for now I hope that these three are enough for you to realize that Katrina did bring out the best in some people. And so the next time you read of such-and-such happening bad as a result of Katrina, remember that the bad news is only one side of the story. Remember it is the worst of times, it is the best of times.

Blue tarps cost how much?

Only FEMA. Only FEMA...

From come more evidence of FEMA's abilities.
"Depending on the extent of damage and the size of the roof, the federal government is paying anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $5,000 to install a typical tarp. The cost to taxpayers to tack up a covering of blue vinyl is roughly the same, on a per-square-foot basis, as what a homeowner would pay to install a basic asphalt-shingle roof."

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Teachers begin Gulf Coast relief effort |

See, I am not the only one saying it!

Teachers begin Gulf Coast relief effort |
"It's been four months since Hurricane Katrina crushed the Gulf Coast, but during their two-week trip to the ravaged region, a group of Baldwin-Whitehall educators learned the devastation is still very present.

The crew led by Baldwin High School teachers Richard Yount and Joseph Murray traveled to the areas of Bay St. Louis and Waveland, Miss. -- the heart of August's storm -- from Nov. 20 to Dec. 3.

'I had no idea what to expect,' said Yount. 'We had little preparation. But by the time we came back, I was fully fulfilled and gratified by giving my time. I gained so much more than I gave.'"

Back to Biloxi: Silent Nights on the Gulf Coast

From Marianna's Back to Biloxi's blog.

Back to Biloxi: Silent Nights on the Gulf Coast:
"John Grisham wrote this excellent editorial in the New York Times. It's a bit long, but a great read."
She links to the actual article, it is a MUST read. So READ IT! ;)

Grisham (who is from Mississippi) proves for the upteenth time that he is a really good writer whether dealing with lawyers, death row inmates, High school football team reunions, or hurricane survivors.

While I can not stress enough, READ THE ARTICLE, here is a taste:
"As with the tents in the Village, you look at the FEMA trailers and wonder how temporary they really are. No houses are being built. Many of those damaged will remain untouched while the great debate with insurance companies over wind damage versus water damage is played out in court. Many months will pass before there is significant new construction. "
Enough? No? Ok, one more bite:
"A FEMA trailer is too small for a Christmas tree, so those who can muster enough spirit set them outside, either under an awning or tied to the trailer hitch. Driving around in the evening, I found it heartening to see a few tiny trees and some colorful lights. They illuminated the trailers and threw dim shadows on the ubiquitous rubble. Otherwise, the nights are very dark and quiet along the Coast."

So sad...but on the plus side, that Grisham guy might turn out to be an OK writer yet ;)

HandsOnUSA's blog

Dave Campbell (Handson's founder reflects after the death of his mother in law:

"Yesterday was the anniversary of the terrible tsunami that ripped through the Indian Ocean, taking over 225,000 lives in minutes, and leaving physical and emotional scars that will survive for many years. But it was out of that devastation that HandsOnThailand was born, so in all change there is an opportunity, maybe even a mandate, for new changes to appear. The world reacted in such a spontaneous outpouring of shared grief, offers of aid, and extraordinary outreach by governments and individuals to this disaster that it seemed to bring us all closer together, if only for an occasion. Katrina galvanized a similar response in the US, and all of us who have witnessed the brutal destruction wrought by this extraordinary disaster recognize the years of cooperative effort that will be required to help put people's lives back together."

Read the rest! It is well worth it!!! He also addresses the controversy surrounding Handson new joint venture/merger with the HandsonNetwork group.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Rating the year's bright spots

The Secret Society of Happy People (uh, ok) recently released their list of happiest moments of 2005. #1 may interest you!

Rating the year's bright spots:
"...Happy moment number two was word from medical researchers that being happy is good for your health.

...the year's happiest moments were when people rushed to help victims of natural disasters, here and abroad."

Video of Waveland

When I was sent this I had reservations since I never know how to take some of their posts (definitely tend to be a tad too political for my tastes), but that said, the video on Katrina is good--9 minutes and 26 seconds--and gives a good look at how bad the destruction is as well a look at teh comeback that is in process.


Favorite quote: "every little thing is a big thing."

Monday, December 26, 2005

Jeff and Dave's video

These guys were in Biloxi when we were. They then played a big role in Rita relief and have gone on to form the ReleifNow Network.

Their video on the destruction (both physically and mentally) and recovery efforts is very good!

Christine's Pre-Christmas reports from Biloxi

December 23, 2005--Christine Francis reporting from Biloxi

Just wanted to drop you a quick line. Another good day in Biloxi for me. We painted two houses today. It's something new with the interior process. Now after they gut the house out inside, a mold crew goes in and scrapes and vacuums every square inch of the house and gets rid of all of the mold. Then they leave the houses overnight and they go back in the next day and use what is called "kill" to paint the walls and all of the studs in the house. I did the painting today with Owen, Nate, and Andrew. It went really well.

Crews are small because alot of people left for the holidays, but we still managed to do two houses and return to base fairly early. We used paint sprayers, so yep, I was COVERED in paint when we returned to base, even tho we wore those TYVEK suit things. But, luckily I only have some white spots left here and there on my face and arms. Not too bad.

Tomorrow I am going to go out with the Christmas decorating crew...they go around and decorate people's trailors with decorations for Christmas. I am excited to do that. I'm getting into the Christmas spirit.

I will call when I find the time. It's been really hectic with just getting here and trying to meet everyone and find out who is still here from when we were down last. But, lights went out about five minutes ago, so I am going to get in bed and read until I fall asleep. Painting really did wear me out today, and my arm hurts from holding the paint sprayer...haha. I'll talk to you soon!
Merry X-mas!


And then slightly later (in response to my question on whether Handson would be able to use our volunteers in March):

"...Hands On is definitely staying for up to another year, of course with
the name Hands On Network. I don't know where they will be stationed, but I have
talked to Mark, who is the other leader other than Darius, and they are coming
to get started on the fifth of January I believe. So I will still be here and
will be able to talk to the leaders of it and try to set some things up so a
group from Bonaventure will be able to stay here with them, and I imagine a
large group will be able to, because I guess their plan is to have more...300
volunteers at a time. Sounds good!!

I am going to hang Christmas decorations on FEMA trailors now. Can't wait to get to talk to some people and see how they are doing during the Christmas season!"

Christine Francis Reports from Biloxi

Christine Francis went down to Biloxi in October. She is one of the main student leaders of the BonaResponds group. She is spending her Chirstmas break back with Handson. She will be giving us updates on what it is like now in Biloxi and what she is doing.

December 21, 2005--I'm here and just woke up for my first day of real
work. It's pretty cold down here right now...I'm quite surprised. Totally new faces too...only a few that I really recognize. But that's ok...everyone is still really nice.

Darius isn't here right now. He is in Atlanta for two days...should be back by tomorrow or the day after so
I haven't had a chance to talk to him yet about anything come March. I will keep on that tho and do it as soon as he returns.

Today I am going to take it easy and not gut houses or anything. I figure I got a taste of that in October and I should try some other things I'm going to be here for about a month...plenty of time to try
everything on the board. Today I am going to go to the Boys and Girls Club in Biloxi and hang out with the
little kids and play games with them and things like that. Should be an interesting experience. They said they
had play doh for them today and a whole bunch of board games....

