Return to New Orleans – Year 5   1 comment

This year we are set to go March 19 – 26th and this time we are joined by members of Pilgrim Community Church in San Francisco.

Posted March 3, 2011 by NOLA-er in Uncategorized

By the Numbers   1 comment

Some of you have asked – how many homes has UCC Disaster Relief helped to rebuild?

as of January 2010

# of volunteers                    

# of groups                          406

Total hours                          122,075

$ value added labor             $2,704,145

# homes cleaned out            847

# homes completed (from complete rebuilds to more minor repairs)        57


The goal,
as it always has been, is to assist a family to return to a safe secure
comfortable home.

— from

Posted May 9, 2010 by NOLA-er in Uncategorized

Law Street Work and BBQ – Friday, May 7, 2010   Leave a comment

Nancy started us out on Friday morning with buckwheat pancakes and bananas. We worked again at the Law Street house. This time we felt more organized. Nancy and Bonnie put the first coat of polyurethane on the kitchen cabinets and doors. Kelly kept working on the closet, where the owner will install an air cooling unit. Dan and Serban hung another door. Jeanette and Sylvia continued to paint trim. On one side of the double shotgun house, they set up the back room as the "exhibit room" with the finished product laid to dry on sawhorses. The second room contained their partially finished work. And the room closest to the street was the work room. Eliot decided to check on the work across the street. He helped the Ohio folks lay a hardwood floor in one room. So now he has another new skill.
The home owner, Bobby Parker, treated us to a BBQ at lunchtime. His friend Bingo was the grill master and another friend, James, kept them both company sitting in a chair in the shade. Bingo served us falling-off-the-bone-tender ribs, along with spicy or mild sausages, hamburgers, smoked turkey, home-made baked beans, and a light and tasty potato salad. Wow! It was a generous meal, and they sent all the left-overs home with us for our dinner. After lunch we celebrated with a photo opportunity with the cooks.
Bobby told us a little of his story. Some years ago, when he was setting tile and turned just so while lifting a heavy box, he hurt his back. He lay on the floor three hours without being able to get up. His co-workers returned and took him to the hospital. Later he found he was unable to walk – one leg would just give out. He had to undergo two surgies. That helped, but he was unable to do the kind of work he had done before. He was out of work and somehow not allowed to be on disability for three years. When Katrina came, his house (the one we were working on), was ruined. With the insurance money, and since he was out of work, he paid off his mortgage. With the money he received for furnishings, he gave to his mother, as she had to move to a home where she needed to furnish her own room. So Bobby owned the house, but had little cash to repair it. He hired some work done by a contractor, and that person did a poor job of it. Bobby was grateful for the work that UCC Disaster Recovery is doing on his house. Before we came, other UCC volunteers had to tear down and redo part of the work because it had not been done right.
Bonnie did some more sponging to texturize patched places on the walls. Nancy scrapped and painted the two ceiling beams in the kitchen. Serban roller painted the dry, texturized walls so that the patched places would not show. I think we got done with most of the work that Tim had set out for us.
At the end of the day, as is our custom, we gathered together in the front room with Bobby and James to bless the house and the people who will live in it. (Bobby plans to live on one side, and his niece and her child will live on the other side.) We sang "When the Saints Go Marching In." James was especially pleased to hear that song. He said he had not heard it in a long time. It reminded him of his days on a farm, when people converted an empty house into a church meeting place, and they would sing. He knew all the words.
We packed the tools back up into the UCC pickup truck, and packed the leftovers from the BBQ into our van. By the way, here’s Bingo’s contact info. He does parties, picnics, catering, and special events: (504) 301-3260 or (504) 251-3025. Nancy asked him if he knew of a place to get pralines and yes – there was a place nearby: Loretta’s Authentic Pralines at 2101 N. Rampart in New Orleans . It was only a few blocks away!
We met Loretta herself at her restaurant and bought boxes of individually packaged pralines to take home as presents. She had chocolate ones, run, coconut, and original. It was a hot afternoon so we stayed awhile there to talk and eat snow cones. She told us there had been no water damage at this place – but there were no customers. After the storm, people did not need candy. And she had another store as well in a different place. That store was looted. She closed shop for four years, then re-opened the place where we were as both a praline store and a restaurant. All we needed to complete our dinner was a salad so I asked if she had any lettuce we could buy. She gave us a large box of salad and also a big container of three-bean salad. The guys (who had stayed in the van, resting in the air conditioning), were happy to learn that we wouldn’t need to stop at the grocery store on the way home.
So we washed up back at church and ate our delicious dinner, along with some yummy desserts we had bought at Loretta’s. I really liked her sweet potato pie. While the guys washed the linoleum floors in the large social hall and the hallways, we women settled into some couches to watch a DVD called "Katrina’s Children" that we had brought with us from home. It told the story of Katrina and the aftermath from the point of view of 19 children – their lives before and after, their stories, their artwork. We were really impressed. Another movie that we had seen a few years ago is called "When the Leeves Broke" and we recommend that one also.
Rev. Alan Coe gave us our graduation "diploma" to take home. He said he had held it until we had finished the job. He appreciates our faithfulness in returning again and again. We’ve heard that March is a bit cooler than May. Anyone want to join us for a week in March 2011?

