Saturday, October 21, 2006

A day in the life

It's not that this day really captures my job, or my life, but rather that it embraces why we are here, and what we are here for. In a series of thoughts and events:

I stopped by the Howard Ave trailer park to see a resident, the older black guy who lives in a trailer there. I walk around the park after talking to him. There are a bunch of trailers FEMA has reclaimed, which I don't understand. I don;t know if it means people have found a place to go, or have no where to go. And there are the trailers with cardboard duct-taped to cover the broken windows, which I understand all too well. The Howard Ave trailer park isn't necesarily an inviting place, all concrete and gravel, aside from these new developments. The resident and I sit and talk. I sit on the steps of the trailer he is worried about losing. "They are going to start making us pay rent, water, electricity, and our own gas." He tells me about the trailer he lived in on Magnolia street before this, and I know that he has no where to go, and no amount of FEMA recertification visits are going to change the fact that there is no where to rent anymore.

I take my lunch at the Biloxi Bistro, and talk on the phone to a friend from home. My street team is going door-to-door talking to residents about the new proposed CDBG plan out of the Gov's office, a meeting the superintendent called, and the upcoming elections. I had dropped off a few of the CDBG explanations at businesses downtown the day before, and when I walk in the woman behind the counter turns to the US Post office employee ordering lunch and says, "oh, you were asking who brought this info in; it was this young lady." I eat my lunch, and the two PO guys eat thiers, but before they leave they ask me about my info, my job, where I live, and what work I do. They are transplants. Retired military. Living here a decade or more. And one week after the storm they walked the destroyed streets of Biloxi. They tell me about the erie feeling of a town with its doors swinging open, abandoned. And the hope they had brought to residents. "Neither rain nor...." I think. But I think about the trauma of being the embodiment of "normalcy" to a place you don't recognize. Of how they are doing now, as they thank me for my work, a work that started after the barges had been cleared, the roads openned, the mail regular.

It starts raining so I rush off to round up my team. We drive back to base and I explain Living Cities. At quarter to 6 I am out again, stopping by Kryzra Stallworth's Neighborhood Watch meeting, which is sparcely attended. Then off to the schools meeting. There I learn not only that schools will open in thier old locations a month before they were projected, now on Dec 4, but that they will house the boys and girls club, Head Start, and Moore Community House. I have sat with so many parents lamenting the complete lack of childcare, that this information literally makes me glow.

I set off to meet the coordination center chicks. Amy, Ginelle (sorry if misspelled), Elish, Lucille, and Tim. They are a giggly bunch when I arrive at the bar, laughing about work, and life, and East Biloxi, PTSD. The usual. I eat, we drink, and set off to Just Us. I have been reading notes from meetings that happened months ago. They lament the lack of street lights, and I've been thinking about how we could help that situation. It's the kind of thing that seperates us from the community, that helps us not "get it" about East Biloxi. But we drive off, and there are lights on every street. And not only that. Lights shine out of houses. Amy and I look in wonder. People really living in thier houses.

At Just Us, Hands On arrives in full force, after Tim and I get a chance to catch up. Astrid stands up and sings "leaving on a jet plane," tears fill my eyes because suddenly I know she won't be returning from her vacation on Saturday. The rent cast performs "Seasons of Love," Jeff and Guillermo "Don't stop believing" and many many many more. I am filled with love and sadness.

:and you will know me as"
the falcon

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Thornton's Update

Well, today's almost the day that the Thornton's move into their new house. I passed Luc on Division St. and it was as if we knew that we needed to talk to one another. I pulled over to call him, then my phone rang ... he was calling me. "I'll be right back to the house." "OK." How'd he know that's where I was headed? I guess I make the rounds enough to be fairly predicatable.

It was surreal when I arrived. Normally, I unabashedly enter the house to check on folks. Today the door was closed; I felt something different about this closed door. I expected to see Amanda sitting behind it, doing touch-up painting. But no, there was something different. As I reached for the knob, I felt that I was entering the Thornton's home, not our work site. It felt wierd to just walk in.

After all this time, the Thornton's are finally ready to move into the house. We gutted the house to the studs, scraped off the mold, painted the studs with Kilz, then worked on the framing of the house. When all the subcontractors completed their work and the house passed its rough-in inspection, we hung drywall, painted, and trimmed it all up. What a transformation. It's the first house we've taken from start to finish.

