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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Last Pictures from Norm

I have uploaded the last of my pictures from our morning at Second Harvest to the picture site (link to the right). We sorted and boxed up drinks and then got a tour of the facility. When they rebuilt, they added extra space to their frig and freezer and they rent the space to other organizations (as a matter of fact, one of their refrigerators is completely used by a wine distributor.)  The rental income from these coolers completely pays their mortgage expenses.

Arrival at church

We are cruising through Iowa with most of the bus sound asleep. If folks stay asleep we will arrive at church at about 7:30. We might take a short stretch break, which would put us closer to 8:00. 

See you at church. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Catching up on the bus - part 2

With yesterday afternoon free, a small group of us ventured to the Louisiana State Museum (Presbytere) to visit the exhibit "Living with hurricanes: Katrina and beyond."  After spending the week contemplating the impact of the storm nine years ago, listening to stories about community and cultural rejuvenation, and observing both progress and dormancy it was sobering to experience this exhibit.  One room was a hodgepodge of oral histories, covering everything from everyday heroes in the community, to search and rescue teams, experiences at the Superdome, and stories about futile attempts at evacuation.  Another covered the engineering of the levee system and my camera cannot do justice to the wall-sized computer graphic of the map of New Orleans that showed a timed progression of the levees breaking and subsequent flooding across the area.

I learned about the "Dutch Dialogues," a collaboration between Dutch urban planners/designers, engineers, landscape architects and hydrology experts and their Louisiana counterparts around the idea of "living with water" in a planful way.  If you are interested, visit this website:

The images I'll share remind me of both the devastation (some that is still present) and the rebirth of a great city, one that gets serious when it needs to, but also knows how to NOT take itself too seriously...

This is the side of a house, marked by FEMA after searching the interior.  It indicates the state of the "hazards" inside and if anyone (or any pet - seen here) was found alive or dead.  Several uninhabited structures throughout the city still bear these marks.

These are costumes made out of the blue tarps that covered the roofs of the city after Katrina.  Initially designed for a fundraiser, the "Blue Tarp Costume Fashion Show" held in January, 2006 - these were later donned at Mardis Gras.

Arrival Update

We are making good time on the road home. Really good. It appears we'll be back at MPUC at 7:30am, but stay tuned for updates.

If you know of any parents not reading the blog please pass this along.


What a wonderful experience my first year as a MPUC mission trip chaperone (facilitator, Lee!) has been. I am so proud of this group of youth. I wish upon our return we had the time for us to share with each family what thoughtful, engaged children they have brought into the world -- but I'm pretty sure your tired, grimy kids will want to get right home. So here are some of the traits they've exhibited that I think have made this trip so easy and enjoyable:

Abram: His own man; wry sense of humor; keen observer of those around him.
Lydia: Mature beyond her years; quiet strength -- though I suspect she's less quiet when adults new to the trip aren't around!
Kira: Joie de vivre; loves her family; self-aware and open to learning more.
Amelia: Dancer par excellence who brings joy and energy to those around her.
Paul: Such a thoughtful, kind and talented young man who is trusted by all.
Alec: Our own "Macklemore" with Mamie's faux fur coat, but a young man who brings warmth to any room he's in.
Danny: A hard-working, intense young man blessed with an irreverent sense of silly.
Dani: Holds a wealth of knowledge and the capacity to do so much good in our world.
Lisa: Who doesn't want to be around Lisa? She makes everyone feel like she's their best friend.
Cecelia: It feels like Cecelia has been here always; the group will deeply miss our exchange students.
Nick: He's wrong. He IS a terrific public speaker -- and his observations are worth hearing.
Ryan: I'm not a huge sports fan, but Ryan makes me want to be. Yet he is so much more than that.
Devin: Cares so much about his friends and they know it.
Julia: Wow. To know so much and be so open-minded at such a young age. Can't wait to see what she does with her life.
Lian: I will be reading whatever she writes as an author, because I know she will capture insights unseen by others.
Avery: Her mature, thoughtful observations come when least expected and add a great deal to any conversation. 
Maddy: Leads by example and people want to follow.
Mattie: So deeply conscious of her/our impact on the universe.
Edmund: A creative soul who can make others laugh while also laughing at himself.
Sam: That sparkle in his eye is both love and mischief -- critical additions to any strong team!
Allison: Maturity beyond her years; a solid and reliable team member.
Jimmy: The group felt complete once he arrived.
Ben: Or should I say, "Bane?" What impression can't he do? And what fun he is to be around.
Erika: Everyone looks forward to her being co-chair next year.
Hannah: Nick's "third parent," is what I hear. (And I thought she was just his sister.)
Simon: (Full disclosure -- my son) Watching him learn about the world is one of my greatest pleasures.

