Tuesday, January 31, 2006

DOnate to help MS Little league programs

LOCAL SPORTS - 01/30/2006 - MELARO: Bona group set to help Gulf victims:

"EVERYBODY has an old glove or bat or uniform laying around in their basement or garage, said St. Bonaventure softball coach Mike Threehouse. "This is a great opportunity for the people up here to get rid of some old stuff they're never going to use again and put it to good use for somebody who will treat it like a new piece of equipment."

"...the people in Hancock County, they assured us that they would accept any equipment ....,” said Mahar. “And they said if we are able to give them more than they needed they would share it with other communities as well.”

"The Bona group is looking for people in the Twin Tiers to donate baseball and softball equipment for the cause.
Mahar can be reached at (716) 375-2359 or jmahar@sbu.edu."

Monday, January 30, 2006


HandsOnUSA: "Last week came to a close with a Thank-you to HandsOnUSA event, where we received emotional tributes from officials of Biloxi Dave Staehling and Bill Stallworth, and were honored with presentation of the only surviving key to the City of Biloxi. Our volunteers ( and me) were misty eyed as Bill spoke eloquently, metaphorically describing how our gutting of destroyed homes ' ripped out the despair', and our efforts gave people a sense of hope..... He's been a great leader, and a great friend."

Also Congratulations to Bill!!
"... a visit by First Lady Laura Bush. Among other commendations she named our Bill Driscoll, Jr as a Presidential Citation for Community Service award winner, well deserved for his months of effort. The playground is located in Kiln,MS, home of Green Bay legend Brett Favre, who also joined the ceremony."

and finally: "we also celebrated our long-term volunteers this week, giving out special black tee-shirts earned by more than 30 days cumulative service: 83 recipients"

great job guys! be sure to check out Dave's Handson blog!

Speaking of Dave Campbell: here is some things you don't know about him. He went to Niagara University (which is obly a hop skip and a jump from SBU) , ran XC, and at one point not only won the Little Three Championship, but held the SBU course record!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A must see video!

This is a video of St. Bernard Parish. It needs to be put on another site as this is slow, but it's worth the wait! Download it and watch it. It shows you beyond any shadow of doubt that MUCH MUCH MUCH work remains.

jasonite's Video

If you can come with us on our trip down to the region, great. But if not, please get down there on your own. If you aren't sure where to go here are some links, or ask me. But the key thing is to go help.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Favre Thanks Volunteers

Favre Thanks Volunteers
Favre Thanks Volunteers,
originally uploaded by Hands On Worldwide.
Hey, I know him! (Uh, I meant TC and Joey) :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Sun Herald | 01/24/2006 | MDOT awards contract for Bay of St. Louis bridge

You may have seen that there is a plan to rebuold the Bay ST. Louis Bridge. It is expected to have 2 lanes of traffic by April 2007.
The Sun Herald | 01/24/2006 | MDOT awards contract for Bay of St. Louis bridge: "Granite Archer Western plans to have two lanes of the Bay St. Louis bridge open for travel by April 29, 2007 and the project completed by Nov. 13, 2007"
What you may have missed was the delay for a bridge over Biloxi Bay:
"MDOT had expected to also award a contract Tuesday to rebuild the Biloxi Bay bridge, but that project was put on hold by the Coast Guard, which says MDOT must consider the needs of the shipbuilding industry on the Industrial Seaway. MDOT's design is too short to allow passage of the ships planned for construction."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

An interview with Christine Francis and Sean Lynch

New Audio! :) financeprofessor | Ourmedia: "Student leaders of Bonaventure Hurricane Relief -Christine & Sean"

A 14 minute interview with Christine and Sean about their experiences in Mississippi as well as a few updates on our sping break trip.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A Blog For All: Return of the Company Town

In " A blog for all" Lawhawk provides an interesting look at how firms are helping recovery efforts:

"A Blog For All: Return of the Company Town: " An oddity of the post-Katrina landscape in Louisiana is that thousands of workers displaced by the storm are living in trailer parks set up by their corporations. Union Carbide, Murphy Oil and Exxon Mobil have set up encampments to get their workforces going again. The Folgers roasting facility in New Orleans set up 150 trailers but only for employees. Domino decided to house both employees and families.

And by getting these factories up and running, the local economies are on the mend - there are people who are able to spend money in the local businesses that have reopened, with gives hope to others."

Hands On USA :: Rebuilding Communities. Rebuilding Lives.

Hands On USA :: Rebuilding Communities. Rebuilding Lives.: "Director's Report: 120 Days on the Gulf Coast
January 14, 2005"
"Many of you know the only constant at Hands On USA is change and this directors report is keeping with that theme in many ways. My name is Marc A.Young (aka. 'scuba') and I am the newest Operations Director at Hands On USA. I look forward to continuing my work with Dave and with Darius in the daily coordination of HOUSA activities. As each month passes we add new and varied projects to our menu of services provided to this area and December was huge. The goal was to help the community regain some small sense of normalcy and move into a hopeful outlook for 2006. Thanks y'all for your support."

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Some "new" pictures

I just found some new pictures from the FIRST trip. They were taken with a disposable camera.

Most did not turn out very well, but there are a few that are pretty good. They are at the very end of this set.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Portsmouth Herald Maine News: Hurricane relief volunteer keeps message alive

Portsmouth Herald Maine News: Hurricane relief volunteer keeps message alive: "The volunteer organization received scant media coverage, which seemed only to show the chilling scenes of a swamped New Orleans. HOUSA’s base in Biloxi, Miss., was nevertheless centered in a city that had been brought to its knees by the wrath of Katrina.

'I had no idea what I would encounter,' Woodward said. 'I didn’t realize there would be miles and miles of devastation.'

