Tuesday, November 28, 2006


“LETTERS FROM THE OTHER SIDE interweaves video letters carried across the U.S./Mexico border by the film’s director with the personal stories of women left behind in post-NAFTA Mexico, giving voice to 4 amazing women who feel the effects of failed immigration and trade policies on a daily basis. Focusing on a side of the immigration story rarely told by the media or touched upon in our national debate, LETTERS offers a fresh perspective, painting a complex portrait of families torn apart by economics, communities dying at the hands of globalization, and governments incapable or unwilling to do anything about it”.

Friday night, November, 17th, Hands On Gulf Coast hosted a ‘Dinner and a Movie’ event featuring the documentary film LETTERS FROM THE OTHER SIDE. Partnering with the United Methodist Hispanic/Latino Ministries, HOGC invited members of the gulf coast community to have dinner and watch the film together. The director and two of the women from the movie were present for a question and answer session afterwards. There was an excellent turn out with more than 50 community members in attendance.

On a personal note, for me it was a wildly successful evening. My job since returning to HOGC in late September has been to start up the Latino Outreach. It was slow going at first, but once I was introduced to Mary Townsend and Sally Bevill of the United Methodist Hispanic/Latino Ministries the pace of my life has been in constant acceleration. I now spend my days working in a rapidly growing and shifting Latino community that is trying to find its feet and be more than just the invisible hands rebuilding the gulf coast. I have the distinct pleasure to call many of my colleagues friends and have been accepted into this community with open arms. Many days I feel as though I have discovered a buried treasure, something so amazing and beautiful all I want to do is dance and shout at the top of my lungs “Look! Come see what I have found!”

Last Friday night was a chance for me to do just that. Many of my friends and colleagues from the Latino community came to the event. They sat at dinner tables with fellow HOGC volunteers and were visible, in fact the focus of the evening. The documentary is done in Spanish with English subtitles, so for at least one night they did not have to worry about translating. The movie was very powerful for them. I watched their faces change with the emotions of the people on the screen. For many of them it was a mirror of their lives. I watched young men struggle with the images of families left behind. I could see in their eyes they were thinking of their own families, their own mothers. I saw the guilt. I felt the guilt. There I was sitting with all of these amazing people who should be home, sharing their talents and hearts with the land and people they love. But instead they are sitting in a church auxiliary building in Biloxi, Mississippi, tired and weary from endless hours of manual labor. How had it come to this?

I also watched the faces of my fellow HOGC volunteers. In many I saw compassion, disgust, amazement and affirmation. Many of us are aware of the ‘immigration problem’ on a broad scope but it is an entirely different thing to watch its effect on a few families and then have the chance to meet two of them face to face. The volunteers welcomed our guests with smiles and kind words and they contributed significantly to the question and answer portion of the evening. I appreciated their insight and honesty. I was touched by their openness and empathy. I was elated by the positive feed back that followed for the next few days. The treasure chest had been opened to a few more eyes.

I am so happy and excited to be a part of what HOGC is doing on the gulf coast. We are truly rebuilding communities from ground up. Not only are we building people’s homes but we are helping them build neighborhoods and a united community that will be stronger than it was before and able to face whatever challenge comes its way, be it mother nature or uncle sam.

I leave you with a quote from one of my friends, Sergio, “With understanding, we can conquer anything”. I encourage you to seek out true understanding of the issues we face today, to dig deep into the messy, complicated side of life. Let your heart be entangled, your mind confused and your soul touched. Live life with understanding and emerge with the ability to conquer anything.

Que le vaya bien,

Elly Lehnert HOGC Biloxi

(If you are interested in viewing the documentary please contact your local PBS affiliate or contact me at elehnert@handsongulfcoast.org)

Monday, November 27, 2006

I'm thankful for....

~Thanksgiving week at Hands On Gulf Coast
~the best Turkey Day meal ever (thanks, Robin...and don't tell my mom I said that!)
~a 500 year old tree that has seen an incomprehensible amount of history & survived (thus far and we hope long into the future) to tell the tale
~a Spanish lesson for me in the midst of an ESL course for the community
~my new Mexican running buddy
~Chris' fantabulous soup
~Lionel Richie music after a night at Just Us
~the ability to block Eddie's hand and thus save myself from a bowl of whipped cream on my head
~Thanksgiving dinner conversation about authors and literature
~air mattresses
~great music and freakshow stunts at Open Mic
~the gratitude of strangers who have become friends
~the hope, energy, and determination of all the long-termers at HOGC
~a week spent in true community

~~ Laura (HON) ~~

Friday, November 24, 2006


We didn't come together to fulfill, to complete, a definition. We came to shift matter, colour, scent. The ground is more uniform beneath the tree, more planned. Yet the ground within the concrete triangle is strewn. Creation cannot be forced--forcedness alone negates uninhibited design. Function is fluid, like paint, like clay, like sleep. They made ovens from termite hills. We made an oven from a highway median. A divider brought humans together. Once, our clay saw opposing directions; now it sees the expansion and contraction of a kind of circle. Bricks made for flatness can become round. Flatness itself can be rounded.

