Blogging New Orleans, Part 2 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Today our three groups headed out to our respective job sites, all of us involved in various stages of dry walling.  Some of us learned more than we ever wished to know about mudding, a mucky process under the best of conditions. Others were asked to hang heavy sheet rock, a challenging task for novices, no matter how willing. The banter and good humor helped compensate for our regret at our lack of expertise and our frustrations at failures.

Our group’s site is about twenty-seven miles away from the church where we are staying, and in our van we learned that with rush-hour traffic, we really can’t make it in forty-five minutes. En route, Kelley Quinn, our van driver, joked about the passengers’ constantly nagging her to change the temperature in the van: “This is my good deed for the day,” she said, as she fiddled with the dial. “And I only do one good deed, so don’t ask again!”

Of course, any one who knows Kelley knows she does much more than one good deed daily. Some people just live their lives doing good. A mission trip such as this provides abundant witness to good deeds. At our jobsite, for example, a young mother who lives in a neighboring parish shows up to help every day. Her company volunteered with the project one day a couple of weeks ago, and Alita has come to work every day since then.  Today she showed up with fruit, chips, cookies, and iced water for our crew. She does this, she explained, “Because I feel so sorry for these people who need to be back in their homes.”

The founders of the St. Bernard Project, Liz McCartney and Zach Rosenburg, are also an inspiration. She, a special education teacher in Washington, and he, a lawyer, saw the disaster of Katrina and came to New Orleans to pitch in. Pitch in they did. They decided to liquidate their life in D.C. and moved here to found the project.

 Liz has recently won a CNN “Heroes” award in the amount of $25,000, which she immediately donated to the project to continue the good work here. Now she is a candidate for their $100,000 award, which is determined by votes on the CNN website.  Readers of this blog can do their good deed for the day by going to the site to vote for Liz. (No limit in number of votes.) One woman at Monday morning’s orientation has already voted 1200 times!  

Our AmeriCorps site managers are also committed to good deeds. They are young, talented, and intelligent. Any of them could easily be making money in other jobs. They all have a story, like Zach, a former ski racer training for the Olympics, who broke his back. His dreams crushed, he drifted for a while, then decided to come to New Orleans for a visit to help. Zach was so touched by what he saw here that he is now working as a site manager, transforming his life, for a time anyway, into an extended good deed. 

It’s only Tuesday, and already we’ve seen so many good deeds. We’re gratified by the opportunity to do a little good ourselves, but mostly we’re moved by the good we see in others.

But our mission is not without surprise. We have discovered that in our own Country Club Christian Church group-not only can we do deeds, but many of us can do acts!  Not acts of compassion, either. Susan Garner, for example, decided to share with us on Monday her highly authentic imitation of a seal honking! Susan thought her skill might come in handy as an alarm clock for the sleep-in members of our group. No one could sleep through that foghorn! You would have sworn you were at the seashore, or at least, the zoo! 

Not to be outdone, this evening before dinner, we learned that Dawn can do a perfect rendition of an elephant, complete with sounds AND motions!  Soon the whole menagerie seemed to come alive.  Peggy does a great rooster.  Jackie can sound a lot like a hen. Laura’s guttural grunt mimics the sound of a pig, and Scott W. can chatter like a squirrel. After a hard day’s work, a little laughter before dinner helped us relax.

Dinner, by the way, was without drama tonight, but not disappointingly so. We finally (without getting lost) made it to “The Galley” for a wonderful seafood repast.  The animal theme continued into the evening, as Scott W. entertained the table with tales of his (former) hapless pet pig Jobie, and Scott F. recounted merry images of Lauren’s new kitten Linus’ various Halloween costumes. After all the animal companionship, Jody found that she could not face eating her whole shrimp until Scott gallantly decapitated them for her.

We’re hoping the sustenance and fellowship from dinner will energize us for our day’s work tomorrow, and that we’ll witness more good deeds, and maybe even some more (animal or human) unexpected hilarity!