Take Care,


Sunday, December 25, 2005

Doctors in Hancock County upset at volunteers

Interesting debate. I have to side with the volunteers, but do appreciate the doctors' positions.


"The few local doctors who have reopened practices in the county don't see it
that way and Gallup and her staff have already met staunch resistance. The
concern is this: As local doctors slowly start to return, they -- like thousands
of others here -- will have to rebuild their homes and business, but they'll
have to do it while continuing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for malpractice insurance and other fees.

Many of the county's physicians lost their homes and offices to Katrina's winds and water and they fear the free clinics may be stealing what's left of their clientele. "

Santa made it to HandsonUSA! :)

originally uploaded by Hands On Worldwide.
Santa made it to HandsonUSA and they definitely deserve it for all the good they have done this year!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Hands On USA and Fairytale Brownies Join Hands for Katrina Relief: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance

Hands On USA and Fairytale Brownies Join Hands for Katrina Relief: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance: "Fairytale Brownies, a gourmet brownie bakery based in Phoenix, will team up with Hands On USA to distribute brownies to these communities the week of December 26th. 'We hope our brownies will bring a smile to those displaced by Katrina,' says Eileen Spitalny, founder and CEO of Fairytale Brownies. 'But more importantly, we hope this gesture shows that the rest of the country hasn't forgotten about them, especially during the holidays.'"

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

NY Times agrees: there is much work to do!!!

There is still much work to do, so if you can get down there to volunteer, by all means do so, if not, why not donate to either pay for someone else to go down, or to any of the many organizations on the ground.

From the NY Times:

"The tent city here is one of three set up in recent weeks along the Mississippi coast, making room for families now that the emergency shelters have closed and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is working through a backlog of some 5,000 families still on waiting lists for government-supplied travel trailers or mobile homes.

...In Pass Christian, the need is especially dire....

The work of clearing debris and the crushed remains of about 2,000 houses is far short of the halfway mark. As a result, construction of large amounts of new housing is still months off."

Remember, we're going. You can too!

AP Wire | 12/13/2005 | The future of Bay St. Louis neighborhoods could be prefabricated

AP Wire | 12/13/2005 | The future of Bay St. Louis neighborhoods could be prefabricated: "'There's just not going to be enough builders to do all the construction that needs to be done.'

The homes would be built in a factory in another part of the country and shipped to the area. It takes about four months to assemble the homes onsite.

A 1,000-square-foot house on the rubble-filled Ballentine Street is the first to appear in Bay St. Louis. It was built by Allen Associates in Santa Barbara, Calif., and delivered on trucks.

The company is designing them to match the traditional feeling of Bay St. Louis homes.

Prefab homes tend to cost about 40 percent less, per square foot, than regular homes and they often are a better quality structure, Dennis said."

Repairs, revenue top needs in Bay St. Louis - The Clarion-Ledger

Repairs, revenue top needs in Bay St. Louis - The Clarion-Ledger:
"Although city services and most utilities have been restored to every place where a connection is viable, about 30 percent of the homes and 80 percent of the businesses were wiped out."

"Few damaged businesses have reopened. No fast-food restaurants and only a handful of gas stations are open...."
Bay St. Louis had four grocery stories before Katrina. Now the only grocery shopping is in a Wal-Mart that partially has reopened. Otherwise, everyone is driving to Gulfport or Slidell and Mandeville, both across the state line in Louisiana."Everybody in the city is almost on equal ground. Everywhere you go, you're standing in a line for gas, groceries and food," Olsen said."

Saturday, December 17, 2005

HandsOnUSA and HandsonNetwork

WOW! Major news. Short version: HandsonUSA is joining forces with HandsonNetwork and staying in Biloxi!!!! :)

Dave Campbell (the FOunder of HandsOnUSA):
"And even better, they had decided to launch a sustained effort providing volunteer services on the GulfCoast, starting Feb 1 ( our planned end-date had been 'end of January'). We've had a number of meetings with the folks from HandsOnNetwork, and plan on joining them as a disaster response affilliate, and help launch their effort here in Mississippi, including providing assistance from our Operations Directors, Darius and Mark, and working to move some of our volunteer leaders into ongoing positions with them ( if they so choose). We will be working together from our Operations Center in Biloxi over the month of January, and expect that we can make the transition smooth and effective."

Rt 90 to open

from Biloxi city website:

" All lanes of U.S. 90 in Biloxi – from Debuys Road to the tip of Point Cadet – will re-open to traffic on Wednesday, Dec. 21, Mayor A.J. Holloway announced this afternoon, after meeting with the city’s debris removal teams and public safety department heads."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

FEMA to pick up trailers 18 months after storm

From YahooNews:

"FEMA said the trailers will be picked up by contractors 18 months after the storm hit.

That means if you don't get a trailer until six months after the storm, you will only get to live in it for 12 months."

Mark February 2007 on your calendars, I can hear the firestorm brewing already! Of course residents may take some solace in the fact that if FEMA is as fast picking up the trailers as they were delivering them, it may be a tad longer ;). (Sorry I couldn't resist that was just too easy!)

Flickr: Photos from Hands On Worldwide

I have looked at literally hundreds of pictures from Handson since we left, (both here and elsewhere).

While I was mainly looking to see how things are changing, I was also trying to see if anything "we" had done had made an impact (yeah I know, but I still wanted to actually SEE something in a picture--a house that we had worked on now being rebuilt, a FEMA trailer in a yard, etc.). I realize they are, but still just wanted to see it.

Well finally, I found something. However minor it may be:the orange stickers on the cabinets in the kitchen are still there! :) lol. And of course the tool shed that Andy and Mary helped on.

Can you tell it is the middle of finals week adn I am tired of tests and correcting?!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Salon's look at the recovery effort News | Everything's broken:
"Dec. 13, 2005 | EAST BILOXI, Miss. -- More than three months after Hurricane Katrina's jagged front edge tore into Mississippi's Gulf Coast like a runaway chainsaw, East Biloxi remains a shattered community of poor people living amid their ruins, facing an uncertain future"

While I am not sure it should be government's role, I will say that many people believe it to be so, and if it is, then FEMA etc failed (and are failing)

But we can help. And to paraphrase Nelson Mandela "if we can help, we must help."

My favorite line from the article: "Real hurricane relief for the poor is coming not from the government or big charities but the kindness of strangers."

Handson gets some nice coverage on page is worth the advertisement to view it!

MSN Health & Fitness - Katrina Leaves Widespread Depression in Her Wake

More on the mental aspects of the storm.

MSN Health & Fitness - Katrina Leaves Widespread Depression in Her Wake: "Those who suffered the wrath of Hurricane Katrina didn't just lose their homes.

They lost what Columbia University psychiatrist Dr. Mindy T. Fullilove calls their 'way of being in the world' -- their families, their neighborhoods, their communities.

And this overwhelming obliteration is triggering mental-health ramifications of an unprecedented magnitude."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A letter to the editor that all volunteers should read!

