I first visited New Orleans 6 years ago for Jazz Fest where I met a Mardis Gras Indian who recommended Treme, a TV series filmed between 2010-2013. The show is about the City and its people, and what folks were dealing with after the flood. I watched it and was hooked. It helped me gain a better sense of the amazing culture, community, resilience and perseverance of the people. It gave a little peek into the economic, political and personal struggles in a community trying to heal.
When I saw One Brick’s New Orleans trip to help rebuild people’s homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina, I was honestly shocked to learn that 12 years later there is still much work to be done. I thought, “It’s never too late to help” and signed up. The Saint Bernard Project staff and awesome Americorp “sups” told us that many residents lost their life savings to fraudulent contractors. And, many people eligible for city grants have waited many years to rebuild, but the money just never comes through. Learning this just made my heart sink. Because this just adds insult to injury after these folks experienced the devastation of the storm and were forced from their community. Being there to help as one person for a week, was one of the most humbling opportunities of my adult life. I was thankful to be another set of helping hands to make things right.
Our One Brick group was fourteen total, all great people from around the country. We worked on Miss Ce Ce’s house on Bruxelles Street near the fairgrounds. Most of the week we worked on drywall and gulped many jugs of water. With mud knives and patience, we filled in holes and seams in all the rooms of the house. With dust masks and determination, we sanded the walls and ceilings to near perfection. All the while, we blasted tunes from a portable speaker. So in between zoning out with our tasks at hand and sharing stories, we sang, felt the rhythm and let the music move us.
At lunchtime we piled into the cars in our dusty, mud-splattered clothes and noshed on some of Nola’s yummiest food. I devoured barbeque po boys, alligator sausage, shrimp etoufee, and delectable fried chicken and waffles. One day a couple others helped me feast on an insanely large chocolate crepe stuffed with graham cracker crumble, marshmallow and whipped cream.
I came to this volunteer project with some experience in renovation and construction, as I’ve tiled kitchens and bathrooms, installed drywall and cabinets, framed closets and painted. As a crafty person with an attention to detail and interest in a challenge, I decided to do something challenging and skim-coat the 20-foot long ceiling seams at Miss Ce Ce’s house in the two front rooms and cleanly patch holes around ceiling fixture openings. Seeing my my progress as the ceiling evolved each day was really rewarding. Mid-week, we switched things up and went to a new site. There, we transformed an opportunity house on Franklin Street to a beautiful mint green with new exterior paint. This gave me another shot at a new challenge. With fear and fearlessness, I ascended the extension ladder high above the sidewalk to paint the house. Towering tall by the second floor windows, I heard the cars in the intersection honking at us in support and drivers yelling thank you out of their windows.
I really enjoyed working with and getting to know my fellow One Brickers on the job site and living together at the Mustard Seed House. Everyone had a great attitude and worked as a team making our proud dent to help renovate and finish these houses that long time New Orleans residents will once again call home.