New Orleans Volunteer Work - 11/18/06
I've just gotten to blogging about this work day in the Ward, and there are a few things that have really stuck with me since that day.
I learned that a number of the volunteer organizations will only help the family with gutting and clean up if that family knows that they will be returning to New Orleans. If at the time of the request they aren't sure, then they need to find assistance somewhere else. This particular coordinating agency that we work through, an Episcopal church in New Orleans, does not require the family to know that. The request in itself is enough, and they do what they can to find and create teams to do the work. There's more emotional and mental recovery embedded in that request, and cleaning up a house helps a family do just that.
We got to learn about the owner of the house before we headed to the location. I remembered during our last visit how Emily stressed respecting the space and privacy of the owners, but learning some background information this time around really created a different level of respect. The area became more personal, and I even felt differently driving in and taking some of the photographs on the area. I had a greater sense that I was being intrusive at times, and made decisions not to shoot a few images. Maybe this also means I'm just getting to know the region and people more, and feeling myself a more integral part of the recovery.
As it ended up, this was the first time that I worked side by side with the owner of the house we gutted. As she showed me inside her home and what she had completed herself, one of the first things that she said to me was, "I'm not poor. I know the media tells you that we're all poor, but we're not. We're hard working people. I'm a middle class American working hard here." I really felt her pride and strength, and also her pain in that statement, and got to learn more about her during the day. She had so many layers to her situation that I found myself thanking her by the end of the day for just being there.
At the end of the workday, we stood outside as the NOLA debris collection employees picked up the large appliances. I was more than touched as these two men opened up and said thank you for doing such a good job. They were so real in their expressions, and one guy even offered me his shoes as he saw that I didn't have any on. Gosh, longlasting smiles from that encounter.
The owner also said something that took me to the skies. "This will be the BEST Thanksgiving." Wow, she couldn't have been more relieved and happy to have her house cleared out. It had been a long stretch for her traveling back and forth from out of state doing the work herself. Imagine how she felt getting on a plane to return to her young son with the news. :)
Once again I am left with the growing understanding that there is no judgement in helping others, it's just about truly being with them in their recovery.