If you are on the fence as to whether to volunteer or not, or if you wonder if your efforts are appreciated, read the following email that I received:

"Hello Jim,

My name is S____, I too am a HOUSA volunteer. I haven't had a chance to meet you, but maybe we will on your next trip....I know that you have been working on motivating your students for this coming relief mission and I found this recent letter in the Sun Herald. I hope that it is helpful:

Letter to the editor of the Sun Herald:

"Grateful hearts for your willing hands

I want to thank all of the volunteers who live here and especially those who have traveled from all over the States to come lend a helping hand during these trying times. I think it is great to have so many people taking off from their jobs and traveling away from their families to show the kindness of their hearts.

It is one thing to come a few days after a major tragedy like Hurricane Katrina, but it is another thing to come two and three months after the storm. Many people do not have the money right now to pay people to remove the debris from their yards and tear out carpet and sheetrock. It is wonderful to have help with these laborious tasks.


The email from the HANDSON volunteer also contained the following:
"Personally, I have to say that my experiences in Mississippi have all been deeply meaningful - whether it was in the days immediately after the hurricane when I first arrived (August 31st), or a on subsequent trip. ...I have a feeling that this coming trip (#4) may somehow be the most meaningful of all. In the end, no trip, has been more, or less, important than the others. They each had their own importance and meaning. Knowing what I know now, I would not want to have to tell someone one day in the future that I had the opportunity to go to Mississippi to help with the relief and that I did not go. "

Warmest wishes on your endeavors,

S____ S____

I removed the name of the volunteer (since I do not yet have permission) but hope to get it as she should be acknowledged as a hero in this releif effort!

So are you coming? Bonaventure Responds

360 Degree Panoramas: Hurricane Katrina

What a view. 360 degree views of the destruction. Unreal.

Thanks TC for the link!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Route 90 to open

From the City of Biloxi:
"MDOT and public safety leaders, Mayor A.J. Holloway has announced that the two southernmost lanes of U.S. 90 in Biloxi -- from Debuys Road to Porter Avenue – will open to two-way traffic on Saturday morning at 10.

The two northernmost lanes of the highway will be open only to debris-removal crews, who face the task of removing a large volume of storm debris that property owners have moved to the roadside."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Dartmouth News - Dartmouth students will spend winter break helping with hurricane relief - 11/18/05


A group from Dartmouth was there when we were in Biloxi. Great to see they are still at it!!

Dartmouth News - Dartmouth students will spend winter break helping with hurricane relief - 11/18/05: "On Dec. 8, a group of Dartmouth students and staff will depart for a much-anticipated journey. But instead of going home for winter break, they will head to Biloxi, Miss., where they will lend a hand as the city works to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. The two-week service trip in December, and a subsequent trip in the spring, are being funded by the College"

Friday, December 09, 2005

CNS STORY: Out-of-town volunteers offer helping hand toward New Orleans recovery

CNS STORY: Out-of-town volunteers offer helping hand toward New Orleans recovery: "NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- Since Hurricane Katrina, hands have been reaching out to New Orleans from all over the world -- hands that want to help New Orleans begin its journey down the road to recovery.

On Thanksgiving weekend, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans planned to launch Operation Helping Hands, bringing in volunteers from across the country to do the manual work that is so necessary to begin the process of rebuilding New Orleans."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005



I could spend hours just on this site! Very interesting look at the storm's aftermath as well as impact on government readiness for next storm.

Hancock County (MS) EOC Public Information

Hancock County (MS) EOC Public Information: "Public information page of the Hancock County, Mississippi Emergency Operations Center"

Useful blog to find out how things are going in Hancock County.

Today is day 100. Enough said.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Disaster Corps, Disaster Survivors In Action, Hurricane Disaster Relief

We have tentatively committed to working with Disaster Corps out of Bay St. Louis for at least some of our Spring Relief trip.

Check out their newsletter and pictures (which are brand new! December).

So come on down!!!!

Interview with Darius Monsef of HandsonUSA

Known to thousands of Handson volunteers simply as "Darius", Darius Monsef has been the operations Driector of HandonUSA in Biloxi MS for four months now. He speaks on what has been accomplished, why volunteering is worthwhile, and much more. Well worth the 15 minutes!

Waveland, Mississippi

Waveland, Mississippi: "'I'm realizing that I have nothing left,' she says.

Money is a major stress, as she tries to care for her 4-year-old daughter who was traumatized by the storm.

'She can't have what she used to,' says Ball. '[I'm] just trying to redo it, just make her happy, really.'

The mayor says his toughest job right now is being a counselor to people who need a place to vent.

'Keep your chin up,' he tells one resident.

'I'm trying, but they condemn[ed] my house,' is one woman's reply.

Everyone in Waveland is in the same boat.

'Everybody has virtually lost everything they have,'"

New Orleanians Work to Save Historic Homes - Yahoo! News

Good news out of New Orleans...well at least better news!

New Orleanians Work to Save Historic Homes - Yahoo! News: "Early on, many preservation advocates feared that entire neighborhoods would be razed in the name of jump-starting the rebuilding process, but that scenario appears increasingly unlikely.

'The war may be over in terms of any wholesale demolition,' said Camille Strachan, a New Orleans resident and former National Trust board member.

The city's preliminary survey of damage also has yielded encouraging news for preservation-minded residents.

Michael Centineo, director of the city Department of Safety and Permits, said in mid-November that inspectors had surveyed the exteriors of 114,127 buildings. They slapped green tags on 31,662 buildings with minimal or no damage and yellow tags on 79,325 with only partial structural damage."

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Larry Orsini Interview Part 2

The second part of my interview with Larry Orsini is now online.

Larry Orsini Interview Part 2 | Ourmedia

THANKS LARRY! - New Orleans revisited - New Orleans revisited: "In the French Quarter, the ridge of high ground that made New Orleans famous, you can almost pretend Hurricane Katrina never happened. The smell of chicory coffee wafts onto the sidewalks. Jazz spills from the clubs. The storied streets bustle.

But that veneer of normalcy is deceiving, even dangerous, to the city. With its short attention span, the public could easily latch onto this portrait of plenty and forget that large and less-visited swaths of New Orleans remain without. Without power and light, without jobs and a tax base, without inhabitable homes and without working schools."

Larry Orsini interview part1.mp3

Larry Orisini is a former SBU accounting professor who is now retired. He spent about three weeks working in New Orleans, Jackson MS, and Biloxi.

This week I had the opportunity to interview him on what he saw and what work we will have when we get their in March.

In the first of two parts. In this he speaks on the destruction he saw and what the people are going through.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Great quote!

North Jersey Media Group providing local news, sports & classifieds for Northern New Jersey!: "community-based efforts are helping Bay St. Louis through the city's gradual rebuilding effort.

'We measure our progress in inches,' Cuevas said. 'Every day we see one of our streets cleaned, or a truck arrives with supplies, or gas is reconnected to someone's house, is a good day.'"

WBIR.COM - COMMENTARY: A very special Thanksgiving in Bay St. Louis

Thanksgiving in Bay St. Louis

WBIR.COM - COMMENTARY: A very special Thanksgiving in Bay St. Louis: "All doubt disappears once we turn off the Interstate about 30 miles north of the coast. We're now on a two-lane road that's full of logging trucks in both directions. The damage is already worse than I expected. There are no street signs or mailboxes - just sheets of plywood with a house number and sometimes a name scrawled in spray paint.