Biloxi, a city of roughly 50,000 people, is located on a thin peninsula that juts into the Gulf of Mexico. When Katrina struck, Woodward says 20- to 30-foot walls of water battered the shore for nearly 10 hours."

Sunday, January 15, 2006

01/14/2006 - PSM students render aid in Biloxi

This is great. Many of the people interviewed are in my pictures and former "Team Bow Wow" members :) From Penn State McKeesport.

The Daily News - News - 01/14/2006 - PSM students render aid in Biloxi: "If you're down there, you want to be there forever,' freshman Ashley Myshel Porter of Clairton said about the week she and 10 other Penn State McKeesport students spent helping Hands On USA with a clean-up effort still going on in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Biloxi, Miss.

'I thought it would be a small town,' freshman Brittney Nicole Hays of McKeesport said. 'But instead, it's a big city and the damage goes on for miles. It's sad.'"

"It was a 21-hour trip to Biloxi. Hays said, "It definitely was worth it."

Others making the trip included senior Suzanne Lynn Tindall of Pitcairn; freshmen Kendra Jennette, George Michael Kopko and T.J. O'Malley of North Huntingdon Twp.; and Joshua Benjamin Stover and Eric Wood of Pittsburgh.

There are still needs. A "Village Tent City Wish List" includes adjustable tables for day care of small children, as well as high chairs, educational material for those 5 and under, diapers, formula and snacks such as crackers, cookies, juice and any other drinks in small boxes."

Even gives this a plug:

" For information, visit the Web site www.handsonusa.org, or go to www.financeprofessor.com and link up with "Hurricane Relief."

And then the clincher:
"We're thinking about going back down for spring break," Jeannette said.

"We're not 'thinking,'" Tindall said. "We're going.""

Great attititude Suzanne!! (and Kendra, you better be there!)

(and close circuit to George: might there be another Dog chase? ;) )

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Picayune Item: Mississippi News Near the Gulf: News

Picayune Item: Mississippi News Near the Gulf: News: "To assist with rebuilding bridges and highways, Bush said $2.3 billion has been set aside.

Commending schools across the nation for stepping up to the plate and caring for displaced students, Bush said there will be $1.6 billion to rebuild schools damaged by Katrina.

Debris clean up along roads and home sites is moving forward. There was 42 million cubic yards of debris after the storm, 27 million has been picked up and there is an estimated 15 million cubic yards left.

“There's a certain confidence to be gained when you see the beautiful country side cleared,” Bush said.

HandsOnUSA: 200 volunteers in house, and still a happy family....!

From Dave Campbel;s' Handson blog: HandsOnUSA: 200 volunteers in house, and still a happy family....!: "Thanks to Huntington College, Dartmouth, Alfred State, St Bonavanture, Williams, ( and a few others) for your spirit and productivity."

and he also provides a overview of how the Handson Network/Handson merger will come into existence. I know it is controversial in some quarters, but give it a chance. From a finance perspective it does make much sense. Trying to maintain the spirit of small group within a bigger group is hard, but if anyone can do it, Handson will be able to! (FTR I just caught myself using a "we" instead of Handson. That is how much I like the group!!! )

I will provide more links (and maybe even some more from Dave) later.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Gulf Coast Running Club

Gulf Coast Running Club
On one of the runs in Biloxi last week John (from Arizona) mentioned that there had been a Marathon in Waveland at Thanksgiving time. Sure enough. In fact there have been quite a few races since the Hurricane!

Way to go!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Hattiesburg American - Hattiesburg American on Rt. 90

Hattiesburg American - www.hattiesburgamerican.com - Hattiesburg, Miss.:
"The first jarring surprise was that the rec complex was full. The fields where our kids had played were covered from end to end with the dull olive of National Guard tents, housing recovery personnel.

Still, the home damage in this area wasn't as bad as we'd expected. We saw a lot of the familiar blue roofs, a lot of FEMA traliers and a few tent cities.

Then we passed the railroad tracks and approached Beach Boulevard. A block from the beach, we started seeing the empty slabs that had once been the foundations of homes.

Even so, I wasn't ready for what I saw once we made it unimpeded onto Highway 90. More to the point, I wasn't ready for what I didn't see."
It is unbelieveable. It is so so sad. I will vouch for him, I didn't see the same things he didn't see.

His ending, unfortunaltely, also probably true:

"Hurricane Katrina did more than just destroy homes and take lives. It wiped out an entire community, one of the most unique in America.

Even if the Gulf Coast rebuilds -and I believe it will eventually recover, somewhat - it won't be the same. The old Gulf Coast is gone forever, and we are all a little poorer because of it."

Flickr: Photos from FinanceProfessor

Flickr: Photos from FinanceProfessor
Most of the pictures are up. I still have about 40 more that may make the cut. And some scenery pictures to put on.

If someone could email me the handson password etc, I will put some over there as well. Thanks!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Web page updates

Three slight changes/additions:

1. Thanks for the "heads up" on the linking errors. I think the essay page is now working. It very well may be my favorite page

2. More picture links were added to the picture page. Remember, if you have pictures you want included, all you have to do is to let me know!

3. Later today I will upload an interview with Bill Driscoll (jr). It turned out very well. If you have not been to the area lately, or even if you have, you will want to listen to it. I should have time to upload it after noon. It will be posted on the audio page.

second Mississippi trip - a photoset on Flickr

Second Mississippi trip - a photoset on Flickr

I uploaded some more pictures. Up over 100 in this set now. Still have last 2 days.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Hancock Co. officials dealing with loss of government buildings

From today's Biloxi Sun-Herald:
AP Wire 01/09/2006 Hancock Co. officials dealing with loss of government buildings:
"Local leaders have had to operate in tents instead of historic city halls after the powerful storm destroyed the buildings on Aug. 29. There is a shopping center in Kiln serving as a jail and a concrete slab where city leaders in Waveland have conducted their business. Hancock County officials fear the final judgment on their buildings in Bay St. Louis could mean demolishing millions of dollars in county structures, including several voting precincts, the courthouse, jail, tax office and emergency management center."

