Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mr T. Goes to Maine

For those of you that have come to know and love Mr. Thornton, I'm hoping you'll be happy to read this posting.

Pat Thornton has spent the past couple of days with me inbetween Mississippi and Maine, telling me repeatedly that this week has been the greatest week of his life. Pat spent the weekend sharing his incredible story with the folks from Food Network for a show Dinner: Impossible. For those of you that have already heard his story, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't know, you better ask somebody.

Then on Tuesday, I was given the honor of taking Pat with me to Kennebunkport, ME, for an event with former President George H.W. Bush, that is hoping to gain the support of a group of corporations, foundations, and philanthropists for our newly merged organization, Points of Light & Hands On Network. Pat was given the simple task of sharing his story with a few big shots, and laying on his incomparable southern charm in this beautiful area of the country.

The first day for Pat was a little overwhelming. This was the first time the guy had been on a plane since returning from Vietnam, so it was a little different for him, but he was definitely excited. Seeing him grinning from ear to ear while leaning over his cabin window is an absolute joy. When we arrived in New Hampshire it quickly became apparent Pat was a little out of his element. While stopping at an ATM machine for the ridiculous number of toll roads in New Hampshire, Pat thought it was ok to light up one of his cigars inside a gas station and was quickly reprimanded. "You can't do that anywhere in this state!" said the grumpy clerk. I felt like telling her to piss off, but chose to concentrate on ensuring Pat had a good time. Naturally, he was a little upset, but after I put on a Ray Charles CD in the car, he quickly perked up again and began to feel at home. Listening to him singing along, telling me stories of the days he used to be in the band the Rockin' Rebels, and how as a young boy an old, blind black guy with no legs taught him how to play a mean guitar, it makes you realize how important the simple things are. "Music can be therapuetic," says Pat. I never really understood that until now.

Pat spent Wednesday morning exploring, resting, enjoying Maine, and thinking a lot about Sandy and how happy she would be to see all of this. Later in the day, Pat shared his story with President Bush at their home at Walker's Point, also known as "The Compound" to the locals. He told me that the whole time he was thinking to himself "what you think you're doing here boy?", but that those feelings quickly wore off after President Bush spoke to him and "made me feel right at home." He got to take some pictures with George and Babs and explore the home that has been in the Bush family for generations.
At dinner later that evening, Mr. T shared his story in detail with everybody in attendance. He basically everyone fall in love with him, and understandably there was not a dry eye in the room. He described his struggles through Hurricane Camille, and later with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. He talked about how he and Sandy tried to do all they could themselves, but what they really needed was a little help to get them over the hump. Enter Hands On volunteers like Luc Lamarche and Brian "Deubs", who invested countless hours to get them back into their home. He talked about the joy that still resonated through that home today because of the volunteers who had worked on his home. He spoke of the happiness of his wife Sandy, when she finally got to see what her restored home looked like. "Hands On volunteers made her dreams come true, and how many people get to see their dreams come true in life?" he said.

Later that evening, Pat and I took a moment to reflect on the day's events over a bottle of Heinekken and he told me how proud he thought Sandy would be. "I talked to her earlier - she told me to take a bath before going to meet the President!" he joked. "But I know she would be proud of me, and I know she is here with us now," he said. It was a happy time for Pat. He helped make another of Sandy's dreams come true that day by helping to thank the people who help us continue this important work.

For me, Pat and Sandy represented a profound sense of hope. A restored belief in the power of love. Whenever you see two high school sweethearts that are still flirting with one another, gazing at each other like teenagers, and truly in love with one another after 43 years of marriage its a special thing. When you see that a love like that can transcend time and space, that the love two people shared for a lifetime can still be obvious to everyone, even after Sandy is gone, it will make you realize what's important, and what is simply not worth worrying about.

Quite simply it is an honor call Pat Thornton my friend.

Check out some pictures from our trip on the HOGC Flickr site...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ethel Moves In

This past weekend, Ms. Ethel Curry finally moved into her house. Just over two years have passed since Katrina Ethel's old home away. Nine months have passed since Hands On began working. Nothing would have been possible without Guiding Light's generous support.

From the framing stages of the house where we had to replace practically every piece of wood to the last days of touching up paint on patches of dry wall, the crews of dedicated volunteers cycled through Ethel's. Brian, Quincy, John Wildeman, Robyn, Marj, and Brannon are among the many who lent their particular skills to turning a gutted skeleton of a building into a warm, inviting home.

The day of the move in was a typically warm day in Southern Mississippi, sun shining and dark clouds amassing on the horizon. No worries, though, inside the house it is cozy and spacious, fully furnished. Waiting for friends and family to fill it up.

Guiding Light cast members Beth Chamberlin and Rob Bogue were on hand to walk Ms. Ethel through her house while Jan Conklin and Janet filmed it. Beth and Rob both remembered that Ms. Ethel said she used to always have a pot of coffee on for folks who dropped in for a visit. When Ms. Ethel walked through her kitchen, they pointed out the coffee maker, just waiting for Ms. Ethel to turn it on. Personally, I think Rob just wanted some coffee ;)

We celebrate when each of the residents we helped move into their homes. Sometimes the celebrations are big, sometimes small. Regardless of how many folks we have come celebrate, it's always emotional. I think seeing Ms. Ethel move in was particularly special for us because we've been at her house for so long, making sure everything was perfect for her and the boys.
Eddie, Sheli, and Brian were just as overcome with emotion as Ms. Ethel. Anyone who has come down and worked on one of our building projects knows that there's a deep bond that forms between the crews and the home owners who live in their FEMA trailers nearby. It's not just anyone we're putting into their home, this was Ms. Ethel.
I was happy to be there to share the moment. Being in an administrative role means I don't get out to see all the great work our volunteers and AmeriCorps members do each day. These special occassions serve to allow me to connect with them, their work, and the residents of Biloxi.
Ms. Ethel, I hope that's a great coffee maker because I think you're going to have a steady stream of Hands On folks stopping by for that ever-full pot-o'-coffee.
:: Chris ::