We all got up bright and early so that we could get across the river for orientation. I got even earlier than necessary and made it through the tolls with no delay. I made it to St. Raymond’s in Gentilly before daylight and spent the time using their wireless connection. The three student vans made it on time as well.

We joined groups from Fordham, Iona, Arizona State, and AmeriCorps. They provided us with an introduction to Operation Helping Hands, collected requisite forms, and divided us into working groups. For the most part, groups were able to remain intact, but I and two students joined Jake and Mandie’s groups for a large painting job on a house in the historic Treme neighborhood. Trevor and Sasa’s group worked on a new, energy efficient house in Gentilly and Petter and Carol’s group was sent to work on a house in Marigny/Bywater.

We had the pleasure of working with Julia, our crew chief who is from Iowa. She divided us into painting tasks dependent on skill level and willingness to work in high places. We had teams scraping, priming, caulking, and applying paint. It was a great combination of hard work and fun. The homeowner is an elderly woman who doesn’t miss a trick; she is heavily involved in decision regarding trim colors and just about everything else, but she is extremely appreciative and a joy to be around. We broke briefly for lunch and got right back to work, but by 3:30pm folks started running out of gas so we began cleaning up for the day. We went back to St. Ray’s the traditional Monday meal: red beans, rice, and sausage.

Because it was sunny and warm, the entire group went to the Barataria Preserve, once the haunt of Jean Lafitte, now part of the National Park system. It’s about ten miles from where we are staying in Jefferson Parish. We saw alligators, white egrets, and a large owl. We then went into the City for a variety of activities ranging from coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde to listening to music on Frenchmen Street. I spent about an hour watching the filming of a scene from the upcoming HBO series “Treme.” The 20 second scene was shot at the corner of Chartres and Barracks and involved Steven Zahn putting a young woman in a cab. If attention to detail is a mark of success, then the show should do extremely well!

Most were back at a reasonable time; however, several of us discovered that someone had entered our rooms and taken valuables ranging from a laptop and iPods to a pair of compact binoculars. The students were understandably upset. We warned the other residents to be sure to stow valuables and filed a report with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s office. We would contact the buildiong superintendent and Operation Helping Hands in the morning. Eventually folks settled down in anticipation of another day of hard work. Although, what I had once anticipated to be a reasonable bedtime went well into the early morning.