Have a HOUSA day!

January 4, 2006

During tonight’s pizza dinner I concluded that I would write about what a great day we had, and how many things we accomplished. But all days are “great” days down here. To avoid redundancy I needed a new way of saying “great day”. After a bit, the new term was readily apparent and I think anyone who has been here would agree: “It’s was a HOUSA day” (HOUSA = Hands On USA).

Definitions out of the way, we will use eaxmples to teach a HOUSA day. In fact, today may be the perfect example of a HOUSA day.

The day started early, ridiculously early for a night owl like me, at 5:55 AM when I wake to run. The run is pretty good, but not great. This is not unusual, for while I do run doubles in Biloxi, serious training does suffer from poor courses, hard work, and the first run being so early. Then there is a fast outdoor shower and then breakfast (usually instant oatmeal for me) before starting the day at about 8:00AM.

The plan for “Team Bow Wow” is to help clean base camp by sweeping up after the AM rush prior to making our way to the Humane Society to walk dogs, help clean animals, and their cages. Then after a few hours of this, we are to head back into East Biloxi to help finish up the home that we worked on yesterday (which of course is the reason I am staying the extra day).

The day at the Humane Society goes very, very well. The weather is perfect, and because we have a large group of volunteers, and adoptions are greatly outpacing stray pickups, each dog gets extra time and clean-up is quick and easy.

Just as we ready to leave, Jay, the current administrative genius who shines in the background at Handson, calls to announce that plans have changed, we are needed elsewhere. Changing plans are inherent in this environment, so we take it right in stride.

Since we have to drop off Debbie (from DC) for her departure, we decide to have lunch at the Handson Base camp. After a quick lunch, but prior to leaving, the team formerly known as Team Bow-Wow, pick up a few new jobs: using blue Duct tape, Jenna and Tony label boots for removal and others sweep up again (sweeping is a never ending job). Our new assignment: a house in Ocean Springs that needs gutting and only a small group of people, led by Ryan and Beau are there.

We pile into two cars and head out of Biloxi. The drive around the Bay since the Rt. 90 bridge is very much out of commission, is fun with much good natured ribbing whenever wrong turns are made (the wrong turns were of course due totally to poor directions and worse navigational help ;) ).

Once we get to the site, it is apparent that while short-handed, the AM group had gotten much done. Although still far from done, all the rooms are cleaned and several rooms were at least partially gutted. We jump into the fray and join with Ryan and Beau’s groups.

For the next 4 hours, we pulled, pounded, scraped, and hammered until the walls were bare. And in this whirlwind of activity we had fun and learned about the other volunteers and the family we were helping.

I am still puzzled at how work this hard can be fun, but it is. Maybe it’s seeing progress, maybe it’s the feeling of accomplishment, maybe it’s the people, maybe it is all of the above, but it is fun.

In gutting we learn that BJ is one of the most helpful people we’d ever come across (although I still doubt the sun was in his eyes later that night when shooting baskets, but nice excuse! ;) ), that San Marcos is North of San Antonio (true it is also S. of Austin, but it’s my blog ;) ), that it’s a long bus ride down from Indiana, that John has more patience than the stereotypical New Yorker (well except when in a car, by his own admission, you might not want to be around him when he’s driving!), and that Ryan and Beau really know how to gut houses.

After about 2.5 hours of gutting, one of the home owners (Uncle Andrew) brought us popsicles for a break. As we congregated in front of the house (near the ramp to the family’s FEMA trailer), the family’s two young boys come to play. They are pushing each other around on a wheeled stool. I join the fun and am soon racing around the yard pushing each of the kids on a stool. We eventually fall into a heap and I am temporarily worried they might be hurt. But no, they are still laughing for all they are worth. People here have gotten good at laughing after falling. They pick themselves up and ask for another ride around the yard.

Break time is not only an opportunity to have fun, learning also continues as we get to speak with the residents. We learn that the two boys, ages 5 and 7, are orphans and that their grandmother (who is in a wheelchair and the reason for the trailer ramp) and Uncle are raising them. We learn that Handson had helped clear the lot to make room for the FEMA trailer, that Handson had helped to build the ramp for the trailer, and that we were now gutting their house.

The family is very thankful for all of the help. We are very thankful to be able to help.

Juts before 5:00 pm we stop for the day. It will soon be getting dark and the house has no power, so the work will have to wait until tomorrow. Rather than head straight back to the HOUSA camp, a group of us drive to the East side of the 90 bridge.

Like seemingly everything on this glorious HOUSA day, the timing for the bridge trip is perfect. We have just enough time for some photos and to climb on the bridge before catching a beautiful sunset.

After driving back at base camp, I head back out for a run (this time with Bill and David) before settling in for pizza and the nightly meeting. After this phone calls home are made and volunteers talk or go and catch the Rose Bowl on TV, returning after the game we talk well into the night about the day, about what more needs to be done, about the next return trip, and about everything that friends talk about.

Long hours, hard work, constantly changing plans, great people, good deeds, and much fun, yep, it was a HOUSA day!