Three months after Katrina, there are still piles of debris everywhere, and the blue plastic tarps are only beginning to give way to new metal roofing. At one home, an entire sheet of vinyl ripped from a billboard has been pressed into service as roofing. I can't make out what it used to advertise."

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Interview with David Driscoll--Hurricane relief worker

In an attempt to get more people to the gulf coast region, I will be doing a series of interviews with people who have been there as volunteers. I can think of no one better than David Driscoll.

Dave has already been there for 6 weeks and is going back for more! The interview is in MP3 format, so it can be listened to using Real, Quicktime, Windows Media, etc.

Dave was the first "Handson" person we met in Biloxi as he met us at the airport. He really has done it all from working at the Humane Society, to gutting houses, to going to New Orleans, to giving out supplies.

The interview is about 16 minutes long.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Buffalo News - Learning lessons from devastation

Nice article on Alrfed State. They worked with Handson over THanksgiving break! Way to go!!

Buffalo News - Learning lessons from devastation: "About 30 people from Alfred State College - including students, staff and the college president - spent Thanksgiving week in Mississippi, clearing fallen trees, removing debris, delivering supplies and helping victims of Hurricane Katrina.

In return, the volunteers got a profound lesson in the strength of the human spirit, the joy of giving and the richness of their own lives."

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Pizza in NYC

The following is an essay I wrote about a month ago. I actually have quite a few essays to enter as most are on my yellow legal pads--while inefficient, it is too difficult to use my notebook computer on planes, and in airports and restaurants. So yellow legal pads and then typing it is. Unfortunately this takes time, so bear with me.

October 28, 2005 5:10 PM Carusso's Pizza--New York City

It was the furthest thing from my thoughts. I was in NYC with the St. Bonaventure Finance Club. In the previous thirty four hours we had seen two exchanges, toured the Fed, been given presentations at two large investment bankers, and met with Alumni. Oh and that was not enough, we also went sight-seeing, bargained with street vendors in Battery Park, and had two decent runs along the East River. There were five hours before our flight back home.

I was alone. Some of the students were visiting family and friends, while others had chosen to eat. I had decided to walk. But after about 30 minutes of battling the unseasonably cold weather, I stepped into one of the seemingly nameless pizza parlors in the Financial District. This one was names Carusso's.

I really am not that hungry, but I did want to eat before the flight, so now is as good a time as any. "Two slices of cheese pizza--Sicilian please."

I take a seat along the mirrored side of the dining area so that I can watch the thousands of workers hustle by on the crowded sidewalk. It is Friday night. night to celebrate.

The pizza is good. It is a tad hot however and I have water in my backpack. I reach for the water and am confronted by my yellow legal pad sticking out between a journal article I was supposed to read and a book I had just purchased. The legal pad has notes and incomplete essays written on our recent trip to Mississippi to help with hurricane clean-up. Suddenly I am no longer in the pizza parlor. Not even in NYC. I am suddenly taken back to Mississippi.

It has been about ten weeks since Katrina. Ten weeks and the world has largely forgotten about the region. Forgotten about the victims. Forgotten about the whole thing. But it is not over. I had seen it first hand only weeks ago. It is not over by a long shot. Millions are still suffering as I sit killing time eating pizza and watching the world go by.

Not sure what else to do, I take out my legal pad and begin writing:

"While hurricane relief has been pushed of of TV and is no longer front-page news, hundreds of thousands of people are still facing enormous hurdles. Hurdles that are tough enough for the average healthy person to overcome, but nearly impossible for the poor, disabled, or elderly to surmount without help.

Many of these people have no family to help nor money to hire help. So what can they do? The live in the moldy, unsafe homes. Or move out of the area. Or maybe if they are lucky into a FEMA trailer along side their home."

With that I stopped writing and put the legal pad away. I was disgusted with myself. I had just called living in a trailer, next to a destroyed home a victory. It is not victory. It may be a start, but there is still a long ways to go before victory can be declared. And almost no one knows.

The pizza finished and my mood ruined, I walked out onto the still crowded streets. It was everything I could do to not walk up to perfect strangers and ask them if they wanted to come with us when we go back to Mississippi. Maybe I should have.

Not wanting to make that same mistake twice, I will ask you:
"Want to come with us?" For information on our March Trip, email me or check out this page .

Thursday, November 24, 2005

City of Biloxi is publishing a book and DVD to raise money

"The City of Biloxi is producing a DVD and companion photo album to commemorate the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the community’s inspirational recovery efforts. The hour-long DVD and photo album of hundreds of images will be available in January, but those seeking to purchase the collectibles as Christmas gifts will be provided a gift card to present at Christmas time."

Click here for more information and to place an order.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - La. toll rises as evacuees find dead in return to homes - La. toll rises as evacuees find dead in return to homes: "More than a month after the official search for victims of Hurricane Katrina ended, the death toll in Louisiana has jumped by 104 as returning families in the New Orleans area continue to find bodies"

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Come on and join our Convoy!


October 10, 2005
Pass Road, Biloxi Mississippi 6:08 AM

It is time to run. I have a psychologist runner friend who labels people. On one run he asked me to label myself. I said runner. I told him I probably did not want to know what that meant clinically. But I can tell you I do not feel comfortable in a city until I have run in it. It gives me a lay of the land. It gives me my bearings. It let's me sightsee. It let's me think.

The runner in me always trumps the sleeper in me, so at 5:45 AM I head out the door of the HandsonUSA headquarters and went for a run. Understand, that if I were to choose when or where to run, this would not be it. Not only was it way too early, but Pass Road is a major thoroughfare. That means sidewalks, which are hard on feet and legs.

Or I could run on side roads that all seem to dead-end before getting anywhere. But better than sidewalks. So I turn down side streets. I go past house after house with roofs damaged by Katrina. Trees lay by the sides of many of the homes and almost every house has piles of debris awaiting pickup piled in front. And every house had something else too. A yappy dog.

I had planned on just doing 45 minutes of loops around West and North streets. But by lap two, I was pretty sure every house not only had a yappy dog but that each yappy dog wanted to say hello when I went by its home. At 6:00 AM “hello” is too much, and besides their barks were decidedly not “morning voices”. So I gave up my idea of laps and decided to try the sidewalks along Pass Road.

This was not turning out like I had hoped. But as if to give credence to the "It's always darkest before the dawn" saying, things began to brighten. I turned left onto Pass Road at the detroyed gas station and almost immediately I am met by a convoy of utility trucks heading out for another day of fixing wires and making sure the region has power. One after another the trucks rolled by. A seemingly endless line of workers going out to speed the region’s recovery from the catastrophic damage of nearly six weeks ago.

Growing up we went over to my grandparents’ house almost every Sunday. They had an 8-track player that I loved to play with. One of the songs on it Convoy. I had no idea who sang it, but remembered one of the lines from the song: “come on and join our convoy,…ain’t she a beautiful sight.”

Maybe it was the time, maybe a serious lack of sleep, maybe it was that I had not thought of the word "convoy" for a very long time (unfortunately it does not come from Spanish which would make the story that much better). But whatever it was the song stuck in my head.

As I ran towards the areas of the worst destruction, areas where military personnel would eventually block my entrance, I could not get the song out of my head.

