Today was our first full day of service. We began the morning with a large community breakfast with the entire group of volunteers that are down here at United Saints this week. There are only three groups here, but together we amount to about fifty volunteers—there are two big groups from Wisconsin (UW and an Americorps group). After a quick breakfast and a rush to pack brown bag lunches, we congregated for an introduction and a meeting to plan the day’s service. Our group decided that we preferred to stay together for service, so we jumped at the opportunity to travel to a house that needed 12 volunteers for the day’s work. After a quick group picture with the two resident pitbulls at United Saints, we were trained in ladder safety by a gentleman named Twiggy.
Unfortunately, our site supervisor was having some difficulty getting to us, so we started the morning off with a lot of waiting around. We walked over a couple blocks and helped to move some moldy sheetrock out a local reverend’s garage, into the back of a pickup, and loaded it into a dumpster. It seemed as though United Saints was looking for some work to give us, as they hadn’t anticipated us being without a supervisor and we couldn’t travel to the work site without someone who was familiar with the territory.
As our group is mostly comprised of women (9 of us identify and present as female), we were not altogether impressed when we showed up to the garage to move the sheetrock and were met with the statement, “I need four strong guys to help me move this,” by a worker from United Saints. There was a fair amount of tongue-biting, and we proceeded to kick some sheetrock-movin’ butt as quickly and efficiently as possible. At this point, it was about 11 am and the humidity began to sink under our skin. There is something delicious about doing heavy lifting in 80-degree humidity—you can feel yourself dissolving into a mess of sweat and grime, and loving every second of it.
By lunchtime, we were assigned a new site supervisor, Rachel, who gave us the address of the house we were working on, and directed us as to which materials to load into the van. After piling in the ladders, paint buckets, and pressure washer, we hopped into our van and drove to the site. It took Rachel and the tools a little longer to get there, so we had time for a few games in the shade outside the house before we began our work. Anthony and Grace are currently the reigning champions of NOLA Ninja.
We met the homeowners of the house we were working on, Melvin and Ms. Carol. They were very sweet; Melvin offered up his kitchen and bathroom for whatever we may need throughout the day, and chatted with a few of us about where we were from, and Ms. Carol walked through and witnessed the work we were doing, while profusely thanking us for being there. I kept hearing her telling our group that we were her ‘angel people’. I can’t help but think that United Saints are the true ‘angel people’; we would never have been there today if it wasn’t for them. Their organization is truly amazing; seeking out need in the community and matching it with volunteers who want to make a difference (like us) is something of an overwhelming endeavor.
Rachel had never been to the site either, and I was impressed with her quick and easy adaptation. She instantly had us organized into groups (Taelor, Elena, Wuang, Christina, Hayley, and Adriana painting interior walls; Anthony, Yeng, and Nur on high ladders painting the exterior of the house; Grace, Mallory, and myself pressure washing the side of the house), and quickly trained each of us in our duties. She was upbeat and enthusiastic, moving from group to group, and singing along with our radios. I must be honest and say that I feel like Grace, Mallory, and I had the best job today—it was hot, and we were pressure washing. For those who have never pressure washed, it is basically taking a huge gun that sprays water and blowing it at something dirty. It is immensely satisfying to watch grime come off in strips, and it was extremely pleasant to feel the cool spray in the hot weather. The three of us were soaked and muddy by the end of the day.
At the end of the day, we packed up and headed back to United Saints. Taelor, Elena, and I washed paint brushes and buckets while everyone else unloaded the van.
When I got back to the apartment, I was sitting outside on the front steps, and a man named Omar came and sat down next to me. He is here volunteering all by himself—he’s the only volunteer here this week that is not part of a group. He’s all the way from Brooklyn, New York. He didn’t know how bad the damage from Katrina was currently until today, and he sat down to talk to me about it and process it. We had a conversation about poverty, racism, and white privilege. He told me that as a black man, he had never spoken to a white person before who acknowledged their own privilege, and he said that he had felt uncomfortable and unsafe bringing up the term ‘white privilege’ in his conversation with me until I initiated it. This was surprising to me; sometimes I forget what it is like outside of the Hamline Bubble, where acknowledging privilege is a regular conversation topic.
Dinner was NOLA-style red beans & rice, fried chicken, and salad. Food has never tasted so good. We were all quiet at dinner—face down in our plates for a good twenty minutes.
Wuang & I decided to send the group out on a ‘get-to-know-you-better’ reflection after dinner. We supplied them with questions designed to dig a little deeper into personal lives & views, and sent them out for walks for about an hour and a half. Everyone came back looking happy, and then it was free time.
Elena, Taelor, and I needed a few things from Walgreens, so we walked down St. Charles, stopped at the store, and then found a café with outdoor seating for the evening. As of right now, we are the only ones back at the apartment; the rest of the group is out exploring the French Quarter. I am feeling tired, sunburned, & very excited for tomorrow. It’s shaping up to be a great week!
Thanks for keeping up with our adventures! We miss all y’all back home!
PS: Wildlife total for the day has been two lizards, two ROUSes (Rodents of Unusual Size), and an unidentified flying bird that we think was an egret but could possibly have been a large oddly shaped seagull.