We are not ants. We find it amusing, not necessary, to build a red mound. But it is necessary to build. Money spent on temporary creation?? Yes! Houses are temporal. Bodies are temporal. If anything is forever-lasting, it is because of a memory passed on, or because of the action's resulting action. Something would come of not acting, but Surely this is better.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


This week two members of the fearless feral four (Ali and Myself) accompanied by Marj (who is pretty much an honorary member) traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in an attempt to give 27 puppies from the Humane Society of Southern Mississippi a second chance of getting adopted into a loving home. After the three of us got over the initial shock of the size of the vehicle we would be traveling in, we packed the puppies in kennels and started on our way. Several minutes later the puppies grew restless and began to whine and bark for our attention. This condition failed to subside for the next 12 hours. Approximately two hours into the trip we realized that our supply of gas that was supposed to last us three quarters of the way to Ft. Lauderdale was soon to be depleted. This brought us to an hour and a half stand still at a lovely Exxon in Alabama due to the fact that none of us could figure out how to pump diesel fuel into our vehicle. So we went through our rounds of dog walking and giving out water. After consulting with a trucker, a gas station attendant, and my fellow travel companions we determined that this gas station was not for us and continued on our journey with fifteen dollars of gas and lots of junk food. The next eleven hours passed slowly with few honorable mentions: Panera Bread for the first time in months, two very cute puppies named Talulah and Marj the second, conquering diesel gas, and gas station movie theaters. When we arrived at the inn of America a half an hour from our destination we received our key to our very swanky hotel room and spent the next hour walking the dogs, cleaning after the Fat Poopy One, and feeding all 27 puppies. Ten minutes into these tasks Marj whimpers, “I think I found a dead body…” After realizing she was serious, I peaked my head out of the truck to find a tired bum sleeping in a ditch in front of us. He then got irritated with our presence and decided to take his sleeping bag elsewhere. At about 1:30 Eastern Standard Time we finally crashed in our somewhat, kind of, not really comfy beds and slept until 8:30. We awoke to the same sounds we fell asleep to, whining puppies. The decision was made to start on our way and clean out the kennels as we were driving. Note for all who are reading: THIS WAS A BAD IDEA. I failed to consider the fact that it would be somewhat difficult to clean out 18 cages full of poop in a moving vehicle. Fortunately, shortly after we left the hotel we arrived at the Humane Society of Broward County, dropped off our cargo, and received a nice little tour of the facility (WHERE I GOT TO SEE AN ACTUAL SURGERY TAKING PLACE!)(As well as the most pathetic bird that I have ever seen or will probably ever see). After asking where the nearest I Hop was we were on the road again but this time with a new task ahead of us, probably the most important one of all… (Dun Dun DUN) finding food. After circling the same few blocks for an hour we gave up on the idea of I Hop and settled for Dunkin Donuts. The rest of the trip was a little less than eventful. A few highlights however were: All I want for Christmas Is a Hippopotamus, A magical sleigh ride through Southern Florida, Running out of the funds provided by the Humane Society and once again relying on the ever so faithful Exxon card, AND FINALLY GETTING THE HECK OUT OF FLORIDA!

That’s all… Peace Out…

NEW squadron leader of the Fearless Feral Four (including Marj but missing ARB) Kristen

PS-Go Out and Adopt some Puppies!!!
Hands On Gulf Coast

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Importance of Blogging

I'm in New York right now, but the call of Hurricane Camp cannot be denied. That's why I'm writing a post. Just a couple days ago, the famed Blue 6 rolled through town on their way to the next spike. It was great to see them all (or at least most of them all ... next time David) and go out to dinner (why didn't you come with us Abby? :( ). In catching up a little, Abby and Crystal said that they didn't understand the importance of blogging, but now they look for blog updates whenever they get Internet access.

In New York, I'm checkin' in with New York Cares and visiting some former Hurricane Camp friends. Veenita and Janos are in school - Columbia and Fordham, respectively. Veenita told me that she and Janos love to look at the photos. They connect them to their experience in Biloxi and help them feel as though they're still part of something that continues to grow and evolve.

In my head, I know this, but it's always nice to hear that people actually do keep up with what we're doing. It also reaffirms how important a communication tool both the text and photo blogs are in providing current snapshots of the ever evolving repetoire of projects, challenges, and joys that Hands On executes, overcomes, and celebrates.

:: Chris :: (remotely from NYC ... the beauty of the Internet ...)