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