Day 2 of the Relief Trip was a big eye opener for me. We started the day with yard work on some homes--picking up debris and clearing yards--so the owners of the houses wouldn’t get fined. The houses we worked on were in rough condition but it was clear that they were once beautiful. While working I couldn’t help but imagine the homeowners and how they were dealing with this huge loss. It really became clear to me why I signed up for this trip.
After we finished the yard work on the homes we headed to another site, and I’m sure nobody was ready for what we saw. When we got to the home we put on our masks to protect us from the mold we were warned about. We walked inside to a floor that looked like it was placed on top of a hill. You could see the water lines on the walls from the flood and, as expected, gross amounts of mold everywhere.
I started outside in the back by the door while some of my team handed me stuff from the attic to determine whether it was trash or salvageable. While my friends were handing me some of the boxes we realized that this was someone’s life, now in our hands. It became stressful when an argument broke out about what to keep and what to throw away, one girl saying that it should be the home owner’s decision on what to keep. It was tough deciding what made the cut for the pile to be given back to the owners, because who knows what is meaningful to someone you’ve never met?
The hardest hit of the day was when someone found a picture of the house before it was destroyed, putting the damage into a more real perspective. As it was getting late I wanted to keep working because of the overwhelming pain I felt for the home owners, but clean up time came fast. After a day filled with yard work, trash, and my friends cleaning out a fridge that hadn’t been touched for over a year, I felt very good for signing up for such an amazing trip.
-Ella Recor, Class of 2015
The first day familiarized me with the daily routine and flow of work, being that this year was my first on a relief trip. Many of the houses in a suburb that was abandoned after the levees broke had become overgrown, and their owners faced fines from the city due to violations regarding obstructed sidewalks, pools that were not fenced in, and unattended lawns. The owners of said houses are already displaced and saving money to rebuild, but haven’t the means to fix up their property.
Clearing sidewalks and driveways came first, and then we split up into a group clearing the bushes, weeds, and small saplings that had sprung up and a group to uncover the lawnmower and other items that had been engulfed in weeds. Moldy boots were found in the feral flotsam, and I was taking them to the curb when I looked to see what the tag said. They were Red Wings, and in the higher price range. I turned around and put them into the shed, because people grow attached to things they use every day, after saving up for months to buy them. Many people don’t put a premium on everyday items, because they are usually cheap and plentiful, but if all your daily items were taken away, every day would seem like a series of shortcomings and problems you’ve never faced. Even if the boots will never be used, they still show that the everyday items and balance of things are still present.
Day 2 allowed me to focus more on the work and surroundings. I also noticed the local wildlife, hearing birds and insects that I had not experienced before, providing a nice change of pace from chickadees and squirrels. We focused on clearing the rest of the yards of all dead plant matter, and taking apart decks to salvage the wood.
I noticed that more people were working together, and I found myself working with people I didn’t know as efficiently as I work with people I know. When one project was done, people would search the site for more work to do, and I had to tell people to go away when taking apart a small deck because it was too crowded to swing a hammer.
While eating lunch at a community center a block away, local leaders in charge of the city’s department of natural resources or something of the like passed by us, each thanking us multiple times, and the Creole accent became stronger with each successive thanking. The local culture in this area is much more prevalent than in Royal Oak, and it seems that everyone immerses themselves in it. I noticed that even though the houses were new constructions, they had small architectural details that fit in with the area and other homes; in Royal Oak and the surrounding areas, it seems that many new constructions are built to be big, and the same as the other homes. Driving to and from the site I noticed that a large number of cars, trucks, trains, ships, and homes had fleur-de-lis, and I realize how rich the cultural tradition is.
Before coming here, I had thought that rebuilding was almost complete, as I had not heard anything about people’s situations in the news. I could have told you that people are displaced in other countries, as there is news coverage from time to time, but had no idea that people in my own country were still struggling to recover. Seeing the homes in person really drove home the point that our neighbors still need our help.
After a few hours on site, a health official came to check on the homes to see if they were cleared, and took down the notices after seeing that we had taken care of the issues. We saved the home owners a few thousand dollars in the nick of time. There are 90 homes in the subdivision, with 85 vacant. We have cleaned up three thus far, and there is still much to do.
-Connor Warneck, Class of 2015