I write this on the eve of my last day working on Ms. Cecily’s home on Lafaye Street. The end of a project can typically be a stressful time, with a punch list that never seems to shrink, the adrenaline kicking in as you try to think of every last little thing that you may have overlooked, and nightly nightmares of termites devouring our newly-finished work. In this particular instance, however, I am feeling quite relieved as I write an unbelievably short list of things to do and realize that there is still time to do more than I had thought feasible.
For the 13 homeowners I have been privileged to serve, I have observed over and again how challenging and emotional that home stretch can be. So many of them have said to me, “I should be feeling happy and relieved now that it’s almost done, so why am I so stressed out?” It actually makes perfect sense.
They have all endured a tragedy that most of us cannot even comprehend. The scope of their losses is monumental and life changing. Their physical, spiritual and psychological devastation has been compounded exponentially by the mother of all challenges … coming home. They have struggled with the overwhelming process of figuring out how to survive in places that were completely foreign to them while trying desperately to return to a home and city that no longer functions. They have forged through the building process and seen a light at the end of the tunnel, only to discover the betrayal of fraudulent contractors who snuffed out that light almost as soon as it had appeared. They have lived in unsafe and uncomfortable conditions because it was the only thing they could do.
It is not at all surprising that by the time we arrive with all of our volunteers sweeping in to save the day, these homeowners are just plain all out of trust and have only the sliver of hope they so valiantly cling to. Then they watch as young kids, aging seniors and women, for god’s sake … arrive to take on the mammoth tasking of re-framing, re-structuring and rebuilding their beloved home, one week at a time. Who wouldn’t be scared??? My favorite part of this “career” is watching that justified skepticism slowly and beautifully turn into trust and confidence, because I know what a tall order that is! Imagine finally being told that that unsteady home you’ve been living in will be fixed, and then watch a bunch of strangers start to tear it down, room by room, week by week. However necessary it is to fix what was done wrong before, it hardly feels like forward progress!
Eventually, though, it does become apparent that things are moving forward and the end becomes visible. I honestly think that this is the most difficult part of the journey. By the time the last week of work begins, the homeowner looks around and realizes that they can breathe again. They expect to feel elation, but instead are bombarded by a whole range of emotions. While I haven’t experienced even a fraction of what these amazing folks have, I do recognize this phenomenon from my own life experiences. When Life is coming at you like a battering ram, your strength takes over. You suit up and fight to protect all that you hold dear. You don’t back down. But once that storm passes … when the winds calm and the thunder stops … once you know that you have weathered the storm and that you and your family are now safe …. Then, and ONLY then, do you allow yourself to feel all that you couldn’t afford to in the middle of it all. Like warriors in a battle, our homeowners could not sit down and have a good cry while bombs and grenades were going off all around them … they had to forge on … and they very bravely did just that.
So, to all of my homeowners … past, present and future … The war is finally over! Take that deep breath. Feel whatever you feel. And cry for the losses you grieve, the betrayals that hurt you, the frustration you endured and the fear that you had to swallow for nearly 8 long years. Even in your tears, you are the very definition of strength and courage. I am certain that I speak for the hundreds of volunteers who were honored to have met you when I say … You have inspired us all!
With Love … Your Construction Goddess
I have been working with volunteers from The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). Check them out:
Summer’s here, school’s out and where else would you want to be but at the G.L!
Gentilly Landfill that is.
As their slogan reads, The G.L. is “Vital to New Orleans’ Recovery and Future”
This place is quite the up and coming hot spot folks.
This week, I taught Alex, our most awesome and enthusiastic warehouse manager, the tricks of the trade of the sacred dump trailer. Such lessons always end at the G.L.
And the dump trailer’s slogan?
Well coincidentally, it’s also “Vital to New Orleans’ Recovery and Future!?!”
No kidding here.
This beast can bench with the best of them.
With a hot battery and plenty of grease, she’ll max out at 75 degrees sky-ward.
She throws down as she climbs the four-story enormous mountain of debris, that is the G.L.
And you thought Monkey Hill was the highest point in the Crescent City.
Foolish. The G.L. always wins.
And don’t forget it.
As hurricane season begins next week, remember your local high spots folks.
Admission is cheap at the G.L.
And it’s all you can eat. Buffet style.
We were blessed with some great volunteers that accomplished a lot since I last updated you on Perlita. We had a group from James Madison University lead by Donnie fittingly named the “Spicy Horns.” They knocked out the foam board insulation and laid the hard backer with ease. They also threw in a cheer or two. Their great attitude and hard work was much appreciated and made for a great week.
Our friend and former Long Term Volunteer Jack was in town and of course found a way to strap on a tool belt and give us a hand or perhaps to make sure I haven’t been goofing off since he last volunteered with us. We hung the sheathing in the back garage and Dwyane and I installed the doors and windows. This week we have some new Job 1 employees join us named Giovanni and John. We are laying the tile and they are picking up things quickly after one day. I look forward to working with them in the future and updating you next time on our progress.
Well, it looks like it’s time for another blog post from Valentina!
This week, we welcome the Union Latina group from TCNJ to New Orleans. I’ve really enjoyed having so many fellow Jersey-ites/Jerseyans/Jerseyers (I don’t actually know what we’re called) around. I decided to share some amazing New Jersey facts for you in honor of TCNJ’s Alternative Break Club last week and Union Latina this week.
So here we go…
- New Jersey has the most diners in the world!
- Princeton, NJ (my hometown) was once the capital of the United States! This was back in 1783, and it only lasted 5 months…
- The honeybee is the New Jersey state bee. This is explains a lot. Last week we had a colony of bees try to set up shop in the deck at the Village. I guess they were just trying to hang out with the TCNJ volunteers
- We are home to the tallest roller coaster in the world and the fastest wooden roller coaster in the world…and I’ve been on both!
- We have more horse races than Kentucky
- New Jersey is the world leader in blueberry and cranberry production
- The Statue of Liberty is technically in New Jersey
- Don’t worry, Bluffton University and Hodges Boulevard Presbyterian! You guys were amazing too, even if you’re not from the state with the tallest water tower in the world.
Thank you to all our volunteers who have been putting in so much work this spring and making the Village such a fun place to hang out.
Until next time,