Scraping By Tuesday, Mar 15 2011 

The carnival ride that can sometimes describe the first day of work went surprisingly well, especially with such a large group. I thought that they would have some trouble finding jobs for all of us or, at least, have to divide some of the travel/van groups. Instead, they put all 35 of us on two sites and the homes were less than a block apart. I think it could prove to be a very accommodating work situation for us.

Instructions on removing lead paint, May 2011.

The houses were in a new area for me – Uptown just a couple of blocks near Carrollton. Close enough to nearly see the mansions, but in other ways miles apart. The Baratarians and Los Islenos groups worked on one house, while the Zulus and the fourth UNH, led by Blair and Ryan worked on the other. And since the Zulus were short a person due to illness; I did my best to fill in.

As usual, the long-term volunteers were a pleasure to work, although they have the ability to be light-handed, while getting students to do the work that needs to done. Between the two sites, we’ll be working with Molly, Duncan, and Christina, from Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Virginia, respectively. And Molly is a recent grad from St. Anselm’s; making this the third year in a row that one of groups has worked with a long-term volunteer from that institution.

Lunch on Hickory Street, March 2011.

We unloaded ladders, plastic sheeting, paint, brushes, and other gear. Both houses have grants to be painted. Of course, the one that I didn’t choose was further along, meaning that it required minimal scraping, so the groups there spent most of the day applying primer. Ours was a double shotgun, in need of a thorough scraping before it could be primed and painted. And parts of it had been painted in led paint, which meant we had to lay plastic sheeting, spray the siding to control lead dust, and wear protective glasses, gauze masks, and latex gloves. Oh, and did I tell you that it was a sunny and humid day.

But the students were troopers. Even though local painters are not fearful of undue competition, they kept at it from shortly after nine until 4:00pm. And it was nice that the proximity enabled some visiting back and forth and the opportunity for the class and leaders to eat together. All in all, it was a tiring, but rewarding first day on the job. I suspect we’ll enjoy this situation for several days, but with so many people on the job it’s hard for me to calculate how long it will take us.

Hickory Street, March 2011.

We returned to St. Raymond’s for one of Miss Kathey’s signature meals; and she didn’t disappoint.  After a long day in the sun, we were able to enjoy homemade Salisbury steak and gravy, herbed mash potatoes, and green beans. Before we went to bed last night, I heard several students wondering aloud what would be for dinner tonight. On top of that, Bethany, the volunteer coordinator gave out group four tickets to the Hornets’ game, so that after a very scientific and equitable selection process four of our group got to attend an NBA game.

Like most cities, New Orleans can be a city of contrasts; however New Orleans embraces its textures with a considerable amount of unselfconsciousness. And this extends to the landscape and environment. The proximity of urban to the wild is taken for granted here. To highlight this, the rest of the students fought through rush hour – I-10, the Mississippi River Bridge, and increasingly busy Jefferson Parish interchanges, to go back in time and enter the Louisiana wilderness. Only ten miles from Madonna Manor is the Barataria Preserve at Jean Lafitte National Park. The bayous and prairies where Lafitte’s pirates once stashed their contraband and illegal slaves, now houses alligators and various other swamp life; and it is only 15 miles from the City. Most students got to see their first alligator and a pretty nice sunset, to boot.

Somewhat surprisingly, even after a hard day of work, most students decided against going back into New Orleans. Most were satisfied to chill out, swap stories, and rest for another work day.



First Day: Monday, March 15th Tuesday, Mar 16 2010 

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.