And it dawned on me, that that is what we were doing. That is what all of the volunteers were doing. Unknowingly, we had joined a convoy; a convoy of people from around the country. We had all come together to help people we did not even know.

The run progressed as I dwelled on the mental picture. It really was a convoy--a convoy of people helping others. People from Handson, people from every one of the scores of relief agencies across the area, and everyone at the utility companies, the National Guard, the Air Force, and of course the local people who set aside their troubles to help their neighbors had literally and figuratively joined a convoy.

After a few miles of being lost in thoughts of the convoy, I suddenly realized it was time to head back. But I also realized the sun was coming up and I lucky enough to be witnessing a beautiful sun rise. How appropriate. The sun was not the only thing making a comeback. The region itself was in the process of coming back, with the help of a great big convoy. A convoy that you can help.

"Come on an' join our convoy, ain't nothin' gonna git in our way"

Lyrics from Convoy by C.W. McCall.

“Cause we gotta great big convoy, rockin' through the night
Yeah we gotta great big convoy, ain't she a beautiful sight?
Come on an' join our convoy, ain't nothin' gonna git in our way
We're gonna roll this truckin' convoy, cross the
Convoy... Convoy..”

Sun-Herald: Aerials of Katrina damage

Richard Smith forwarded the following. The aerial pictures are really amazing. They are from the SunHerald. The destruction is simply horrific.

Monday, October 17, 2005

NPR : Hurricane Rebuilding Hinges on Costs

I think that those of you who have been to Biloxi (or are there now) will find htis interesting:

"All Things Considered, October 16, 2005 · This weekend, urban planners have been meeting in Biloxi, Miss. They're drafting design concepts to rebuild Gulf Coast communities that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. But they're encountering a big problem. Stricter hurricane codes could make rebuilding too expensive for many people who lost their homes."

Friday, October 14, 2005

Walls do fall

Monday 10/10/05 East Biloxi

“Hey Alex, do you want to be part of the biggest one yet? Check this out!” Alex was a large playful college-aged volunteer from Connecticut who just happened to have a “Mohawk”, was as strong as an ox, and liked to help people tear things down.

I showed him the wall that had been so carefully prepared for removal. As any "gutter" worth his/her salt knows, one does not just pound on walls with reckless abandon. No, all that does is to break the wall into small pieces that will take forever to pick up and remove. Rookies learn quickly the art of prying with just the right amount of leverage and force, of patting the back of the wall with the flat of a crow bar, or better yet--for the brave (and sometimes foolish)-- ones own hand.

Tearing down this wall, like virtually everything down here, had been a group effort. One person had taken off the molding around the wall, another removed the disco-era paneling, and yet another volunteer has loosened the nails on all sides of the wall. All for this moment—it was a gutters dream: we were behind the wall! By tapping around nails just hard enough to loosen the drywall, one group push could push over a large portion of the wall.

But this one was even better--it was a double layer. The drywall that we had been working on was still connected to the paneling (and wall paper) on the other side. If done correctly, a concerted effort might bring down both walls at once.

Of course obstacles remained. There was a vanity that had to be removed. Oh and the water had not been turned off. But hey, no guts, no glory.

“Alex, give me a hand here, would you?” We tried; we pushed. The wall gave. Not much but some. Then the vanity stopped our progress. Amateurs would continue to push, continue to pound their heads against the wall in vain, or simply give up. But by now we were professionals: we eased off knowing that strong persistent efforts would eventually win out. We temporarily handed the job off to Ben and Nate. They disconnected the plumbing. And sure enough, once the water had been shut down and the vanity moved away, a victory happened: the living room and bathroom wall both came down in one full swoop.

But victories can be fleeting and the road to success is rarely without roadblocks. Our initial elation was quickly squashed by the sight of not one, but two bedrooms on the other side of the bathroom. Magnifying our new found despair was the fact that the rooms were both full of personal items and were dark, dank, and full of mold.

At about this time the family that had lived (and likely will live) in the house showed up. At first they stood timidly watching this team of weirdly dressed people tear apart their home. However, after some exploratory “hellos” and “how are yous” they said they wanted to help. We outfitted them with gloves, masks, protective eye glasses and welcomed them to the “team”.

If our roles had been reversed, I am not sure how I would handle it. But I sure hope I would perform as well as they did.

Working side by side with total strangers, the family picked up their belongings, their treasured keepsakes and family heirlooms and then unceremoniously dumped them in a garbage pile in front of their house. Without batting an eye.

This would have been more than many people could handle, but they went further. This family, who had survived in their attic for seven hours as the water shook the house, helped gut the structure itself. The work was not fun, but the family did not complain. They yanked shelves off of walls, they thumped on moldy drywall until it came crashing to the ground, and they hauled an endless train of trash barrels to the curb.

Oh, and something else happened. Something that may have been more important than any of this. It wasn’t apparent at first. But gradually, as they carved away at their house, they began to talk with us. They even laughed a few times as their mood improved; their mental state had begun to heal. The world was no longer stacked quite so high against them. They saw that they were not alone, that others, complete strangers, were willing to work with them and aid in the recovery process.

Just like tearing down drywall, tearing down mental walls requires a concerted effort. It does not happen instantly. This family suffered terribly at the hands of Katrina. Their home and lives will never be the same. But maybe, just maybe, both will be better off in the end.

I hope so.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Ebb and Flow

East Biloxi MS

October 6, 2005 12:30

You've heard them. Cliches that have no meaning.

Things like "Life is a series of ebbs and flows", "Good follows bad", "It's always darkest before the dawn". Yada, Yada, Yada.

But we know better don't we, We know that they are just a bunch of sayings to keep people's spirits up. They are not true. Are they? Today's events may make you rethink that view!

We were on cloud nine, we had just finished a big job and were heading to lunch. But more importantly we were going to see Donnie Osmond. “Donnie, Donnie, Donnie” the chant rose from the back seat as I drove to Compassion Central for lunch. It was afterall the main reason we awke this morning, the main reason we were in Biloxi at all. Lunch with Donnie. It doesn't get any better than that. I hope I can get a seat.

As we got there, something was not right. The crowd was smaller expected and even smaller than it had been the day before.

“Mmm, I wonder why?”--I pondered the possible explanations:

a. Donnie Osmond is not the draw that some would like to think.
b. The weekend was over and people had gone back to work.
c. It was too late in the day for the big lunch rush.
d. They were serving hot dogs and beans
e. Donnie was not there.
f. All of the above

The correct answer is F. All of the above.

NO WAY! No one answered it correctly. I mean most people could understand the choices "b" through "e", but choice A is so ludicrous as to be just silly. Maybe I better go back and check the key.

But alas, we survived.

True our psyche was battered to the degree that not even MREs and the cute puppy who was playing by our table could lift our spirits. No Donnie. NOOOOOOOO!!!!

But as saying goes: "it is always darkest before the dawn." And today the saying was actually true.

Following the Donnie Debacle we rebounded with the best afternoon we have had there as the Handson volunteers (no longer just the interior team, but the entire organization came together in a way that could become a standard for synergy in many large corporations.

I will post more about the rest of the afternoon later (look for an essay on walls tumbling) but the short and so so sweet version what happened is that the team leaders led and all of the volunteers pulled together (with even some home owners) to get more done in a single afternoon than many organizations could pull off in a week.

