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Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Final Gathering

Last night we had a really fun time at the Ventos. The Ventos made tons of excellent southern food and many good desserts! Everyone had a great time talking about our week in New Orleans and sharing our final "roses and thorns." A special thank you to the Ventos for hosting and cooking all of the great food!

Monday, June 25, 2007

What was Lost was Found

Well, the 2007 Mission Trip finally concluded on Sunday evening when Kristen's bag was delivered to her house. It had been held up becasue the TSA lost it in New Orleans. It would have helped to have had Lee put a name tag on it when he checked it. It had one, but not anyone who went on the trip.

Felt good to get that last little bit done.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Icy Hot

Just guess what happened.......


Friday, June 22, 2007

bullets 2

"This food is bomb"

"How about...... This food is bullets!!!!!!!" - Simon
This mission trip has really been a wonderful experience. Our goals every year always seem to be as follows: bond as a group, work hard, see progress, and connect with the people we are helping. To me, and I am sure everyone else would agrees, this week we have without a doubt met these goals and gone far beyond our expectations.


Daydreaming of Mosquitos

The past couple of days we have encountered a new challenge. It didn't have to do with demolition or building, but with the well known fact of life in the South.. the cockroaches.
Being the "smart" group we are we failed to read the notices posted in the room we are staying in. When finally read on Wednesday night we were informed:
"Food is to be eaten only in the dining room as cockroaches are a major problem here and are known to breed rapidly where there is food."
Needless to say, we have now cleaned out all of the cookies, pop, fruit, chips, candy etc. that littered the room for the first couple of days. Our efforts to tidy the room were not 100% effective as we have now seen cockroaches up to 3 feet long in the girl's room. When a piercing scream is heard, it is probable that the cause was one of these skittering pests. The problem can be solved with a hard stomp of the foot.

Note to parents: It is advised that all youth empty their suitcase in the basement or outside to check for cockroaches and/or eggs.


Today I went to Winn-Dixie with other church people. I had Previously met and made friends with some of the workers there. As I was talking to them I asked them to tell me some of the "Louisiana slang". After they did, I told them Minnesota slang.


Dry Wall At Last

Finally, our 3rd house belongs to Rudolph and Carol. We got in, worked as small groups (all 30 of us) and got some sheet rocking done. Quite a bit. I (Norm) was really impressed with the amount of work we accomplished. The Presbyterian Relief contractor stated "He wished all volunteer groups were like ours. Hard working, willing to do whatever was asked and we got a lot done." A real thanks to you and your youth. Before and After pictures from one day of work.

OH Yeah! We're done!!

I write this as I wait for people to finish their various tasks and showers in preperation for our picnic tonight. After a hard day of working doing drywall at a third house, we are all very tired, usually we play cards or frisbee but tonight I'm content just to sit and be lazy. Because it's still
summer, even in Nawllins (New Orleans).
Matt Dickinson

Ps. I can't wait to come home to laugh at the "heat" in Minnesota.

Phrase Of The Day 6/21

"Does anybody else feel fiberglass in their sheets?" -Simon

"Does anybody feel fiberglass in their cheeks?" -Anonymous Dickinson

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The House on Spain Street

Well we're done. Done that is with the Spain Street house. We've done all we can do at Al and Bernice's home. The plumbers, electricians, and heating & cooling guys will come soon then more volunteers will come and finish the job.
We've torn the house done to the studs and covered the front of the house with sheathing over the past four days. We've sustained injuries but have also gained a lot.
Throughout these past days at the Spain Street house we have bonded- however cliche that may sound. We have gained muscle and learned lots about construction. We have gained perspective. Throughout the week Al and Bernice have pushed us- Al continually told us that we couldn't give up no matter how discouraged we may be. Bernice made that wonderful ice tea and prayed for us.
Throughout this week we have pulled nails out of the floors, ceilings & walls, we have pulled pink shingles off the exterior of the house, we have pulled up floor boards using two by four boards & crowbars, we have smashed up drywall, and lastly we have put up sheathing on the exterior.
We have sat on nails, fallen gracefully down stairs, screamed at the sight of cockroaches, backed into fans, fallen through floors, and sustained much more.
Over the course of four days we have experienced so much in the house on Spain Street. Now it is over and we will go back to our normal lives but the house on Spain Street will forever be with us. Al and Bernice will eventually live in the house that they lived in before the storm but until then they will live in that small FEMA trailer inspiring us through their endless optimism.


