Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Volunteer work in Baton Rouge FEMA trailer parks

This past Saturday October 14 I helped out right here in Baton Rouge with the installation of bulletin boards for the FEMA trailer parks. There are seven parks in total, and we went to three to finish the job the team had already started this month. Jim, Bob, Nancy, and Karen had done the work before and I was happy to be able to pitch in a bit. During their previous work day, they had struggled with the troubled auger, the drilling tool, but this time around the work went much more quickly with an improved auger. They were beyond thrilled as the installations were done in about 3 hours.

There is tight security at these locations and we had to show photo ID and register when entering to do the work. I didn't see that many residents, but I was told that many do stay inside. It was nice to see that a few folks have warmed up their temp housing with plants and a little patio setting outside their trailers. A few people did come by to see what we were doing, and were very friendly and kind.

At the last stop two little boys about 6 years old came by with nothing but curiosity. "What are you doing?" "What's this?...it looks like a laser gun...that could kill somebody!" when asking about the hole drilling tool called an auger. You know, I had the same reactions too when I first saw that thing. It's quite impressive.

What got me the most about them is when they wanted to be in the pictures. One little boy appeared in a group photo not included and in another with Karen. He had the greatest poses and smile. I then let each of them take a picture of each other with my Canon digital. I showed them how to hold it, look through the viewfinder, and shoot. It was so great when they got to peek at the screen to see the image. They were thrilled and wanted to do more but we were on our way out. They each wrapped themselves around my legs and didn't want to let go. I melted with love for their sweet little hearts and said goodbye as I peeled them off of me and got into Jim's vehicle. We couldn't close the van's door with them standing there but got them interested in the mailman's arrival. They boogied over to him with the same enthusiasm. Aren't they so thirsty for the world at that age? Given their situation I could see and feel it even more.

So I'm left again with more lasting impressions and interest to stay involved and expand what I'm doing in the area. I didn't know that there were still many New Orleanians living here in Baton Rouge in need of support.

It is a big concern that the FEMA trailer park residents will be forced to leave once their 18 month stay ends in April 2007. Where will they go? What is happening right now to prepare? From what I understand, their biggest challenge is poverty related and that just doesn't get with wished away. Katrina related consequences only serve to magnify their problems.

I'm definitely going to return there with the photos for the boys. Who knows, maybe they'd like to take some more. There was a big photo project for the children in the larger FEMA trailer park, Renaissance Village, and maybe something similar can get going in the smaller ones.

I'd like to tutor and get involved in educational outreach for the displaced children. Bob, one of the volunteers, gave me the name of someone working in Renaissance Village who can give me info. Rosie O' Donnell has set up an educational enrichment center there through her For All Kids - Project Katrina Initiative, and it will be opening soon.

It ends up that this contact person works with the Children's Coalition of Baton Rouge, and I will be attending an Action Summit they are holding tomorrow. They are involved in the improvement of children's welfare here in Baton Rouge, and also have a targeted Katrina force too.

As I learn more about everything, I will keep you posted.


Anonymous Jim Casper said...

What a great job. I just think it is wonderful that you are reaching out to the community like this. It makes me humble when I think of all that these folks have lost. How fortunate that we are in a position to help.

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Mary Beth Monahan said...

Hey, Rene--The little guys taking photos reminds me of that whole 'shoot back' series we see at that conference. Remember how moved we were.

Beautiful stuff, makes for a full day, full heart, and a full life, huh.

Lots of love, Rene--MB

10:08 PM  

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