Posted May 9, 2010 by NOLA-er in Uncategorized

The “X”   Leave a comment

We still see Search and Rescue X
markings on some buildings.  I looked on Wikipedia
to find the meaning for  each part of
this FEMA symbol. The X with writing around it means “search completed.” The
left-hand quadrant indicates the name of the team conducting the search. The top
quadrant is the date and time the search was completed. The right-hand quadrant has any additional
information about the structure.  The
bottom quadrant indicates the number of victims found or removed.  Sometimes we saw just some initials with a circle around them and a date. The initials stand for the team conducting the search, and the date for the date of the search. –Bonnie 

Posted May 6, 2010 by NOLA-er in Uncategorized

May 6, 2010 – conversation with Mary Claire and staff   Leave a comment

Today I took a long lunch hour, drove downtown in my sweaty overalls, T shirt and hiking boots, and went to the Family Justice Center annex. I had arranged to meet with Mary Claire Landry, head of the local shelter, Crescent House, and also director of the New Orleans Family Justice Center. I met her 2 years ago by Googling domestic violence agencies in NOLA, then inviting myself to meet with her. We’ve met annually ever since and really enjoy our time together. She is such a powerhouse – bringing her agency and staff back to life after Katrina destroyed the shelter building, getting the funding reinstated after the funders cut it off, saying there were no longer battered women in New Orleans after Katrina (!!). Just after Katrina, Mary Claire moved her agency from a single shelter model to putting battered women in apartments, which has worked much better for the women.

Her latest accomplishment was advocating for the District Attorney of this parish to move all the domestic violence criminal cases out of the municipal court and into the criminal court, where they are now seen as real crimes, advocating for the DA to create a domestic violence unit with six deputies and four advocates, and working with this new unit to help them figure out how to coordinate with each other. There are still major problems in NOLA, with 2 judges recently releasing batterers who then killed their victims, and rural parts of the state which don’t follow many of the domestic violence laws. But Mary Claire and her staff have also developed such strong relationships and good reputations with the criminal justice system that they are doing a great deal of training law enforcement, get cooperation from prosecutors and judges in regard to U visas for undocumented battered women, and are constantly expanding services. Since Mary Claire and company are aware of the need for long-term solutions to domestic violence, which includes financial independence for women, they now provide a class for battered women to get their GED’s and also another certification that can help them get jobs.

During our lunch, I made several suggestions regarding police training resources, more utilization of graduate and undergraduate students as interns, etc. I urged Mary Claire to work on state legislation and told her the rest of the state needs her too! It was fun spending time with these smart, hard-working, inspiring women, who have taken on such a huge project – ending domestic violence in New Orleans parish.


Posted May 6, 2010 by NOLA-er in Uncategorized

May 6, 2010 working with Kelly   Leave a comment

On the way to work yesterday, I got to ride with Kelly, who is staying in this building with us and working with us. He’s in NOLA for 3 weeks and has more building skills than anyone in our group, even though usually he is a pastor/dean of religious life at Syracuse University in NY. During the ride to work, he told Eliot and me about what his work life is like, including frequent trips around the country and abroad dealing with various emergencies involving students. In the evenings, he rides his bike around the area, declining to eat with us, so it was good to get to know him a bit.

Today I got to work closely with him. After sanding and staining kitchen cabinets with Bonnie in the morning, after lunch I asked our boss, Tim, what to do next. Tim seemed to think I had some building skills (maybe it was the overalls?), and told me to go cut 2 different lengths of 2 x 4 with the job saw, a power saw set up on the front porch, then nail them to 2 much longer 2 x 4’s into a sort of rectangle. This rectangle was not even because we were going to use it in a section of the house which is out of plumb, larger 8 feet up from the floor than at floor level. Slightly intimidated by this job, I got Eliot to help me with the cutting and nailing and carrying it to where Kelly was working.