Note the date of this essay. It was started prior to departure, but in part due to the UT-USC Rose Bowl game, and in part because of talking for hours after the game to some new friends (a very worthwhile tradeoff!), I did not get to finish the essay until on the plane sitting on the tarmac at the Detroit Airport.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Of course the blog will continue

This is in response to a question I received as I was leaving Biloxi: Will the blog continue after you get back? (Yeah, you are correct, the person did not know me very well ;) )

Yes, I am back in Olean NY, but the blog will continue! In fact there are about 4 or 5 essays” on the past trip already written (waiting to be typed) and I have ideas for many others. So the “essays” will continue to appear for quite a while.

The purpose of the blog is at least three-fold.
  1. To keep people abreast of what is going on in the region
  2. To allow volunteers (past and present) to reflect on their time in the region
  3. To encourage others to help in recovery efforts.
This will be done in many ways. From essays, to news items from the region and links to cool articles, and there is the audio section of the BonaResponds website where I will be posting MP3 files of interviews. So if you know of an interesting story or a person to interview (even if it is you!), please let me know.

A final comment to all of the volunteers: thank you for helping. For as bad as it still is in the Gulf Coast region, can you imagine how much worse it would be without the thousands and thousands of volunteers who have helped? Me neither.

Friday, January 06, 2006

New Pictures

I got some pictures uploaded. All from Day One so far. Many more to come (with descriptions as well). See our picture page for pictures from others as well. (if you know of others sites, please let me know)

Circle of Love

The Drive to the Gulfport-Biloxi Airport

Today is the day. The day that every volunteer dreads. The day of departure has arrived. It can go without saying that it is sad. That much is a given. It signals a end the this trip.

Feeling strangely out of place as their comrades get ready for their day of assisting in recovery efforts, the departing volunteers (a list that today includes Bill Sr., Kerry, Monkey Mike, Sarah and Sarah’s Mom, Steve, me, and quite a few others) say their last good-byes. Inevitably, these good-byes are accompanied by promises to stay in touch and to come back soon—promises that unlike similar pledges mouthed at graduations, career-moves, and vacation-ends will undoubtedly be kept.

My flight is not until 11:19, so I try to prove I still belong and am not totally useless by transporting a small group to a job site and later by taking Steve to the airport for his flight back to Germany. The car rides are both, as all have been here, good for discussions—what do you think will happen to Handson after the merger, why is this so fun?, how long are you staying? How long have you been here?, what is the “it” that makes this so special? Or any of a zillion other topics.

As we near the airport, the country radio station plays Clay Walker’s Circle of Love. The song, which has long been one of my favorites, centers on a man named Joe who offers help to someone in need. When the helped party offers to pay, Joe refuses the money. As in life, the good Joe’s good deed sets off a chain of good events as one person spreads to good deeds of others. (I do not want to give it away the song so I will end there, but if you have not heard it, I would recommend either downloading it or reading the lyrics.
"You don't owe me a thing, I've been there too. Someone once helped me out, Just the way I'm helping you. If you really want to pay me back, Here's what you do. Don't let the chain of love end with you"
It was a perfect ending to a perfect trip.

Response to a friend's email

I just thought you might be interested in the response I gave to a friend's email. He asked how things were going in MS:

"I could go on for hours...you have to get downhere...still beyond
words...drove about 50-60 miles of coast...it is gone...not damaged,
gone. I talked to a guy who has been here for 4 months (from
Boston) he said there were about 350,000 homes were destroyed....so far in all
of his travels, he has seen 7 new homes...seven. Now obviously there are many
more than seven but the idea that we are anywhere near recovered is beyond
ludicrous. FEMA trailers are MUCH more widespread than on our first trip, but we have to remember a FEMA trailer is not the end. It means their house is still not livable.

It is just a nightmare....I so much wish I could have stayed longer.
Indeed, I am envious of those who can. But I guess having a job is a good
thing too. LOL.

The weird thing is that helping is so much fun. I don't get it. I always tell my classes if I were to win the lottery, I would definitely continue teaching. I think I have to reword that now. If I were to win the lottery, I would take a year off to spend down there (and maybe a month or two to hike on AT or bike cross country), but then go back to teaching.

.....read the blog and listen to the podcasts if you get a chance...I almost
guarantee I will be going back down at some point this summer too...(in addition to March)


No real blog entry today...

I made it home after a long delay (3+ hours) in Detroit wherethey found engine problems while pulling away from the gate. I am glad they found them then and not in a few more minutes!. I actually did a blog for the day (in fact I wrote on paper several on planes), but for some reason I can not get the file to upload off the disk, so I will wait and do it in the morning. Hopefully I will also be putting pictures online soon. But getting about 3 hours of sleep last night (which was my own fault) is coming back to haunt me now.

* In other "news" I watched the Hurricane Katrina: as it Happened DVD that Walgreens (and I am sure others) are selling. It has great footage, but the audio is not the best--in fact very bad. I guess I probably would not buy it again, but maybe. If you watch it, just turn off the volume...the pictures are amazing and trace the storm from its origin to its fateful path across teh Gulf Coast. There is no plot etc., just pictures-video from storm chasers.

* Hope all is well down there! Stay warm!!! (I already plotting a return!--got a $35 voucher from NWA for the delay. )

Thursday, January 05, 2006

More to come

I have several new topics for blog entries, but they can wait for the plane ride tomorrow. I am a tad tired and think I will get to bed early (before 1:30) ...sorry...more soon, I promise....

See you again soon

It’s not good bye, it’s until next time.

It is a tradition at Handson for those volunteers leaving to say a few words at the end of the nightly meeting. While often a very long and drawn out affair, I alway think of them as bittersweet moments. On one hand they are often very moving, thoughtful, and thought-provoking, but on the other hand, they signal that a new friend is leaving.

Since today is my last day, I was given the opportunity to say good bye.