I do not know the final count, but I know that we gutted a house (the initial job) and then by relying on communication across groups and by splitting the groups and recombining them, and much help from one of the family’s we were supposed to be helping, Handson got about 12 EXTRA people out of dangerous homes and into FEMA trailers in the next three days.


As Ben reported at the meeting later that night back at Handson “it was just an amazing afternoon.” Or to me about the Bona people: "today alone made your flight down. That was really something. They were great!"

But I cannot stress enough, he could have said the same to anyone that was out in the field today. The overall team was just that good.

And to think that it all came after the crushing events news that Donnie was not there.

Maybe it really is darkest before the dawn.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Go get a hose. Now!

Day Four-Biloxi

What a day! I am fairly certain that I could write a book about today. But given the time and the fact that we have an amazingly early flight and, as Rascal Flatts say, “those planes, they don’t wait”, I hope to keep this entry to be much shorter and use many of the other ideas for future essays.

I will continue my tradition of making you wait for the good stuff and just tell you the basics today. Yeah right. ;)

Once again the group from Bonaventure split up. However, unlike a normal essay, I am going to start off by writing about what I know the least and have no first hand stores to share with you. I am going to talk about the tree crew. Why? Because I have heard so much good about the work of Andy, Annie, and Bridget that I felt they deserved more credit than I have been giving them.

I have been hearing many good things from those who have worked with them, how even “the girls” were hauling huge logs and how Annie even got to drive a tractor.

But perhaps the best came from their group leaders, who independently came and “begged” us to stay an extra day because they felt that the Bona students were irreplaceable. This despite the fact that 40 members of the Air Force are were working with the Tree people tomorrow and probably at least ten of them on “Trees”.

So while I may not know much about the tree teams, I do know that the tree teams have been doing a wonderful job of cleaning up yards so that FEMA trailers can be brought in for those who are (or should be) still homeless. And from absolutely everything I have heard from the top down, Andy, Annie, and Bridget have played incredibly important roles over the last few days in this effort.

And now back to your regularly scheduled update on what the Interior team did today.

Wow. No Double WOW (uh WOWWOW?)

I keep myself pretty busy. Between teaching, doing research, blogging, working out, working at “the store”, renting out four apartments, and ordinary things around the home, I consider myself quite productive. But today was probably the most productive day of my life and I never opened a book, taught a class, did a grocery order, and only ran once.

Our first job was a duplex to be gutted. Ben and Jeff were again team leaders and allowed us to self-select into which side of the house we were going to concentrate on. The Bona contingent of Christine, Meghan, Sean, Mary, and I went left.

The job got off to a sort of slow start as our side of the building was still full of furniture, clothes, and other personal items that had to be cleared before the real gutting could begin. However, like most jobs—and all good stories, one thing led to another and before we could really empty the house, we had to clean the yard to allow for a path to the street.

Shortly enough however we got started at actual gutting and almost immediately after the first crow bar clang, I heard “S**t not again” echo out to the yard where I was still trying to clear the front yard. Any seriosu gutter need not even ask why the profanity. Yep, layered walls.

At first I made only occasional forays into the building as I was still not happy with the way the garbage was being piled. Yeah you read that correctly. Sure, you may think that any pile of garbage is just as good as any other pile, but now working on house #7, I had learned better. As Sean pointed out, there is a learning curve to almost everything in house gutting. It is suffice to say that I moved much of the early pile to make it “just so.”

Once correctly positioned, the pile grew with amazing alacrity. Trash buckets and people carrying furnitures, house fixtures, armful of mildowy clothes, and actual garbage made countless trips in and out of the small house as people began pounding walls on each sid eof them. Add to this mixture the fact that it was hot. Probably the hottest it had been since we came down. The sweat was pouring off of the workers.

You couldn’t pay people to work in conditions like this. No, you couldn't pay these people becasue they had all volunteered and traveled from a far to help people they did not even know.
Just were do these people come from? I made it a point today to ask just that question. Some of their answers? Arizona, Northern Virginia, Florida, Memphis, New York and Vermont (that is not a typo, she answered both!), New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Arizona. Ron, who hails from Arizona and hence knows a thing or two about heat, called a mandatory water break.

With everyone out of the building, I went back into see the progress and to take some pictures. The right side was largely cleared while the left side was progressing more slowly but nicely as some walls were now totally down.

Refreshed with the water break, the team went back at it with a vengeance. Quickly the dwelling was a cacophony of pounding hammers, walls boards hitting the ground, grunts, groans, jokes (“hey fatty”), comments on how excited each would be to really see Donny Osmond, comments on the heat, and requests to trade tools. It was a masterpiece.

And we flew. In almost no time, it was nearing completion. When we realized we had failed to empty the kitchen counter cupboards. How? I have no idea. But we had. So since I was doing nothing at the time but watching others work, I decided to empty the cupboards.

The next thing I heard was Sean’s raised voice almost yelling “you are leaking!” The race was on. It was a three way photo finish.

The results, when finally in, may make useful fodder for a study of human reaction times to various sensory shocks. I think the correct order of finish was: Hearing, Touch, Smell. Milliseconds after hearing Sean’s “almost scream”, I felt a liquid running down my leg, and a little bit later I smelled truly the worst smell I have ever smelled. I do not know what it was. I do not want to. But oh how it smelled. Worse than bad . Unbelievably bad. Worse than unbelievably bad. Unimaginably bad.

Even before the contestants could be called the line, the second feature of today’s race card was how fast everyone could race away from Jimmy.

I was left to wallow in the stink. As I took the remainder of the garbage from under the sink, the usually quiet Ben gave me a direct order “go find a hose. From anywhere. Knock on the door of a neighbor, just get the smell off you!”

As I walked up to the neighbor-with-a-hose’s house, two dogs started howling. I am not sure if it was that they were being protective of their home, or they were in severe pain. After all a dog’s nose is much more powerful than a human’s. Poor dogs.

The hose, plus some Lysol found under the sink, worked. I could go back to work.

It was almost lunch time. Donnie Osmond time. Ben said we had to finish. He was cutting us off in three minutes. The rooms, already busy, turned into a maelstrom of shoveling, throwing debris out windows to parked trash cans, wheel barrels, and waiting hands.

And like that, we were done with the duplex.

It was Donnie time!


Sorry, I really do have to get some sleep. I will try and write more tomorrow. However, it is a travel day and I am not sure how much time I will have.

But I will definitely write more when I get back to Bonaventure. I just counted, I have at least 25 more stories that I want to write up.


Monday, October 10, 2005

Day 3: So many things to write about, so little time

Day three: Biloxi

People say writing is hard. They generally claim there is nothing to write about. I agree writing is hard. But not for the standard reason. Rather writing is hard because there is too much to write about. How do you choose?

Take today for example. I began thinking about what to write about on my morning run. And I had a few really good ideas. Then several times on breaks I thought, oh what a cool idea. I even had fellow teammates suggest topics. It was really bugging me. I stalled, I procrastinated. I found reasons to not write (doing dishes, washing the floor, checking the kitchen as if it were the deli at one of my family’s grocery stores).