That's 26. Everyone accounted for. (Wait a sec! Where's Edmund?) Thank you for allowing me to be part of your world for just a week, kids. It was my distinct pleasure.  ....JulieSB

Catching up on the bus - part 1

The bus ride home is a time for reflection and I realize that there have been some moments missing from our journey.  First, a big shout out to our Cody, WY partners in the RHINO experience.  Their steady presence kept the momentum going at the St. Bernard Project.  And second, it was great to meet and work with Gerald who lived across the street from the SBP house and came to offer a hand almost daily.  A true community project.  Here are some pictures from Thursday's demo experience:

Lydia working like a fiend on the walls and ceiling in the kitchen (watch out below, Ben!)

Ben clearing out the kitchen

Mattie on clean up duty

Daniela prying up tile

Cody, Gerald and "Group Square" waiting patiently for the dumpster...

Friday, June 13, 2014

Hello y'all,
     I'm sorry I've been radio silent. I've planned on blogging every single night this week, and every night I've been too emotional to write anything. As luck would have it that made it so that I had to blog on the night of prayer partners. I've been crying for almost an hour now.  This has been an extremely emotional and meaningful trip. We came into it knowing that we would be doing much different work, expanding our horizons, and that hasn't exactly pleased some people. I think that every single person has a valid opinion, whether I agreed with them or not, and it was so inspiring to hear all of their extremely thoughtful insights. I personally have found this trip to be full of growth and challenges. I had never worked with developmentally disabled people before, and I had a wonderful and challenging experience. Though when pulling weeds in a community garden I had a hard time seeing my impact on those hurt by Katrina, I leave this trip with a new understanding of what community means and why it's so important. I think for a lot of us it was a shock to realize that swinging a hammer is not all we can do for New Orleans. This week I cleared out a house once owned by Mamie DeJean,including all of her clothes and photos, worked in the CRISP permaculture community garden, the Edible Schoolyard garden, the Magnolia Center, and the Second Harvest food bank. I've built some wonderful friendships (don't let me forget Debbie, Kathy, and Robin, my new friends at the Magnolia Center), done some extremely rewarding mission work, and I think I've learned even more about myself. Those are the reasons I go on the mission trip, and I will be driving home satisfied and extremely melancholy.  This church has given me four fabulous years of love, friendship, and new experiences and I know I will never ever forget it. I have loved co-chairing the last two mission trips, and I thank you all so much for the chance to do so. I think that this year has been my favorite mission trip, and I can tell you with the utmost certainty that I love every single person on this trip. Even Lydia. These are wonderful people who are going to do wonderful things, and I am so glad to know all of them. I can't wait to hear about their mission trip next year, and I wish so much I could go with them. This has been a year of a lot of extreme changes, and this is one of the most painful. Goodbye New Orleans, thank you for letting me see even more about you, and good bye youth group. You have been a wonderful constant in my life and I will miss this all so very much. Thanks,
Julia Schafer
P.s: Lily and Daddy: We all say hi, and we miss you both very much. Me especially. I can't wait to come home and see you all. Love you lots.

Devins attempt at blogging

I think for this attempt at blogging, I'm going to list the things that have happened to me because of stupidity this week. Im going to start out with my stupidity to agree to eat extremely spicy salsa on the first day we got to New Orleans. It was not that bad until I walked outside the shop and realized I was only paying attention to my mouth. It is in this mindset that one would be considering jumping into the Mississippi to relieve the pain. Luckily, Alec and Ryan, who had given me the idea to eat the salsa knew what was better for me and took my insalsacated self to a gelato shop. At the time, my whole mouth was numb so the gelato essentially saved my mouth and allowed me to speak properly again. On the bright side, I now know never to do that again so it was a learning experience. The other really incident that really stood out was tom managing to hit me in the jaw with a thrown soda can. At the food bank, Tom had the bright idea of throwing everything on the sorting conveyer belt. This did not work out well as Tom really can not throw anything well. As I bent down to pick up one of Tom's missed throws, his next throw caught me in the jaw. As a disclaimer at the end of this, these were the worst tings that happened to me on this trip so the rest of the trip was generally amazing. 
I got a swell (fake) fur coat this week! Julia gave it to me because she is the best. Ever. It was a great time.
-Alec Lane

Second harvest numbers

The good news is: 2 and 1/2 tons of drinks sorted for distribution. 
The bad news is: lots of sugary sodas and juices. 