There were so many things I wanted to say. I wanted to tell them some of the stories from Long Beach, or from doing interiors, or even from today's work in Ocean Springs. And I wanted to say how great they all were, from Texas Girl to George to Jeff to John to Kerrie to JoJo to Scrubs to Donna to both Bills, and to all the other great people I had the opportunity to work with--the list is endless.

I wanted to recount the drives to locations where we got lost (Note, for the record, it was NEVER my fault!--word of advice to crew leaders...if any of you have Tony or Scrubs as a navigator, break down and invest in a GPS, you may need it ;)--- and to thank all of the team members for both the fun and the work effort. I wanted to remind them that they can make a difference. That small things applied regularly make big differences. That they had the power to improve not only Biloxi but everywhere. Not only by volunteering, but by simply doing what they do to the best of the abilty and by living the golden rule.

I wanted to thank Dave Campbell, Darius, and Mark for everything. To thank Jay for her adminstrative skills and good nature, and for keeping a chaotic situtation a bit less chaotic--Oh and for calling my mom--as I had left my cell phone out and she had the ingenuity to call "MOTHERCELL" to see whose phone it was).

But the meeting was quickly becoming too long and by the time that it was my turn to speak, I had decided that I would just give people a quick and fast so-long:
“Don’t worry, this is going to be short. It is not a real good-bye
since I will be coming back. In fact I would encourage all to come
back. As you know it is a simply wonderful place. I can not think of
a single bad day that I have been here. It is simply wonderful group of
people doing so many important things. Thank you all and I will see you
again soon.”
That was it. Boring, but straight to the point. And oh so true.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The conversation that cost me $116

The names have been changed but the following story is true.

Meet Lynn and Dave Gefford. They have two children ages 3 and 7. Dave works as a short order cook at a local restaurant. Lynn is a part-time waitress. They have a household income of approximately $26,000.

Lynn and Dave live in East Biloxi. Their lives changed on August 28, 2005 when Katrina stopped by.

East Biloxi is not a wealthy part of town, but even here, for a family of four to live on $26000 you have to be creative and the Geffords were definitely that. They had purchased a house that had was condemned due to fire damage and fixed it up themselves. They were not flashy but the type of solid hardworking people that make the world work.

After work on Saturday August 27th, the Geffords went to some friends’ house for a party. They stayed out quite late and went home and went to bet blissfully unaware that Hurricane Katrina had now mushroomed into a Category 5 storm.

The phone started ringing early on Sunday morning. “Are you evacuating?”

“Yes, but there is no rush.”

“Yes there is!--Haven't you heard? Katrina is now a category 5 storm and you and everyone else has to get out. The roads will be packed. You better hurry!”

Turning TV on to see for themselves, the Geffords were startled to see that sure enough the storm had grown significantly in intensity since when they last watched the news. And the callers were also right, everyone, or nearly everyone was leaving. One of those “nearlys” was Ashley Tanner. Ashley was a neighborhood friend. “Why aren’t you leaving? Lynn asked. “I can’t afford to.” Lynn ended the discussion “you can’t afford not to.” Ashley joined the convoy out of harm’s way.

The next four months are at once a never ending nightmare and a fast forward blur. The days flew by, the days dragged by. They felt lucky to be alive, but life was awful. Their house flooded, their yard had downed trees and the neighbor’s shed everywherre, and their neighborhood a hollow shell, but they were alive. The Geffords and 6 others lived first in Mobile, Alabama and then in Mrs. Gefford’s parents’ home just north of Biloxi. Paperwork, which always included standing in line and hours of frustration, was filed with the insurance companies, with FEMA, and whith most ogther orgamizations that were handing out aid. Contractors estimated the cost pf repair and insurance adjusters told the family how much, or more appropriately how little, insurance money will be paid for the damages.

Which brings us to January 3, 2006. A group of HandsonUSA volunteers are gutting the Geffords house as Mr. and Mrs. Gefford are out back helping to clean the yard. After a while curiousity gets the better of Lynn as she enters the house and is almost immediately in tears: “what are you doing to my wood?, my walls? Can’t you leave them up?” I stop swinging my crow bar and attempt to explain the unexplainable. Unsuccessful and speechless, I get Mark who is our crew leader. In the time away, Mr. Gefford has entered the room and has convinced his wife of the necessity of the walls' destruction for the soon-to-come mold abatement process.

We start back up on the walls, but the momentum had been lost. My heart was no longer really into it. It is the last full day of the trip, the house is crowded, and awkwardly simultaneously loud and quiet with no music and little talking, almost most no joking, yet loud with the clanging of hammers, crowbars, and the grunts of gutters. Additionally, because I am foolishly wearing tinted safety glasses, everything appears very dark.

We remove nails and wall paper, and drywall (doubled layered in many places in part due to the fire), and grooved wall boards. It was just not fun. They were the type of walls no gutter enjoys and that is on a good day. By now they were drudgery.

After some progress on the bathroom walls, I stop to take pictures and Mark asks me the time. It is 3:56. He hollers “let’s clean up and call it a day.” We do, gladly.

In the front room Lynn Gefford begins to tell us her story. We pose for pictures together and then the group begins the process of “packing up”. I am torn. I want to go, but I know this will be it for a while. I have to go home.

Mark sends me pna "tool sweep" and I meet Lynn standing alone in front of her house.

It is here that my conversation begins. Maybe it had been floating around in my mind before, but here is where it really took shape. As the rest of the volunteers wait patiently taking pictures and pacing, I listen as both Geffords, Dave has now joined his wife, recount their lives since the storm. After a few minites, I say “Good Bye” to the couple and wish them well on their endeavors. Afterall, I am now holding up the crew from returning to base.