Finally I decided. I would write about two different things. Indeed, here was my opening paragraph:
“Today’s blog entry is really going to be two separate essays. One on the work we did, and one on the people we met. Since patience is a virtue, I think I will save the people essay (the better of the two for last).”
However, plans change and so at the end of the first essay I decided that enough is enough. If I make it too long no one will have time to read it. (And besides I need my beauty sleep!) But, in making that decision, I implicitly made a second decision as well: to continue these essays after we leave.

So whether you are reading these back at St.Bonanventure or here at HandsonUSA, don’t quit checking the blog once we leave. I quick mental list of topics from today alone gives me about six different things I could write about.

So I will save some of the better stories for later. Don’t worry, I couldn’t forget them if I tried! And trust me, once you read them, neither will you!

Today’s work:

As mentioned yesterday the Bonaventure group split up today. Andy and Bridget went on a tree team, while The rest of us (Christine, Meghan, Sean, Mary, and me) again tried our hands on what some call interior design, also known as house gutting. We had new team leaders as Rick had to return to his teaching duties. Ben and Jeff were in charge.

If you ever need an example of how differing managerial styles can each lead to the same end, I present Rick vs. the team of Jeff and Ben. Rick was much more vocal. Telling us what should and should not be done. Ben and Jeff were quiet. But by any standard, each was remarkably successful.

We began the day earlier today. Our first job was the completion of the apartment that we had worked on for so long the previous day. It was slow work. The ceilings had to come down, the insulation removed, the mega sized aquariums, which smelled much like one would imagine mega-sized aquariums with sea water that had sat for over five weeks smelling, had to be drained and removed. Oh, and then it turned out there was another apartment (separate from the rest, but part of the same job) out back.

Agonizingly slowly the job got done. And to a person, we were all so very glad to move on to the next job site. This happened to be directly across the street. It was a single family house with multiple closets still full of a lifetime of memories, books, and ironically, the same style of NFL sleeping bag that I grew up with (a definite “this could have been me” moment.)

This job went super-fast. It was the “team” clicking on all cylinders. It was amateurs working as if they were trained professionals, relying on effort and ingenuity to make of for a lack of training and experience. We flew: carrying out still wet clothes, laying personal items aside by the fence, knocking down walls, carrying drywall to the street, removing cabinets, and more. In what seemed like only minutes (but was probably more like two hours) we were done.

Lunch time. As a rule, I do not eat lunch. But since we had just finished one job and the next job was a ways away, I went to lunch. I am glad I did. It was at a special area set up to allow hurricane victims and volunteers to eat. I do not know who organizes it. I have no idea how long they have been here or if every day is as well organized as today was, but my hat is off to them today. For as refreshing as the food and drink were (I had at least 3 of the semi-frozen grape drinks) it was even more refreshing to see that people from various groups around the country are lending a helping hand. So from me (and I am sure the thousands and thousands who may not say it) thank you.

After lunch our forces were strategically split between two nearby houses. While each house was quite small, they had the annoyingly common problem of having multiple layers of walls. As one who can now think of himself as a gutter, I bet I will never touch a wall again without thinking “mmm, I wonder if there is dry wall behind this wood paneling?”. It is awful. It makes taking down walls exponentially more difficult.

While those of us at the main house suffered from this layering, Sean and the others that went to the second house had it worse. They had three layers! It was so bad there that the job was called off after one large room was conquered at the expense of several hours.

Save a minor mishap with a nail to the foot of a fellow gutter (from Philadelphia), our house went quite well. By now the team of amateurs was rounding into playoff shape as we continually came up with new, and faster ways. (For instance, if you lay down the garbage hauler, it loads in about half the time. And I would know. It was my turn to take out the garbage. Again and again and again.)

After finishing the job, Ben and Jeff gave us a choice: we could clean a lawn, or we could start another interior project. We chose the former.

The drive to the lawn project took us through some of the worst areas. This time were driving through what we had seen off of “90” yesterday. It was horrific all over again. I do not know how else to say it.

When we got to the street of the lawn project we could not find the correct home. So the runner up candidate: beginning the next interior project was elected. This too however was to be an incomplete job. Here, while there was work to be done (the mold was so bad in one room that even with masks it was unbreathable), shockingly, there were people sleeping in the house. So after speaking with the people and trying to arrange a later date for the work, we returned to HandsonUSA base camp.

All in all a very productive day.!

Assorted notes:

* Bridget and Andy each said that “treeing” went well and that it was hard to do.
* Meghan had an amazing interview with a survivor. I would love to include it in its entirety on an upcoming podcast.
* Andy got to walk down to the beach.
* Mary, Sean, and I did dishes following dinner. It is a good way to spend the time and faster than cooking.
* Mary, Christine, and Meghan all had great times destroying walls. They worked very hard. I do not think that it came out enough in the essay. But they did. (and for me to say my sister worked hard is really to say something!
* Sean is helping to cook dinner again tomorrow
* Work teams generally carry food and if they see dogs or cats, try to feed them. Dave “Biloxi or Bust” fed a dog today. Unfortunately we did see a very thin cat and had not food. Hopefully we will be able to find it again tomorrow.
* Great timing huh? One of the funnier things that happened today was near the end of the day. We were all absolutely filthy and had been working all day in some of the foulest smelling environs imagineable. In the last room what do we find on the ground but a spray bottle of odor neutralizer.
* I spoke with Larry Orsini. He is still outside of New Orleans. He sounded like he is doing a great deal of work! He reiterated that he and his wife will be coming down again and will also return for our March trip.
* My second run (40 minutes, 34 in AM) today was in a new direction. Both runs were pretty good, but my feet do have some blisters from wearing boots all day.
* It is amazing how nice everyone here is. I can see why people want to stay for as long as they possible can.


I am not sure what tomorrow’s team will look like. I think we will be gutting more houses. Stay tuned.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Biloxi Day 2--This is amazing

Day 2: Gulfport/Biloxi HandsonUSA Headquarters

Hi again!

Our second day was really amazing.

I have been debating about how to write this one up all day. The problem is not what I want to say, but that the people I am writing about are also going to read it as well. And I have to live with them. But oh well, I’ll chance it. They deserve it!

But first you have to hear about our day.

Sure enough we arose early 5:45. I was out the door running by 6:10. The run was better than yesterday. About 50 minutes through the side streets off of Pass Road. The damage was definitely more severe the further south I went. Indeed, it was not too far before the roads were closed and I could only look towards the water at an absolutely beautiful sunrise (something I almost never see with my regular hours ;) )

Rick (a school teacher from Bucks County Pennsylvania) cajoled the Bona contingent to going with his interior crew that “guts” houses rather than the tree crew that we had originally planned. The drive to East Biloxi where we would be working would take us past military checkpoints and into the area down by Route 90 by the water.

As we entered the zone, hushed cries of “look at that” sounded from everyone in the car.
The destruction is shocking. Some buildings are just gone. Others are damaged beyond repair. The large beachfront hotels (presumably built to withstand strong storms) suffered major structural damage. What houses that do remain, are, and in most instances will remain, uninhabitable. It really is beyond description.

We then turned away from the water and drove past street after street of houses that while still standing, had suffered catastrophic damage. Most homes in this area were small one storied homes. We saw relatively few people and many that we did see were riding bikes on streets lined with the remnants of the homes and yards.