Being good guests

In our preoccupation with the families living in FEMA trailers, we forgot about the stresses of our hosts here at Parkway. These folks have been handling one work group after another for two years. We are quite a handful--loud, boisterous, messy, practically inviting cockroaches into our bedrooms with all our cookie crumbs, chips, etc. And we were unaware that the volunteer coordinator (Allie) we initially worked with to set this up had to leave a couple of weeks ago when the grant paying her salary ran out. Now we have a very busy church member picking up the job for free. And the woman who cleans all 24,000 square feet of church property had already retired when the storm hit. They brought her back "just to help out for awhile" and she's been working full-time ever since. The poor woman is passing kidney stones and trying to keep up with our messes. The other night our kids were dancing in the rain--right outside the window where Parkway Session was meeting! Anyway, we got our act together and assigned a work crew to polish up the church this morning. The members were/are quite appreciative now. Tonight they are grilling dinner for us--and there are some lovely cakes in the kitchen!


Layin' in supplies

Late in the day today the Youth split and half went to haul in materials for tomorrow's drywalling task. Lee and Cathy led the team to the eastern edge of New Orleans, near Lake Ponchatrain. It was a newer sub-division, and had more life than the New Orleans East area near Grant Street. Many of the houses had FEMA trailers our front or back and had some level of work accomplished inside. Rudolph and Carol just bought on the block, having learned in 2006 that their place can never be rebuilt. Just unloading the sheetrock (12-foot sheets) took 14 youth more than an hour and left them tuckered. There were 35 double-packed big sheets, smaller sheets, plus 5-gallon pails for drywall "mud", insulation, screws and nails, and tools. Tomorrow we plan to gather all of the youth and "hit it hard," and get that place insulated and the sheetrock installed.

-- Lee

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New Pictures

A few new pictures. I worked at the Spain St. house today and got the group shot there with the owners. We pulled off his front outside wall and will hopefully complete rebuilding it tomorrow. The half day went quickly and we spent more time cleaning and packing than working (or so it seemed.)

Off the clock

The youth pushed out early today to hit the work. The Spain crew removed all of the old siding and did other work. The New Orleans East crew finished with the ceiling debris, old bathroom ligting, and finally all of the heating and A/C duct work. Walter stuck a crow bar through a window, but no was was hurt.

The youth push hard, and now after lunch we are going into a town -- the Aquarium and French quarter, a boat ride, or a walking tour through the Garden District. Tomorrow, back at it early.

Keeping on keeping on

Al's wife has been making us sweet tea every day. She's obviously proud that she has something to contribute. She went to church last night to pray for us. I know it's hard to watch other people work and not be able to contribute. Being on the receiving end is a burden. They try to do what they can and we appreciate them as much as they appreciate us. Without volunteers, it would be YEARS for these folks to finish this work. They all wonder why the government did nothing for them. Where's the money? Why have they been forgotten? We see a house with a Catholic Relief sign. We wear Presbyterian Disaster Relief shirts. But there is a conspicuous absence of police, national guard, contractors. Who gets picked for an Extreme Home Makeover? People sign up, rarely knowing what they are signing up for and when/if something will happen. there are interviews--perhaps only the most deserving of the deserving are selected. Perhaps only those who are "churched"? Nobody seems to know when their day will come. This house is being fixed--what about the one next door? Such patience. To wait a year, two years, maybe longer.... Would we be able to handle the ambiguity? Hard to be grateful when you've been forgotten for so long, but they manage. Good folks!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Phrase of the Day

Tom's Thorn (or was it his Rose?)

Dust induced black snot.