Then I helped Kelly install this contraption, which took a great deal of pounding it with the heaviest hammer, pulling it out, kicking it, moving it around, trying again from the other side, working with the level over and over to make it as plumb as possible from top to bottom, and finally nailing it into place. I said I wanted to do some of the nailing, and Kelly invited me to do so with the lower nails. I found to my surprise that if I leaned over and focused on using my back as well as my whole arm, I had a lot of power. I managed to pound in several of the very long nails beautifully. It was fun making so much noise! I want to cut and nail more tomorrow.


Posted May 6, 2010 by NOLA-er in Uncategorized

May 6, 2010 – conversations #3   Leave a comment

Our first work day, Monday, was hard and hot: many of us climbed up on a one-story roof with several soft spots. I had climbed on our roof as a child, for fun, but had never done actual roofing. Fortunately, none of our feet went through the soft spots. We took off all the tar shingles (wow, talk about hot!) with tooth-edged "shingle eaters" or smallish flat-edged shovel type tools. I realized that as I got close to the very edge, I felt more comfortable sitting down, so I started pulling the shingles up with my hands and found this was just as fast. I scooted around the roof, pulling up large swathes of old shingles and throwing them down to the tarps below, making sure not to hit the other workers who sometimes walked by. We were sure to drink a lot of water and took breaks from time to time.

After work, we were all very hungry, and descended on Whole Foods like starving vultures, eating a lot of the free snacks in the produce section and buying a lot of groceries!

When we came back to the church, there was a huge church dinner which the congregation of Little Farms UCC had cooked for us. Salad, red beans and rice, mac and cheese, greens, corn pudding, green beans with stuffing, chocolate cake, bread pudding with lemon sauce, brownies, and more. What a feast! Standing in line I got to talk with Daniel, the youngest member of the UCC choir with whom Bonnie and I sang the day before. He is 9 I think and delightful. So when it was time to sit down I looked for him, and sat with him. Nearby was A–, another member of the crew who’d been working with us on the roofing project, and who had asked for prayers for her sister that morning before we started work, as her sister was about to undergo surgery. We stopped and prayed together, and later we heard the surgery went well. At dinner, A– and I had a great conversation about many things. Most interesting to me was talking about our respective churches, with each group’s strengths and challenges. One of the struggles of her church is that it has discussed at length, and decided against, being "open and affirming," i.e., welcoming to gay and lesbian people. And even though her church is in a rural part of the Midwest and ours is in the urban East Bay, there were similarities our respective groups face. Coincidentally, she and I are both the financial secretaries of our congregations. I was happy to meet such an interesting, hard-working, deeply caring woman and could see that if my family had not left rural West Virginia in 1962, I might well have had a life very similar to hers.


Posted May 6, 2010 by NOLA-er in Uncategorized

Law Street Day 2 – Thursday, May 6, 2010   Leave a comment

Our mini-van is cozy. The three people sitting in the back (somewhat squished) are in economy; the middle two seats with their own arm rests and control over the air flow are in first class, and of course the driver (with override control of the air flow) and map reader up front are the pilots. We are amused by the street names. "Elyssian Fields" reminds Nancy of the movie "Black Orpheus," which is set during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Other names: Abundance, Hope. And then there are "Hickory", "Dickory," and "Dock."
Hanging on the wall by the front door of the house on Law Street is a
chart of "House Jobs." Each room is listed by function and by its
dimensions, along with all the jobs that need to be done. On the second
page is a list of supplies needed for the tasks. We appreciate that, as
volunteers, we can come and just work: someone else has done all the
planning and preparation. Today Eliot and Serban and Dan cleared out three rooms to make a space for painting trim indoors where it is cooler. They opened the back door too and set up a fan. There was a lovely breeze today and it was a little cooler than yesterday. Kelly worked on the closet all day. Jeanette and Sylvia continued painting trim. Nancy and Bonnie stained the kitchen cabinets with an oak stain, and Nancy went downtown to visit a friend. On the back steps in the breeze and the shade, we ate tuna sandwiches for lunch, watching the chameleons scurry along the back fence and turn green when they passed underneath the leaves. After lunch Tim and Dan took out and modified the trim around a bathroom door to account for variations in the dry wall. They replaced the trim and hung the door. It was an hour-long project, not nearly as easy as it sounds. Bonnie learned how to sponge mud onto the smooth drywall so that it looks textured like the rest of the wall and you will not be able to tell that it was patched.
We had our hearts set on pralines to take home, but when we got to the shop in the Garden District, it was closed. We continued on the the Garden District Bookshop in the Rink on the corner of Washington Avenue and Prytania Street. We came home with a great selection of cookbooks, children’s books, and a novel. Eliot made us a dinner to celebrate (one day later) Cinco de Mayo: tostados with ground beef, cheese, avocado, salsa, rice, and lettuce. Yumm. We are reading each other’s new books.