We parked and walked about three blocks to the first “job”. After Rick gave a brief description of what our work would entail, we got to work gutting the house.

Everything has to go. Everything. Absolutely everything. Furniture, clothes, shoes, aquariums, walls, ceilings, and floor coverings. Everything.

And, after a look at each other as if to say “no way”, we did it. I would again remind you that this was my first day in the field, so I can’t compare our “team” to other volunteer teams that have obviously worked under much more challenging conditions (we are after all more than five weeks post Katrina). That said, I have worked pretty much my entire life in my family’s grocery stores. I played basketball and baseball from second grade through high school. I ran cross country and track in college. I have worked with, studied with, ran with, biked with, and played with people who I would argue are the nicest anywhere. I have never seen a group of people come together and work so well together in such a short time.

And work it was. The drywall, the paneling, bathroom fixtures, the ceilings, the floor coverings, EVERYTHING. And not only does it have to be torn apart. It also has to be taken to the street. And in a seemingly unimaginably short time, it was done. Only the exterior walls, studs, and supporting beams remained.

My best description of what the job is like is that we tore down a house with a few hammers and crowbars. No power tools. No heavy equipment. Just a few basic tools, elbow grease, and a lot of heart.

And like that it was done. And on to house two.

This house called for extensive lawn clearing. Unlike the first home, the person who lived here stopped by as we cleaned. He rode out the storm on his roof. His roof stayed on his house. He was lucky: as he was telling us this, we cleaned his neighbors’ roof from his backyard.

After a break for lunch, the third job of the day. This was an apartment house. Actually I can not quite grasp what it looked like before. I did try. But it just seemed like a hodgepodge of rooms connected by a long hall.

Even without knowing much about architecture, it was readily apparent that this building had gone through many remodels and additions: cinder block in some rooms, dry wall, on top of 1970s era paneling in others. It was not fun. Pulling dry wall was fun. This was not. It was dirty, grimy, and sweaty. To say nothing of the crack, porn, and cockroaches. (yeah you read that right.)

I was told (and have not yet verified) that a resident had drowned in the building. Water through the area was about 12 feet high, so it is definitely possible, probably probable.

The apartment was larger than the other jobs we had today and slower as well so Rick called us off just before 5:00. A little more work remains to finish its gutting, but not much. We’ll finish it tomorrow.

I would love to mention everyone who worked on the team today by name. To individually give them the credit they deserve, but I can’t. With hats, safety goggles, and masks required equipment, I know many by only the color of their tee-shirt. I know some were college students from North Carolina State. I know some moved to Tennessee last year, I know some were from Massachusetts. I know Rick is from Pennsylvania. I doubt I will ever hear from many of them again. They were amazing today. All of them. The ones I mentioned and the ones I didn’t.

Fortunately, I do know the ones from SBU and can give them the credit they deserve.

To a person, Annie, Bridget, Christine, Meghan and Sean performed amazingly. I have tons of pictures to show of them working. But the pictures only partially tell the story of hauling load after load of garbage, of the cockroaches, of the smell.

I grew up in Olean and went to St. Bonaventure as an undergrad. So I have a long history with the school. I remember when I started my MBA with students whose undergraduate degrees were from prestigious Ivy League schools and realized that my education at SBU was just as good as theirs. I remember the basketball team taking Kentucky to double overtime in the NCAA tournament. But I had never been as proud of Bona students as today.

My hat is off to you all. “You done good.”


In unrelated news Andy Hartnett and my sister Mary made it down today. They arrived after we had already left for our jobs so they got stuck at headquarters. However, each made full use of their time here. They moved supplies and helped to build (and then stock) a “supply wall” for the provisions (masks, boots, gloves, cleaning supplies, etc) needed for HandsonUSA volunteers.


Tomorrow we currently plan on splitting up. Some want to try their hands on a tree crew, while the rest of us will return to the interior team.

But it is time to sleep now. This was much longer than I had planned.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Gulfport Day one

Hi from the HandsonUSA base camp in Biloxi MS. We made it in today with no real problems (One student missed his plane, but will be coming tomorrow).

If you can get a window seat on the plane in. You can see some of the destruction. We must have really looked like out-of-towners as we came in from the airport snapping pictures of signs and trees down etc. Dave picked us up from the airport and despite traffice, we had no trouble at all getting to the Volunteer shelter.

We got in too late to do much today (Sean helped cook and I did dishes, but that was about it as far as I know). The others got acclimatized and met our new neighbors.

Since there was little for us to do at the time, I ran for about 35 minutes. I did not get very far since I had no idea where I was going and did not want to get lost so I kept circling around Military housing and a local park, but will say that very few houses that I saw did not have damage. Many trees are missing large branches or are down all together and few trees escaped without some damage.

I stopped at one point to offer help to a lady who was putting a tarp over her damaged home. While she refused the help, she must have said thank you about a zillion times. Then 10 minutes later I came around the loop again and she again yelled out thanks.

The people here are very nice. Amazingly so. Almost too nice. After dinner there is a meeting where the new people introduce themselves and each group leader tells of what their group did that day. It was very impressive (and pretty funny with so many SBU people. A very good showing :) It became a joke, even those who were not frim SBU stared saying they were) Some of the stories those who have been here for a while tell are amazing. And heart warming.

If you plan on coming down (highly recommended) I would suggest not bringing as much as you fear you might need. Food, water etc. are plentiful in the camp and you don't have time to change clothes much anyways, so why bother carrying it? But bring a flashlight!

Tomorrow is an early day--6 AM run, 7 AM breakfast, 8 AM work. The Bona crew (Annie, Bridget, Christine, Meghan, Sean, and I) will be helping cut and haul trees and debris from homes. So I am sure it will be a full day.

My sister Mary and Andy will be arriving around noon to help as well.

Stay tuned for more updates, but it is now time to sleep-- (2 nights in a row of 3 hours of sleep make today a catch-up night)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

"Operation Bring Animals Home" - a photoset on Flickr by DanaKay

I haev been emailing with Dana for a few weeks now about her rescue trips. Indeed many of the pictures used for the presentations have been from her. She just made her third trip down to the Gulf. This one to St. Bernard Parish.

3rd Animal Rescue Trip - New Orleans - "Operation Bring Animals Home" - a photoset on Flickr: ""

THe pictures tell a story of suffering. Her words tell one of hatred. I again ask, how can people behave like this.

I hope to have an interview with her on this blog. I can not do teh mental gymnastics necessary to have me put it on the FinanceProfessor blog, but hopefully, this will get the word out.

In my last email to her, I mentioned that I now have some understanding oh how the Holocaust happened. (as long time friends and readers of my websites know, this has been soething that has troubled me for years. How could the world not stop it.

From my email:
"Somewhere in the back of my mind I have been hoping
the the DallasNews video and the shooting stories
coming out of SB have been faked, that things were not
that bad.

I guess I now know how the holocaust happened. No one
wanted to believe it. And the killing continued as the
good people turned their heads not wanting to believe the stories they were hearing."

Check out Dana' pictures, and if you can spare a few buck (or more) why not give her a hand for gas for her next trip. (and tell her you want to hear an interview with her! ;) )