From one who was there

Last night we heard the story of a neonatal intensive care nurse who was caught at Memorial Hospital when the storm hit. Forty of gthe sixty staff stayed, making sure each infant was helicoptered to another hospital. The incubators didn't fit into the helicopter so some babies rode inside a staff's shirt; some needed to be "bagged" to breathe--ie the ventilators couldn't ride with the baby, so staff used an inflatable device and pumped air into the babies for the full hour it took to be medivac-ed out. Not one baby died.

Staff stayed for days, keeping track of the injured and wounded, plus keeping staff pets in kennels along one hallway. It was days before they could leave and our speaker's family ended up in the dome, horrified by the number of people and the conditions their. Jeanelle believes they were meant to be there, as they happened to find two women in false labor and were able to help the women stop labor right away.

She also showed us pictures of the flood from the hospital windows, with submerged cars, broken hospital windows, people trying to float into the hospital because it was perceived as a safe place.

Jeanelle gave us a great over view, answered our questions and only cried a little....


"Your 5 minutes were up 5 minutes ago..."

After a day filled with sweat, dirt, grit & grime, fiberglass and more sweat one is looking forward to a nice, calm, relaxing shower. One staying at Parkway Presbyterian Church will not receive this.

There are no showers at the church we are staying at, you have to walk a block and a half to St. Matthew's Methodist Church to the "shower shack". Boys shower on the even hours, girls shower on the odd hours. The "suggested" shower time is 5 minutes, which many do not follow.

Anyways, the 8 of us in Lee's group crammed in the minivan at 2:00 pm. As we sat in traffic we watched the minutes tick by. The boys in the group (Lee, Sam and Simon) strategized about how to get a shower before 3:00. In the end, we pulled up to the church and they peeled their wet bodies from the van's seats. Sam bolted from the backseat, not letting the middle row get in his way. He flipped the middle seat down so he could escape, not blinking an eye as the seat folded with Anna in it. She fell to the floor in pain, but Sam was already on his way to the showers. Marit, Natasha, Sarah K., and Kendall watched in disbelief as Lee, Simon and Sam bolted down the street without a second thought of Anna still lying motionless in between the seats.

After seeing the chaos and rushing involved with trying to be first to the showers, Marit, Anna and Natasha came up with the master plan. Wait until everyone is finished and be the last people to shower, therefore having no time limit or people nagging for you to hurry up. The three exhausted, dirty young women waited in line for 30 minutes to be the last ones. Finally, we got into the showers. With no one else in line behind us, we rejoiced the fact that we could have long showers. After 30 seconds had elapsed, we hear a shrill, piercing voice over the sound of the roaring waterfall of the showers:

"Just to let ya know... there are three other people out here waiting to take showers. So hurry up!!"

Our moment of peace was over, and the mad dash to finish quickly was on.

Marit, Anna and Natasha

To Clara:
I disagree. Sharing is the key to success. Time with Anna is limited.

Another day in the books, another day of accomplishment

Another day in the books, another day of accomplishment.

We are working in two groups, which we call the Spain House (as it is on Spain Street) and the East House, in New Orleans East. Two groups with Norm and Lee head to New Orleans East and the other three teams stay at Spain with Steve in charge.

At the East house the thing to know is what you see when you drive there. New Orleans East was built post-WWII when the swamps were drained, and it stretches for miles along the lake with sub-division after sub-division of new housing. The houses are solid, middle class. And mostly empty. Maybe one in ten is occupied. On Read Avenue we see Chase Bank, Macy’s, Walgreens, all closed. Wal-Mart, closed. Payless Shoes, closed. Abrahamson High School, closed. Grand Theatres multi-plex, closed.

In the house on Grant Street had we are pulling down the ceiling (on top of each other), ripping down the dry wall, pulling nails, and cleaning out the bathroom tile. We also have to remove the wiring. The light switch boxes are in decent shape, but the power outlet boxes are always rusty. So we can tell how high the water rose. The familiar “bath-tub ring” of high water marks on the front door suggest about four feet of water, for a long, long time.