Posted May 6, 2010 by NOLA-er in Uncategorized

Law Street & Common Ground Relief – Wed May 5, 2010   Leave a comment

This morning the Mira Vista crew went to another house, at 2187 Law Street on the border between Gentilly and New Orleans East. The Ohio folks continued with the roofing and I hear they almost finished. Tomorrow they’ll do the "capping" – putting shingles on the ridges of the roof where the six sections join. Tim, our new crew boss who has been working in New Orleans for three years, quickly gave us a tour through both sections of a double shotgun house, and then he went off to supervise another project. We worked from 9 am to noon. Jeanette and Sylvia put primer on some trim boards and a first coat on other boards. They were working in the sun in the front yard and it was very hot. Serban and Dan did "mudding" on the wall board in two rooms so that it would not be so apparent where the seams were. Eliot took down dry wall and another volunteer – Kelly from Syracuse, New York – was also working on that spot to rearrange a closet within the house. Eliot, Dan, and Serban moved heavy objects out of the front room of one of the houses into the back room, so that the electrical work and the flooring could be done in that front room. Nancy worked with the electric sander and Bonnie worked by hand to sand some bran new kitchen cabinets in one of the houses. And Dan took lots of pictures, as he has done every day.
We had the afternoon off. Nancy had arranged with a friend, Cassie Pierson, a lawyer from the Bay Area now working for Common Ground Relief in New Orleans, to tour a model home that Common Ground is in the process of building. On the way there we passed a neighborhood where cement foundations stick up out of the ground like headstones, and a few light poles still stand like trees in a graveyard. We went to the Common Ground Relief (CGR) office and they welcomed us to stay, sit, and eat our lunch there in the comfortable main room and on the porch. We met Thom Pepper, a contractor who had previously done work in Florida, who showed us around the model home next door that he had designed. It was beautiful, with a porch, a spacious front room, a kitchen with cherry cabinets, large bedrooms with big windows, and even a place for an elevator. The house is eight feet off the ground, and the part underneath is both for parking and for entertaining; it stays shady and cool. Thom told us that the housing code now specifies that new houses must be built at least three feet off the ground. CGR has created ‘bio cells’ at each home site, which are places where water can be recycled into the ground after a heavy rain, rather than being channeled back to the bayou. The cells are like small dry (now) ponds that contain layers of debris covered with oyster shells and are planted with native horsetail, orchids, and other plants. We were impressed with the house and with all the work that CGR is doing in New Orleans.
While we were at Common Ground a reporter from the Christian Science Monitor came by. He asked if volunteers were needed to deal with the oil leak in the gulf. Thom said that Common Ground was taking down names of people who had particular skills, such as working with birds covered with oil, and also that it would be good if British Petroleum would pay local people to work in the cleanup, rather than encouraging volunteers to come.
On our way home we stopped by a pumping station at Lake Pontchartrain so that Eliot could see the station and Jeanette and Serban could see the lake. The lake is so big you cannot see to the far side. We took pictures of a mother and father duck and their ducklings. Home to shower and rest up and then go out to dinner at a local restaurant where we filled up on gumbo and crayfish, spinach and salad and bread pudding. Tomorrow we’ll go back to the house on Law Street as there is a lot more to be done there. Other UCC volunteers are working across the street, putting in tile in a laundry room and putting up dry wall.

Posted May 5, 2010 by NOLA-er in Uncategorized

May 5, 2010 Conversations #2   Leave a comment

Another conversation happened after Jazz Fest, on the way back to the car. I was walking with and behind a tall African American woman who was wearing a T shirt that said "Black Pelicans" on the front and "Black Baseball Leagues" on the back. I asked her if she had ever seen this team, and she said no, they were gone before she was around. She said some of them were really good. We got to talking, and it turned out that her ancestors spoke Creole. She explained that Creole was a combination of "broken" French and "broken" Spanish, and that she can speak it when she goes to visit her family in the northern part of the state, but doesn’t have anyone to speak it with in New Orleans and is forgetting it. I suggested that she could decide to re-learn it as an adult, and mentioned that a student of mine had not learned Cajun French from her parents because they were ashamed of their ethnicity, but my student’s brother is learning it at LSU (Louisiana State University) and my student is wishing she could do so too. The woman I was walking with was clearly proud of her Creole heritage, which was great. I am glad at least some of the local ethnic groups here are alive and well.


Posted May 5, 2010 by NOLA-er in Uncategorized