Monday, August 13, 2007

First day of volunteering

The majority of us got up and going this morning between 6:00 and 7:00. Breakfast could be described as Continental. I had toast with PB on it.


We gathered at 8:00 and loaded up two vans full of people and headed to the John Dibert school.


On the way down, a long-term volunteer, Patrick, showed us some of the projects that the state boarded up after Katrina. In their view, they'd rather the people living there not come back. There were even big metal grates over some of them. Do people still live there? Do people want to still live there? It just seemed like such a waste to see these big buildings standing empty. And you can only imagine what's left in them - or what hasn't been looted.

When we arrived at the school, we got a little briefing from Troy.


Troy used to be a teacher in New Orleans. Now he works for the Recovery School District. It was interesting hearing his perspective. He said, "I don't understand how you guys can come down here. I wouldn't. I don't know how you have the heart."

Obviously, he comes into all of this from a very personal and invested perspective. His world was turned upside down by Katrina, and I'm sure it takes it toll and drains you day by day. On both the Biloxi and this trip, I've heard a lot of the staffers/long-termers talk about survival mode. Things aren't back to normal and when you're dealing with these issues every day... I can't even imagine.

He said the best thing we can do is let New Orleans take us in, and tell everyone what we've seen here. That's how I felt about my experience in Biloxi, and that's why I choose to keep a blog. It isn't to toot my own horn and say, "Hey, look at me being all nice and doing kind things for strangers." It's so much more than that. There's a region of this country that experienced such complete and utter devastation - and who talks about it? We get random ticker headlines about FEMA this and Recovery that. But there's so much still left to do. We send billions overseas to fight this war, but what about the Gulf Coast? What about New Orleans? Why is it taking the power of volunteers to get anything done?

300 students a day are registering for school this fall. School will start on September 4th. For awhile, it looked like this school would be K-6, but so many students are registering, it'll have to be K-8. Funding that has helped people who were displaced is going away, so the residents are coming back.

Jessica took notes while he was speaking, and it looks like Troy may be in an interview this week - so I'll keep you posted.

We were chatting with some folks in for a religious conference of some sort. They were asking us what group we were with. When I told them the mission of Seattle Works,
To inform, connect, and inspire people in their 20s and 30s to take action in our community.

they asked why we volunteer.

I had to pause for awhile to think about that one.

They offered suggestions. Is it spiritual? Is it to give back to the community? Is it to feel productive?

My answer, although this is probably something that will continue to evolve over time - is I feel the need to connect with something bigger than myself - to give back to the community. Another thing that I always take from volunteer projects is something learned. I may learn about how a non-profit in Seattle works. I may learn a skill, like how those little price tag things work at Goodwill. Even in the most mundane projects, like pulling Ivy and other invasive plants - I learn how they devastate my favorite parks - and that we won't have the natural spaces in Seattle in 10-15 years that we do if this continues.

I digress. It's an interesting question and one I'll probably come back to. Why are we down here? Why did we use our vacation time to work? Why did we choose this experience?

Whatever the answers, I can't deny that it's a lot of fun. We get to experience the culture and vibe of New Orleans in a very unique way. The people working for Katrina Corps are excited to share with us their favorite restaurants and bars. I think about how I love exploring my Seattle - and I love meeting people who are new to the city, so I can recommend my favorite restaurants and watering holes.


Back to what we actually did today. We painted. I personally painted a lot of blue trim with Brooke and Jessica. Brooke did a rockstar job on this door:

I didn't manage to take pictures of everyone - but Tara, Ahsan and Barclay painted the main walls and ceiling across the hall.



Jessica and I joined up with Rachel to work on a shelving unit. She took a before picture and that's where we stopped for the day, so it'll be interesting to show the before and after eventually.

Tonight we're going to explore the French Quarter. And I'm sure we'll eat more amazing food. My piece of toast and ham sandwich are fading fast.

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