The big difference on Grant from the Spain house is there is no power for a fan, and it is dark, very warm, very humid, with no air moving. Feels like the sauna at Youth Retreat. Five or six youth – Sam, Anna, Sarah K, Kendall, Natasha, Marit – spent much of the afternoon in a small airless room pulling down the ruined dry wall and tile. Tough duty for anybody, no matter how tough. Mollie, Rosie, Carolyn, Graham, Simon, Kristin pulled down the ceiling. Simon and Graham helped. Walter trucked refuse to the street in a wheel barrow until he nearly dropped.

The copper wiring we placed on the refuse pile was there maybe 25 minutes before the first scavenger pulled up. Another scavenger, a family with an old pickup and trailer, got most of the second batch of wiring and picked through the rest of the refuse we had just dumped on the curb. Life is hard in New Orleans East.

On our way back to Parkway and the blessed four minutes we have allocated for the showers, we roll past the vacant stores, the vacant houses, the closed High School. And no one speaks.


Monday, June 18, 2007

If you are interested in seeing the houses we are working on, they are visible at the following links:

The first house (in the Gentilly area of New Orleans):
It's on the Northwest corner of Spain and Treasure, although it looks OK from the air, the water went to the ceiling and then settled to 6' and that's how high it was for 52 days. So 6' feet of their house was under water for more than 7 weeks.,+LA&sll=30.927409,-91.114855&sspn=0.040127,0.068836&ie=UTF8&ll=29.990126,-90.055125&spn=0.001266,0.002151&t=h&z=19&om=1

The second house (in the East New Orleans area):
It's just west (left) of the empty lot on the south side of the street (not the one with the destroyed roof.),+New+Orleans&sll=37.0625,-95.677071&sspn=37.871902,70.488281&ie=UTF8&ll=30.019384,-89.970034&spn=0.001266,0.002151&t=h&z=19&om=1

Pictures coming soon.
We spent the day doing a little demolition. The house had already been stripped of drywall--down to the studs. After all, dry wall doesn't work so well once it's been wet wall, and this house was six feet under water for 53 days.... But don't worry, it was dried out and had been sprayed for mold/mildew long ago. Anyway, we pulled nails, stripped out all old electric wire (no electricity in the house yet, just a box on the street that allowed us to run one big fan), and pried out three rooms of hardwood flooring. You should have seen the pile of rubble we created! It was hot as Hades until we got a downpour--lightning, thunder, everything. We felt a little dread just thinking about how it must have been for the families when the storm started. How did they feel when the rain started falling and gthey knew what was to follow?

The homeowners live in a small FEMA trailer jammed into the yard next to the house. Alco, the husband, 63, watched us work, giving us tips on the best way to use a broom, a pry bar, etc. He showed me a few of the sentimental things they had been able to salvage. He focused on some wooden toys, stroking them lovingly.

"My brother made these. He's handicapped--just has the use of his arms. He's in a nursing home in Tennessee right now. They like him and they take such good care of him."

"What happened to him in the storm?"

"Well, you know, he was in a nursing home here and they didn't get to them to evacuate gthem for five days. By the time they got there, the water was up to here on him." Alco points to his chin. "They put a toe tag on him," he said angrily. They thought he was dead. He should have been dead."

"I s'pose he wouldn't like a storm like this one right now."

"Oh, no, that's the truth. Whenever there's a storm, they have to send someone -- I think he's a psychologist? -- to sit with him and talk to him and comfort him, he gets so scared. So he's the one who had it bad with the storm. Not me. He's the one."

Looking at Alco's house, with not a single interior wall left, with all the family photographs gone, with the wiring ripped out, and the tiny trailer he and his wife live in, I still have to think that Alco can legitimately claim that he had it bad. But he is filled with plans. He points to where he wants a bigger kitchen and bathroom, even a jacuzzi. It will be better than ever. But there is so much to do. Thousands and thousands of volunteer hours will be needed to take his shell of a house and make it a home again.

