Monday, March 22, 2010

Working with St Bernard Project

Today we began our work with the St. Bernard Project. The 21 (18 kids, 3 teachers) of us split into 2 groups: one had Mr. Neudel and 7 kids who sanded and spackled the interior of the home (Site A) while the other group, featuring Brian Infante and Ziva Reimer with 11 members of the Gann Workforce, went to a home to clear debris left from the flood (Site B).

Site A

Our site supervisor, Julia, was a woman who is on her second tour with St Bernard Project, this time for nearly 10 months. Julia gave very detailed demonstrations for us to learn the skills necessary to fulfill the appropriate tasks. As she taught us what to do, she expressed her need for perfection in everything we do. It was truly shocking how deeply this woman wanted perfection even though she will be disconnected from the end result. She really wanted us to build this home as if it were our own. After all, why should the hurricane Katrina victims get anything less?
Right next to the home we worked in was a concrete slab that was once the foundation of a home standing before the effects of Hurricane Katrina. During our lunch break, the entire group sat on this slab to eat our food. We talked, we laughed, and we ate on the only remains of the home. There was something odd about us having such a great time on foundation that a family lived in just 5 years ago.
In the middle of our working on site, a representative of the homeowners stopped by. In the 10 minutes that he was on site, we learned his story and how he managed to survive the flooding. But what really meant a lot to me was his gratitude. He continuously thanked us from the minute he walked through the door. His expression of thanks was so powerful. It really showed that the work that we are doing is really needed and any work that is done is greatly appreciated.

Ben K. and the Flooring Team

Site B

The rest of the Gann volunteers travelled across the Industrial Canal to the Upper Ninth Ward to work on the demolition of what was once a convent and a community center, behind (and run by) the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and the St. Mary of the Angels Church. This was the first day that anyone worked on the building, and the group arrived to what seemed like the impossible task of clearing the entire building of all debris, trash, old toys, and other destroyed objects that at one time enriched the lives of the youth of Orleans Parish. In conjunction with a group from Middlebury College of Vermont, the site supervisors, and a community member named Agila, the Gann students cleared the entire building of the vast majority of trash and other obstructions in close to two hours. The students were instructed to set aside all copper and aluminum waste so that Agila could sell it to pay for the dumpster.
After clearing the trash from the first floor, some students got to work on the demolition part of the job. While Brian I. and some students got some exercise carrying computers and whatnot downstairs to the dumpster, Jon S. quickly discovered his affinity for smashing doorframes and other structural framework with an ax (until he broke that and switched to a sledge hammer). Aaron G. spent much time on a ladder taking out electrical wiring and metal framing from above. Hilary, Sivan, and Abby spent time talking to Father Joe, the man who runs the church and initiated contact with the St. Bernard Project. Father Joe took good care of the volunteers during the day, bringing candy and energy bars for the workers right when they needed energy the most.
After lunch, Zach, Yael, and Miriam began the task of removing the tile from the first floor. The threesome removed nearly half of the first room’s tile in record time, leaving the rest of the job for day 2.
The crew wrapped up the day with a short reflection with the site supervisors and acknowledging those who had done exceedingly good work during the day, which was nearly the entire Gann group. The kids in the demolition group greatly enjoyed their first day of work and eagerly anticipate a second day of demolishing the former convent.

Jon S. and the Demolition crew.

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