A wonderful dinner last night

Last Evening, we were treated to dinner by the Ellis family from the St. Charles Presbyterian Church. And, .... they had a pool.  Wonderful food, lots of fun and great company. (Some pictures, including a group shot of us dressed up are included at the link on the right.)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

An Overheard Conversation

Today at the Magnolia Community Center, Tom, Devin and I (Amelia) overheard nurses talking about Hurricane Katrina. There was total chaos; with police and normal people breaking into homes and robbing them. I found out that work places understated the threat of Katrina so workers would stay and work. I found this crazy; with some offices even threatening the loss of a job if people fled. From being from MN, I never thought about how something so catastrophic could tear down the systems that run our lives, leaving only pure anarchy. Over all I was impressed with the peoples will to survive and help other forms of life by putting food out for homeless dogs and cats. Even when our system fails, the care and love we feel for each other never falter.
Just some thoughts,

Dance Party

Today we had a major dance party at Magnolia Community Center. It was amazing! All the people   there got really into it and they seemed to enjoy dancing a lot. We created these big circles , where we were holding  hands and dancing together.  We involved everybody and danced to different songs.
Afterwards we got to talk with people in the different working rooms. It was a great experience.

Die letzten zwei Tage im Magnolia Haus waren klasse. Vor allem das Tanzen hat viel Spass gemacht und ich konnte die Freude auf den Gesichtern der Behinderten sehen. Ein rundum perfekter Tag geht zu Ende.

Jeg hadde det utrolig kult i dag. Det var fantastisk å møte disse utrolige menneskene! Jeg lærte så mye fra dem! Det var definitivt en fabelaktig opplevelse! Jeg håper på å ta med meg dette videre i livet og forhåpentligvis jobbe med utviklingshemmede hjemme i Norge. TUSEN TAKK!!!

 - Lisa and Cecilia


So today my group was assigned to the demolition crew preparing the house for nxt week's group to fix up. At first I thought "Yay, I get to smash stuff!" but as time went on, I changed my mind, and started to think "Ugh, I have to break down this wall too?" Although I did get to know some of the people from the Wyoming group pretty well. While the work ended up being much more difficult then I had expected, was still fun. (also, I got to complete my dream of smashing stuff with a crowbar) Anyway, the "gentlemen" in the group won't stop making farting noises, so I must go.

TTFN, Ta Ta For Now
                   -Abram D.

From a distance...

Sometimes the distance
gives me clarity, while hope
centers my service

These are the lines that emerged for me after witnessing a profound, diverse, heartfelt and respectful conversation tonight. A youth-led emotional release.  A discussion about distance in space and time, what is service, how do we take our experience back to our local environment, how do we "restore hope" in the small ways and recognize growth in ourselves by shifting out of our comfort zones, how do we witness tragedy and inequity yet find the strength to get up every day and greet the morning and, maybe, one day make a stand...

Who said Wednesdays were for meltdowns?  Clearly Wednesday is for renewal and regrouping...can't wait to see what the next 2 days will bring!

Edible Schoolyard

Magnolia Community Services

CRISP (Community Research Into Sustainable Permaculture)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The satisfaction of destruction.

Lots of walls down. Lots of clean up to go. Waiting for an empty dumpster. 

First out in the morning.

A group of us (turquoise) are already on the road to the Gentilly area of New Orleans for demolition. Yesterday a group cleaned the house by hailing a dumpster full of 9 year old stuff out. Today we start taking down the interior walls. The other 3 groups of youth are just heading to breakfast. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Big First Day of Work

As has been clearly explained, today was big.