"This storm brought a lot of good for some people. Before, New Orleans was dying, it couldn't sustain. Now...?" He shrugs. "It brought a lot of good for some people, yes, I think so."


Sunday, June 17, 2007

First Day

Today was a good day. We can start with that. There were many heartfelt times, and a few sad things. For one, my group went tried to go to Central Congregational UCC. On our way there, we went through a neighborhood that included the church, that was a very poor area. Most of the houses there still had hurricane damage, and many of them still had the marks made by the searchers, a couple weeks after the storm. All of them had dates, many of which were 9-12 or 9-13. They also listed the body count in each building searched; thankfully, the number was zero for all of the ones I saw. But for everyone that was zero, there were some out there that aren't, and that will be a struggle once we find those. I'm excited for the work we will be able to do, but I am totally disgusted at the lack of governmental help. Its been almost two years now, and still neighborhoods all over the place are uninhabitable, because of the lack of governmental care.

The bright side of the church not being open, was that we were able to go downtown to the St. Louis Cathedral. It was an interesting service, and a whole lot different. From there we went to lunch at a classic New Orleans style restaurant. The food was delicious, and quick and great atmosphere to the place. We came back to the home base here, and chillaxed for a good while, during the time we were waiting for the rest of the groups to return. By the time everyone got back, we were ready again to head out. We all walked around the French Quarter for a while, and to be honest I was not that impressed. I was expecting a lot more, but I bet that the area has not been the same ever since Katrina, even though the area never was underwater. It was a good time, but not the total experience and atmosphere I was expecting. The highlight was when this guy came up to us as we were waiting to leave, and talked to us for a while, and sang to us. What a character.

From there everything fell together. I was on dinner committee for the night, and we made pancakes. They were awesome, especially with my secret ingredient(hehehe not telling!!!). Lee and I have a new understanding, after arguing for a few minutes, and coming to the conclusion that there was no reason to argue, cause we both wanted the same thing. It was good for a laugh. I am pumped to put in a good days work tomorrow, (and its my birthday!!), and looking forward to being able to see how much we can do in a week on the job.

That's my two cents for the evening (maybe three or four), hope everyone is having a good time back home.

Signing off from New Orleans(actually Metairie),
Sam Fischer(that dude with the best mix)

sunday afternoon

hey its Elin and Natasha. after an afternoon excursion to the French Quarter, which included bargaining and beignets, we had some fun washing our hairs in the bathroom sink. the showers are a block away and to be shared with 60+ people (not including our 30). although some girls just made the trip over there, Natasha and Elin are still holding out. can we make it all week? our travel companions should hope not.


A large group of us decided to worship at the Saint Louis Cathedreal. The Cathedreal is the oldest church in America that is still used as a worship space. The service was excellent despite our ignorrance of the Catholic ways. After the service the same group ate at Alpine, the food was very interesting and good. Some people were even brave enough to branch out of their normal chesse-burger selection and try new things. Anna even tried a gator-sausage po-boy!!! Now we are back home and planning how to spend the rest of the afternoon. Tomorrow the labor begins.
Good Morning:

Today is a sunny morning in Metairie, and we had a great evening last night. We are preparing to visit a few churches in the area while Parkway Presbyterian is preparing for their service. The accomodations are excellent, nice rooms, nice air mattresses (Lee calls them budget Select Comforts) a wonderful kitchen, dining area, ...

Here's a thought - this morning when cleaning after Breakfast, we asked about Recycling. The
response was "Not since Katrina" - we may hear that a lot.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Just about to leave, and I am so pumped!!!!!!
and of course, my CD is the best

It's Early

The morning started off not so well.
After staying up late (1:30) to finish our mixes, we accidentally woke up three hours earlier than needed. The song that woke us up was brick house. I guess the song foreshadows into the week ahead. . . Hope your morning wasn't as hectic as ours. See you at the airport!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Welcome to the Mac-Ply Youth Mission Blog

Welcome - This year, 2007, we're going to try and keep a blog of our activities while in New Orleans. Please feel free to share this site with your family and friends.