Still anxious to talk, Lynn doesn't stop, but tells me of how the neighborhood was changed by the storm, how the paperwork for assistance is difficult and time consuming, and what has become of each neighbor. Her neighbors, she assures me, all have it worse then her family.

She tells that while many former neighbors have moved elsewhere, other non physical problems facing are still facing those still in the area. She tells, and her husband agrees, that there are of two mindsets on what to do: wait and hope that a casino buys you out, or fix up your property and hope that your neighbors do too so that you are not left in oasis within a desert of destruction. They tell of how this dichotomy of thought has led to many problems and disagreements between former friends.

And then with tears again in her eyes she tells me how they had just found out that repairing their house will cost over $50,000 (and that does not count appliances etc). Oh, and one other thing, they found out last month that their insurance will pay $20,000.

It’s hard enough to get by on $26,000 a year, let alone having to somehow come up with nearly another $30,000 to repair your house.

With still more tears in her eyes, they tell me that all they can do is to try. Try to make things better. Try to make the house a home again. “Sure it is going to be hard, but what choice do we have. We can’t just sit and wait for a casino to buy us out. They probably never will. So we are going to try again. I don’t know how. I just don’t know how.”

Pretty much at that moment I knew I had to call Northwest Air. If Ok with my family, I was staying an extra day. I could at least play a small role in the gutting work on their home. This was another step for them. It has to be done. If they want it that bad, if they are in such dire straits, then me staying an extra day is the least I could do.

$116 dollars later (including an extra day for the rental car), I announced at the after-dinner meeting, I would be here another day. It may be some of the best dollars I have ever spent.


January 3, 2005

I will post the small tid-bits first today since it is less important and it will not be the top of the blog for long.

* We had a great crew today at the Humane Society. Got everyone walked and cared for by 11:00 which then allowed for the whole team to do another project. Most of us were at the gutting site which will be described in a few seconds. This in spite of a dog getting away from a volunteer and running about a mile down the road, with the volunteer chasing after it and cars slowed to a crawl. They did get the dog back :). (Oh and George probably would want me to not mention his name.)
* Sign of the times: Got Mold?
* Dinner tonight was Turkey, pasta, and vegetables. It was good, but uh, not done by a vegetarian. ;) And I was out of OJ.
* I have been getting text message updates on the big PSU win! :)
* I have had several people email me about how they can help. I will write a blog entry as soon as I can—in all honesty, probably on the plane on Thrusday.
* I have decided to stay an extra day. A special thanks to my mom, my dad, Jen, and Bonnie for making the extra day possible. Also Northwest Air’s customer service people were amazingly nice! THANK YOU!
* Travis from NC State (who was here in October and worked on the “Apartment”) is back. We talked some today about what a pain the “Apartment” had been.
* Tomorrow is going to be a repeat work-wise for me. Clean up around base, then Humane Society, and then Interiors.
* The nightly meetings are always emotional. Yes they may be long sometimes, but they should not be shortened.
* Ran alone this AM and with Bill this evening. We went over a lift bridge that lifted as we approached. So we got to backtrack for a while waiting for it to go back down.
* Have I mentioned the people here are great? They sure are!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Miscellany January 2, 2006

Short Bits:

* It was about 80 degrees this afternoon. The fog has lifted.
* Jen went back today.
* Also went to Ocean Springs today. What a cool town. Wish I had seen it under better conditions. The downtown reminds me of a warm Ellicotville.
* Handson got a huge infusion of new volunteers. CSFB and a groupd from Tennessee.
* Dinner was spaghetti cooked by Alfred State.
* Alfred State deserves a special mention. The job they did today was amazing. Not only did they help with the Humane Society, they cooked, cleaned-up, oh and donated $8,600 to Handson! This is their THIRD trip. WAY TO GO!!!!!
* tomorrow is Humane Society in the AM and then readying a home on Nixon Street for gutting. I really had hoped to do mold abatement or at lest gutting this trip, but alas, it does not appear likely.
* The people here continue to overwhelm me on all levels. Most are nice, friendly, hard working, great conversationalists, and just all around nice people.
* I wish I could stay longer. I am already dreading leaving.

Tell them it is warm here

I went for a drive today. It was really the first time I have taken any time off on either Mississippi trip during the work day. There is too much that needs to be done. As a short-timer, I feel guilty if I am not maximizing every second of my time here. Indeed, I feel guilty even taking lunch, so lunch is usually water.

But today I was sort of forced to take the afternoon off. As much as I wanted to work, my main job on this trip is to make sure the spring trip works: that we have work and places for everyone to stay.

Therefore, after spending the morning at the Humane Society, we went for a drive. We started out with the hope of making it to Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Long Beach, Pass Christian, and then Ocean Springs. It was a tad too ambitious. But it does not matter.

I’d seen enough. No, I had seen too much. The destruction for miles is simply beyond comprehension. In most areas the first few blocks in from the coast have vanished. There is almost nothing at all that can be salvaged. Nothing.

There are cars in swimming pools next to nothing but a slab of concrete. No house. No garage, nothing.

I could go on for pages trying to describe the destruction. I had planned on writing about how further inland there are blocks and blocks of damaged homes and buildings. How these areas look like Biloxi did in early October. How there are too few hands and too many problems. But I can’t come close to describing the scene, so why bother. I’ll put up some of the pictures I took, but they are almost as incapable of communicating the enormity of the devastation as are my words.

Instead I will relate a quick story that speaks volumes.