Not only did we do so much, but we felt so much. The first thing we felt was tired. Knocks on the door at 5:45 meant groans and hurries to get ready. We started the day at the St. Bernard Project headquarters where we were explained the importance of the work we are doing, and the scope of SBP's role in the Katrina recovery. We all shipped off to our respective work sites. For me it was a large garden at a charter school where we pulled weeds for four hours and restored peace to a few rows of vegetables. We ate lunch and bussed over to the Magnolia center for developmentally disabled adults. This was a very new experience for me and a huge step out of my comfort zone. I wanted to be friendly and offer my companionship, while trying very hard not to be condescending because I know how it feels to be on the other end of that. The ice was broken and a few of us worked with some of the adults using paint and stamps to make wrapping paper. There were a lot of great characters at Magnolia and I look forward to hopefully seeing them again tomorrow. At the end of the day (as has been extensively covered) we took the prayer tour. Now while you might be sick of hearing about it, i would like to give my perspective on the tour. We essentially drove around the city and stopped at a few different places that are integral in the Katrina story and the New Orleans experience. First we stopped at the Superdome, where thousands sought refuge in the aftermath of the storm. While it was explained that the dome and the team became beacons of hope after Katrina I felt completely separated from the emotions that the place evoked for the locals. Next we stopped at the place where the levee broke on the lower 9th ward. This was extraordinary, and as I remarked, it was probably the most important wall I have ever seen. This stop and the driving around in the lower 9th gave me insight on the impact that Katrina truly had and how much still had to be done. I thought I knew before we left that there was more to be done, but it was nothing like actually seeing it. Throughout the tour I had one of the longest deep conversations of my life with Paul about what we were seeing, and what impact we had on it. Our final stop, as you have heard the most about. Was at St. Anne's Episcopal church, where right out front they had a wall, with a list of all of the people that had been murdered in New Orleans since 2007 I believe. Each year encompassed four long columns of names, dates, ages, and causes. It was horrible, truly horrible. You saw: 32 shot. 58 shot. 0 shot. 2 abuse. In addition to the printed out walls there was a cardboard wall for this year, 2014. It was the first thing I saw and it literally took my breath away. It was so long, and the realization that we are not even halfway into the 6th month of the year. Four or five people died two days ago. That was emotional for me. And I agree with Lian. I can't possibly understand, but for me just knowing was enough to make me cry. Knowing that this happened, was happening. Kids losing parents, parents losing their kids. Once we got back on the bus I wrote a poem in my head:

It is Tuesday, June 10th, 2014
And on the wall at St. Anne's
There are 72 names
I wear my tears on my face
For those 72
On the wall at St. Anne's

Sending lots of love back home,

Some Thoughts

There are some instances where words can describe nothing. All the same, I'll try.
At St. Anna's Episcopal Church in New Orleans, there is a list of all the murder victims in New Orleans. Which sounds, when I put it here, almost ordinary. Right? We see that kind of thing in the newspaper, or on the news. People die. Crime exists. It's normal.
I can't really explain why that list impacted me so much. Just-- try to get a picture in your head.
There's a tall piece of what seems to be white cardboard, stretching up the wall of an oldish church. The list is handwritten in black ink: date, name, age, cause of death. The causes vary: beaten, abused, strangled, shot... but mostly shot.
To be honest, my first thought when I saw the list was, 'from what we were told, I figured there would be more names.' I thought that-- and felt bad for doing so-- and then I noticed something toward the top of the wall. In bold black letters was written 2014.
There must have been at least 60 names there, people killed in the last six months alone. I remember just standing there, staring at the names. I tried to say each one in my head, as if saying their names might accomplish anything at all. I noticed that four of them died two days ago. My brother's birthday, incidentally.
Normally when I write, there's this vague little voice at the back of my mind that is essentially responsible for the quality of my work. You could call it self-doubt. It tells me to do better, think harder, it judges the quality and the voice. Only as I write this now, I have shut that voice away. It just doesn't matter. Sitting here, I can't wrap my mind around the fact that while I was living through my last few months of high school, choosing a college and studying for AP tests, people were dying.
And I knew. I knew that there was crime, I knew about income disparity, about racism. But I thought about it only in passing. Crime didn't touch my life, so I didn't care, and thus the unsolvable problem goes unsolved.
I didn't cry, standing there in the humid evening air. Not because I didn't feel anything, but because I didn't understand. What right do I have to cry over a name when I know nothing about the life behind it? The name is not the person, after all. All I really learned about those lives were their length. On just the 2014 list, it spanned from an unborn baby to a fifty-two-year-old man.
When we got back on the bus, Julie Brown said something that very distinctly stuck in my mind. She asked us to think about the race of most of the people who had been murdered. She also asked: if that many white people were killed, wouldn't, honestly, something more have been done?
I don't really have a conclusion here. I just want you to understand how little we know about the world around us. Our lives seem so important-- lives, and comfort, and wealth. But in reality, there is work to be done on this planet. So if you have a chance to do that work, then do it. And if you don't have a chance, make one.

I don't mean to sound all negative. This trip has been great so far, and I like the work. It's just that I feel really uncomfortable with how privileged I am.

