Friday, February 29, 2008

Can I hold her...can I hold her?

Today, 2/29, I returned again to Ren Village with both Eve and Grace. Grace had not been there since her last visit in December so she was very excited to see the people and place again. If anything it would reassure that it hasn't closed yet and disappeared. She's been anxious about that over the past two months, so I looked forward to helping her feel a bit more settled.

Upon arrival the children were outside playing Dodge Ball again. She jumped out of the car ahead of me, and was greeted by the shouts of "Grace, Gracie...hello!" It was good to hear their welcome, and I imagined that she was relieved too to see that not all of her friends had left the place yet.

When Eve and I stepped on the playground it was a similar welcome, and even though they had met her last week they were just as excited about holding her again. "Can I hold her? When can I hold her?" Today we'd head inside first before passing her around.

While outside I did share the pictures that were taken the week before and gave them their own copies. Kaya and Dontrese loved seeing themselves and really wanted the pictures, and Timothy was beyond happy to see his beautiful picture with Eve. When I let him know that it was his to keep, he jumped up and down and announced that he was going to go home and put it on the wall. Wow. Jordan suggested that she put it in a frame for him and he agreed so it wouldn't get messed up in his pocket. I thought it was a great idea and wished that I had enough little frames for each of the children's special photos.

After watching Grace conquer the monkey bars we head back inside. We took pictures with Eve, and Timothy even wanted one with Grace. She said no and I sensed that she was feeling a bit shy at the moment. It was still a sweet request that I hope helped her continue feeling good. I was touched once again at how each child was so tender and happy with little Eve. It was almost as if she was a gift for each of them.

As it started getting later, Cynthia started shooing the children home to their trailers. After they all left she sat down with me and answered my questions about what was happening for the remaining families. There are a number of challenges and frustrations in the transitions, and I was left with the knowledge that life outside of the trailer park for many would be difficult. I want to get into more details about everything, but I want to clarify them with her or Margaret first. Basically, inconsistencies in FEMA and HUD's protocal for placement were leaving many without furniture, an apartment in a dangerous location, and not as much money for rent as originally indicated by the agencies. I let her know that once I clarify and summarize what's happening, I'll bring it to the new RESULTS chapter that I'm a part of to see if there's something we could do.

I can only do what I can and hope that there will be some solid rock for them to stand on during the transition. Their May 31 deadline is not that far away.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Thank you Zach andThe Litttle Red Wagon

While peeking around YouTube I 'met' 9 year old Zach. He's out there touching lives of needy kids through his efforts and support of others. It ends up that he's treated the Renaissance Village kids the past two Christmas holidays. I wish I had the honor of meeting this action oriented inspirational BIG little person.

Thank you Zach for caring and connecting with the beautiful children of Ren Village.

Learn more about Zach at

Monday, February 25, 2008

A return

Friday was my first return to Renaissance Village since the birth of our second daughter Eve in December. I went with just her with the intention of reconnecting with the children and education directors.

As I pulled up to the security check I could already see empty patches of grass left behind of missing trailers. I knew that residents were on the move out of the trailer park and into "permanent" housing, but didn't expect to see so many open spaces. I felt relief knowing that families were taking the next step post-Katrina, yet my heart ached knowing that the transition is a very difficult one for them. From what the directors had already told me, the relocation areas are troubled with crime and poverty, and the families lack basic necessities like furniture. Were some of the children I had worked with in those situations?

Upon arrival at the resource center I found the children playing outside in the playground. I spotted a few familiar faces as I got out of the car, and I smiled as they looked at me smiling and remembering. I saw Ruth and Margaret with the children too and for a moment it felt like I had never taken a break from my visits. I was greeted with hugs and excitement, and of course they were very happy about meeting Eve. Before they could hold her themselves I was swooped away by director Cynthia to come inside and spend some time.

Mary met up with us, and they treated me to very sweet gifts for Eve and Grace. I'm always surprised when they remind me how appreciated my efforts are when I'm the one who is so grateful for becoming part of their lives at the Village. Cynthia ran back out to be with the kids, and Mary and I got to talk a bit about her plans and her return to Ren Village as a case worker to help families make a successful transition out of the trialer park. It's an overwhelming and frustrating task due to red tape, but Mary has the determination to do everything she can to help things work for them.

We continued chatting outside with the children for the close of their Fun Friday afternoon. It felt so good to be there and see the kids having a great time playing dodge ball with Jordan and Cynthia. Mary and I stood on the sidelines as those not playing really wanted to hold Eve. It was fun watching their faces light up once she was in their arms. I smiled knowing that she was being welcomed into their world just as Grace and I had been.

Inspirational message in memory of John Brunious

Trumpeter Mr. John Brunious of New Orleans Preservation Hall Band died on February 12.
Ben Jaffe, the Creative Director of Preservation Hall, shared this inspirational message:

"John Brunious was living history. One of the last things John told me was, 'There's another Louis Armstrong somewhere out there in New Orleans. I'm going to find them and teach them all I got.' It's now in our hands to carry on his message and legacy the way he carried the torch for so many years."

John Brunious, 67, Louisiana Trumpeter

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Art of Margaret's Heart

During my return visit to Renaissance Village on 2/22 I saw Margaret again. She is a resident there and cares for her grand daughter. She also works in the after school program helping with the functioning of the program every day of the week. I also learned that she delivers the "meals on wheels" for the senior citizens trailer by trailer all by herself. Needless to say, she's an active and vital part of the community there.

She also is an artist and paints, and I had a brief opportunity to view some of her pieces hanging in the teen/adult resource center. I remember them being rich in deep colors and depicting some reflections of her New Orleans memories and experiences. It has been some time seeing them, but I recall one night after the children left how she spoke of her art passionately. I believe that she had lost all of her materials and paintings in Katrina, and was working on creating more paintings for herself and others.

We spoke briefly on my first visit back, and when I asked her how she is doing she said that she is now selling copies of her paintings. Of course I wanted to see her collection and she let me know that she'd bring them for me to see after play time.

Well, she did have a stack of the copies in hand, but unfortunately we didn't have enough time to look at them. I did manage to ask how much she was selling them for and she replied, "Twenty dollars. Five dollars from each sale with go to the charity Katrina Rebirth." Instead of keeping it all for herself, she was would give some to others who need help in their recovery. She herself was recovering from the disaster, yet she planned to share with fellow survivors. I swelled up and felt all of her strength, love, commitment, and healing in her gesture to be.

Margaret's art was valuable, but the art of Margaret's heart surpassed any tangible value.

I hope to be able to help her somehow with her sales. Possibly I can share the work online and gather purchasers. She has a lot of other things going on, but maybe with time we can pull something together.