In Long Beach we stopped at a Distribution Center. We were met by a kind elderly woman who is from the Long Beach area but stressed that she was fine, but that others lost everything and that the Distribution Center’s volunteers were overworked. I gave her my now well-practiced pitch that we plan on bringing down a large contingent of volunteers from St. Bonaventure over spring break and was wondering if the Distribution Center could use any of our help for that week. The lady listened intently and then said simply “Tell them it is warm down here.”

What did she mean by that? “Excuse me?” I questioned.

And then with a quiet seriousness that signaled the region’s desperate straits, the grandmotherly immigrant explained “Your school is from near Buffalo. It’s cold there. If you tell your students it is warm here, then more people will come to help. And we need all the help we can get.”

The morning at the Humane Society

Tonight’s entry is going to have to be a two parter: the morning and the afternoon were so different that to mix them would do them both a disservice. So there will be two different entries.

The morning started as all have on this trip: a run, a quick shower and breakfast, and then off to the Humane Society. This time however we had a much larger crew than normal and an extra job. We had decided to clean up the path and some of the debris on the golf course and path where the dogs are walked each day.

Why? Yes, in part because it would make the area look a bit better, which as discussed yesterday may have an amazing ripple effect in and of itself. However, this clean-up had another less philosophical purpose: the dogs walked over the land and, while unlikely, they could get injured on the debris, so a quick clean-up. And so, in spite of poor inept leadership (yes boys and girls, I was the group leader today), the dozen or so person work crew had the area not, great, but at least safe for our canine friends in about a little less than an hour. GREAT JOB EVERYONE!

It was then time to actually care for the animals. With such a large crew this was a treat. I love walking dogs, but walking dogs for four straight hours proves that you can have too much of a good thing. So today, was perfect. We walked dogs for about 45 minutes and then bathed some as well.

Today I only walked dogs that were either “special needs” dogs or in sick-bay. But that is ok since some of these dogs have become my favorites. There is the puppy who was found with a chain imbedded in his neck. No one knows for certain how long the pup had been loose (he broke the chain), but unless it was for weeks and weeks (it does not look like it), the former owners should be investigated for cruelty. But this black haired puppy with high white boots is just as playful as can be, prances on his walks, and absolutely loves any and all attention.

There is a Chihuahua that loves to walk and talk to every dog (big or small) he sees. Before meeting him, I never liked Chihuahuas (probably because of the Taco Bell ads and that they are associated with many “stars”) but he has changed that. Of course all of our cats are bigger than he is, but hey, he is still a nice dog.

And then there is the brown lab puppy that has the kind of dandruff that would make Head and Shoulders the hottest name in the industry. But who also has eyes that could melt the Gringe’s heart. He is on everyone’s top ten list.

After walking four of us stayed behind to give baths to four of the dogs. Unbeknownst to us bathers (or at least to this bather) while we were washing dogs, two others of our group were adopting dogs to take home.

All in all an amazingly productive morning.

Monday, January 02, 2006

As WW II Veterans "watched from above," we cleaned a cemetery

I never knew Daniel McCray, never heard of D.A. Bradford, have no clue who John Henry Bradley was, and have zero idea at all about Deacon Joe Battiest, except to know that they were some of the millions of nameless, largely forgotten people who people who helped the Allies win WW II.

Similarly, you probably never heard of Eliza Kennedy, Robert Titzler, Carrie James, Maryanne Kiley, Samuel Lawrence, Sean Ruane, Miquel Boland, or the thousands of other nameless present day volunteers. They are some of the largely unknown individuals who are helping the Gulf coast region win its battle against Katrina.

Today the two groups met. No not in person. The former group has all passed from this world. You see, I learned their names while helping to clean the the Biloxi National Cemetery. But, if there is a heaven the McCray, Bradford, and Bradley crew looked down on their final resting place in and were really proud of what was going on.

On what was originally going to be an easy recovery day, the Handson crew raked, hauled, piled, kicked, pushed, and shoveled untold tons of branches, leaves, and dirt and turned the cemetery that had taken much of the brunt of Katrina back into a neat, peaceful place where friends and family can reflect back on the wonderful lives that the deceased had lived.

It is hard to know what the impact of anyone’s actions is. For all I know, the late Mr. Bradford or Mr. Bradley may have saved thousands of lives by preventing two transport ships from sinking, or single-handedly defeated a company of Axis troops. Oh sure I could google their names, but even Google does not know what they really did. Why? Because often what comes from what we do, is unknown to all. Or put another way, even the doer of an action often does not know what the outcome is of the action.

This has been described much more gracefully than I could ever attempt. For instance, my favorite version of this idea is, ironically enough given why we are all here in Mississippi, the idea of that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings somewhere plains of Africa could, by disturbing atmospheric conditions just enough, cause a hurricane to hit the shores of North America. Small things mean things. And what the end result of a seemingly small action is, we may never know.

I tell you this because of a phone call back at Handson’s HQ. I called a friend to wish her Happy New Year and to brag about how much good was accomplished. She was unimpressed. Oh, she tried to be polite, but you could tell. Her tone of voice gave it away. While her words said “oh that’s nice,” her tone was saying “gee, how minor is that? You cleaned a cemetery. Big deal. Is anyone out of a FEMA trailer because of that? Is anyone breathing better air as a result of that? No, you just cleaned a cemetery, oh sure it may have been a lot of work, but it was a cemetery. Nothing more.”

I was polite and did not say anything nasty in reply. Indeed, I politely turned the other cheek and invited her to join us on our March trip. Thinking that then might she come to understand what it means to clean a cemetery, a park, a street, or a neighborhood. To know what it means to give a blanket to a cold survivor living in tent, to talk to a woman living in a FEMA trailer but who is afraid that she may have to give up her trailer because she has three dogs in the trailer, or to say hello to a family living on their front porch.