-Lian Simmer

We are here for a reason-- the chronicles of Tuesday

Today was... full. In the morning, I weeded school vegetable gardens and I experienced the burn of a fire ant bite. In the afternoon I interacted with residents at the mental disabilities center. I had a lot of fun playing an expert version of the Memory Toy Story 3 game. I and other members of my group were the recipients of many loving affectionate hugs, kisses, and marriage proposals from members of all ages. After dinner we went on a really moving "prayer tour." We took our giant tour bus through impossibly narrow streets looking at the different areas affected by the storm. Later, we went to see the "Murder Wall" in the city which listed all the victims of killings in the area since 2007. This was heartbreaking in so many ways. At the bottom of the list, there was a listing of a 23 year old woman and her unborn child who were killed only 2 days ago. New Orleans and the surrounding area has one of the highest murder rates in the country. I am sure other people will talk more in depth about the staggering facts on the wall so I will move on. I talked for a long time with Tom about why we were here and what we were actually accomplishing. Sometimes being here feels useless but it never is. We might not do much while we are here and it might not last long or make a difference but it's important and I am lucky to have the opportunity to come. We learn if nothing else. We hear peoples' stories and we tell those stories and we spread the things we learn while being here. The truth is, there is still massive work to be done to restore the city to the way it was. And we can tell people about it, we can remind them of this disaster and maybe keep the support alive for a little bit longer and a little bit longer. Seeing the damage of both the city and the community is really powerful for me because it helps me connect the dots from what I am doing and what is being done. It helps me feel like I am helping. Even small and potentially insignificantly, I am helping. And this will hopefully help me make these connections between awareness and action in other parts of my life and changes that I choose to fight for. If I can learn to see as well as make real changes, I will be able to make a difference that is perhaps not so small someday.

Goodnight and sweet dreams!

--Daniela Tiedemann

Picture Link available on the right

I have added a link to the right side of the blog to an separate photo storage site. Click on this link to see photos from:
  • A few from the bus and common room
  • First work day at "Edible School Yard" a school garden program (pictures by Daniela)
  • First work day at CRISP (Community Research into Sustainable Permaculture)

Parkway Partners: Crisp Farms

Natural gardening: no pesticides, no fertilizer, companion planting, community garden in the city, sustainable permaculture, "soil without life is just dirt," and Danny with a machete.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Day Two in NOLA

No cockroach sightings yet, however we stay on guard. Today we saw Laura Plantation, where we were exposed to the rich history of the Creole people, and the reality of the slaves on the plantation. We took a walking tour from a sassy New Orleans native, who was a descendant of a plantation owner herself. We also were lead on a tour of the places where Katrina hit hardest by the knowledgeable Norm and Nicole. When we got back, we met the rambunctious RHINO staff. We ate some red beans and rice and got to chat with the compassionate Cody, Wyoming group. Then we did some singing and sermons with awesome Ashley and Andy. We wrapped up our day with a pick-up game of pool basketball and some games. Now we look forward to beginning our work with Camp RHINO tomorrow morning.
     See ya! -Kira and Maddy
P.S. Shoutout to Team Uno.
P.P.S. Shoutout to Team Turquoise.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Day One in NOLA

We emerged from the buses, tired and disoriented, into the hot and humid weather. We've taken over 2 floors of Tulane's Willow dorms. Some people swam, while others played games. We're excited to see the French Quarter tonight, and get to work on Tuesday! Kira's scared of cockroaches. We'll keep you updated!
-Maddy and Kira

Getting there is half the journey...

...assigning rooms is the half. The co-chairs at work...

Morning in Mississippi

Slowly waking. Most of the youth slept well. Anyone taller than about 5' and older than 30 slept for 20 minutes at a time in every possible uncomfortable position. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Picnic in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa (thanks for the food, folks)

Last year was hot and buggy. This year, not so much. Nice break from the bus, though.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Last Minute Great News

Just got the word...
No Pillows or sleeping bags required! Tulane is providing everything. Now you have more room in your luggage.

Bring a towel though.

We're Heading Out...

Hey Folks:

It's almost that time. Tomorrow the bus arrives at 12:30pm at the O'Shaughnessy parking lot at Saint Kate's. Get there by 12:45pm at the latest so we can pack up for a 1:00pm departure.

Bring any forms and payments not yet handed in, everything you need for a week on the road, and food for the picnic Saturday evening. (And make sure you've completed the online form, see below)

If you have any last minute questions, contact me at 612-716-3150.

Thanks to the co-chairs and adult and youth members of the committee for putting this trip together and to the congregation for making it possible!



Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mission Trip Update

Hey Folks:

About half of us still need to fill out the St. Bernard's online form. See my previous post for information and link. This needs to be done ASAP.