I can tell you that cleaning the cemetery made a physical difference. I can tell you that it made the cemetery look much better. I can tell you that it is again the peaceful refuge for both the living and the dead that it was intended to be.

But what I do not know, what none of us will ever know, are the long-run consequences of cleaning the cemetery. Did seeing a group of people from all over America clean the cemetery convince a depressed survivor to give it life another chance? Maybe.

Did the life of a widow get just enough better that she decided to not give up and move away? A move which had it occurred would have forced the store down the block to go out of business, which in turn would have led to higher unemployment, despair, and turmoil? Maybe.

Were the hours of back breaking work that were needed to clean the cemetery worth “maybes”? Absolutely. And I am sure the heros from past generations would agree. Today they were smiling.

Short Bits

* I had two really fun runs today. The AM run was an uneventful run through a fog, while the PM run was through some rain with Miguel, John, David, Bill, Chuck, and Beth. It was fun.
* Many of the dogs at the Humane Society were shipped out to an animal shelter in Maine. There was a new puppy however. VERY sad. A dog had apparently gotten away with his chain and collar still attached. The collar had to be surgically removed. It was not a pretty sight, but the long term prognosis is excellent and he will make someone a very good dog!
* The turnover is obviously very high here. Today we are losing a group from Davidson, but gained a group from Alfred State.
*Jen also leaves tomorrow, but before she does, I plan on introducing her to interior work as we will help gut a house.
* Prior to house gutting, I will be taking “a crew” out to the Humane Society where before it opens we will be cleaning up the walking area (there is some glass and aluminum on the walk way which I always hate have the dogs walk on.
* last night we left boots under my car. Oops! The fog was so dense that this AM I had to pour the water from the boots! And they were UNDER the car!
* Dinner was a BBQ. There was chicken, hamburgers, and hot dogs. The vegetarians had tofu ka-bobs. They were really good!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Walking dogs and cleaning cemeteries

New Year’s Eve in Biloxi

This will be a shorter update as the computer connection is literally at a standstill…I am beginning to think it is my computer setup, but one way or the other this is SLOW.

As promised, this morning a group of us went and worked with the Humane Society. The Humane Society is located out by the airport next to a golf course that was largely destroyed by Katrina. While this is awful for golfers, it gives the Humane Society a nice place to walk dogs. And wow did we walk dogs.

I bet I personally walked 20-25 dogs today. Some puppies, some really big dogs, and some really small dogs. It was fun (mostly). The dogs were great. I felt so sorry for them. Of course this is the person who can not stand to see Bonnie locked in her room, so seeing them in any caged area is troubling. But it was clean and the animals were all well cared for. I hope they all get adopted (more on this later).

We also cleaned some of their “runs” or cages and fed the dogs. Others in our groups fed and played with the cats. While it took longer then we had hoped--it seemed like they just kept finding more and more dogs—the dogs loved, coveted, adored, lusted after, liked, and really enjoyed the attention. Their moods all picked up once they were out on the fairways or playing out in front. All in all it was good and something I definitely should do at home too. Will I? Maybe. I thought about it quite a bit coming down the old 14th, but there is just never seems to be enough time when home.

A large group of the dogs have been adopted (or at least being shipped for adoption) to Maine. That said, it was also amazing how many people did come in to adopt animals--it seemed most wanted small dogs—indeed two asked for dogs small enough for a FEMA trailer.

I was asked whether the dogs were hurricane dogs (dogs separated from their families by Katrina). I do not know. In some sense more were than would appear at first glance. Why? Because it is likely that many people chose to give up their dogs after they lost the house and had less room to care for the dog. However, I really do not know but will ask. By the way, the Humane Society of Southern Mississippi’s website is definitely worth a look!

After the Humane Society we headed over to the very large clean-up in progress at the public cemetery near Rt. 90 and the Air Force Base. The majority of Hansdon was at this site today. We missed most of the work but did get to work for a couple hours on the north side of the tracks.

The city had three employees working on the cemetery. Even optimistically, it would take the three of them, no matter how good they are at what they do, months to accomplish what will take the volunteers about 2 days. There were MANY people on the job and it looks MUCH better . I hope there are some before and after pictures floating around. I will look for them. (I have another blog idea on this project so stay tuned!)

My sister once told me the only thing---“the only thing?” “Yes the only thing”---that I am even a little good at is raking. I got to rake to my heart’s content in the cemetery. So
I liked working in the cemetery. In fact I am looking forward to more of it tomorrow!

Well that is about it. Sorry today’s entry was so boring. I’ll try to do better next year (note the time and date I wrote this ;) ) (11:31 CST on 12/31/2005)

Short bits

* Tonight we are had/are having a bonfire, but most people went to various parties and/or New Orleans for New Year’s Eve celebrations.
* Dinner was grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. It was cooked by some volunteers from the US Air Force.
* There was a yoga workout this AM at Handson. I missed it as I had no idea and showered after my run. They seemed to be about done by the time I done and came for breakfast. Oh well, maybe tomorrow?
* This evening I ran with Miguel (from Orlando). I guess we went for about 4 miles. It was good, but so foggy that Sherlock Holmes would have been right at home. That said, the weather was quite warm (about 70). The fog rolled in (literally you could see it coming in waves!) at about 2 PM. Really unlike WNY weather!
* Tomorrow I plan on repeating today but in fast forward speed. We are going to the Humane Society (until 10) and then over to the Cemetery. The afternoon is a scheduled easy day here. Depending on what time the Cemetery is completed, Jen and I might head over to Ocean Springs and/or Bay St. Louis to meet some other groups to see how they can accommodate us for the spring.
* A BBQ and volley-ball tournament are planned out back tomorow afternoon