Despite the low-key perusal of the house, I don't have descriptive adjectives that can accurately capture the feeling that accompanies the knowledge that Hands On Gulf Coast, AmeriCorps, and NCCC volunteers took a resident from a FEMA trailer into their home. Yeah, there's a back door that needs hanging, and maybe the ice make doesn't work, and the dryer trips the break, but the house is liveable. Lights, refrigeration, and air conditioning! What more do you need? Oh yeah, cable TV.

Luc must feel pretty awesome about the work he's done. The Thornton's still need furniture, bedding, and other household items, but the house work is pretty much done. Wow! Congrats to Luc and the steadfast Amanda for finishing the work started by Brian, the Blue 6 warriors, the Bay St. Louis crew, and all the other volunteers who passed through the walls of the Thorntons. It's the first of many!

:: Chris ::

Monday, October 16, 2006


Wow. Who would have thought a bunch of volunteers rebuilding Coastal Mississippi would take on a production of Rent? Well, I guess at Hands On we should expect as much. The creative talent, resourcefulness, and determination that marks the volunteers we have around here applies to the fun stuff, too.

Now you might wonder why I'm not talking about the work we're doing down here. That's because it's moving along. We're doing great stuff at John Henry Beck Park - making planter boxes for the community garden plots - the Thornton's are almost in their house; and we're working on two other houses from start to finish. It's pretty awesome. Still, work doesn't necessarily leave an imprint everyday. It sustains our sense of purpose; it makes us think, "Wow, my friend it working at the Gap ... I'm sure glad I'm here trying to help someone get into their house." But the truly exceptional events, especially ones that showcase talent, creativity, and energy, sustain our need to be social and human.

So, off the philosophical meandering and back to the lesson at hand ... Rent. Wow! The idea of a production of Rent has been bandied about ever since Akudo brought forth the first No-Talent Talent Show back in March. In October, it finally came together.

We've worked pretty closely with the Biloxi Little Theater since Hands On USA volunteers gutted the place last year. So tonight they let us use their stage to put on the show. About two weeks ago, you could see the cast working from the script, singing, and just trying to adapt the musical to Hurricane Camp.

How can I describe the production? I'll start by saying, "I'm not a fan of musicals." With that as the premise for me being in the audience ... I loved the show!!!

Where else can you get a group of volunteers to work full days building, organizing the community, thinking about public art, or making garden plots, then dedicate their evenings to make a full-on production of a musical? Hands On. Look no further.

The cast did an awesome job bringing the musical to the Biloxi Little Theater. With a packed house of at least 140 Hands On folks - I think the camp was probably empty - plus locals - like the Thorntons (front row seats) and Sharon from Coastal Women for Change - they had a supportive audience who cheered, clapped, and catcalled through the entire performance.

Congratulations to Astrid, Dan, TJ, Garrett, Jeff, Akudo, Elizabeth (the Falcon), Dan (Rudy), Suzanne, Luc, Caitlin, Ali, Mike, Elly, Grace, and everyone else I've forgotten for doing everything from lights to staging to playing the lead. You all did an awesome job!!

:: Chris ::

Friday, October 06, 2006

The In Between

The running toilets

Music from G-Mo and more

Warriors will return

Yes, we have departed from Hands On and are forging new roads. Life in Charleston, though does not compare to Hurricane Camp, is pleasant. Pleasant enough for us to do some roofing shingle style as well as hydro stopping style for lower income families…………………………………………….PARTY?!?

- Tori, Warriors TL

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Blue 6, Departed

Well, it's a few days late, but Blue 6 departed on 26 Sep 2006. There are many beloved teams, but few teams leave behind such fond memories as the huge Warrior W, blue milk, and photos of the team. Ah Blue 6, it's not the same without you!!!

I barely remember which days the NCCC teams arrive. Unfortunately, Blue 6 arrived around the time three other teams did. Though we had a mixer with two teams, it took a while for me to get to know them. I think pretty much everyone would agree - I know Luc would - that Blue 6 developed and gel'd as a team when we took on the Thornton's house project. They hit the drywalling, taping, mudding, painting, and finishing work as if there were no tomorrow. You could not ask for a better work ethic!

From the office, to the kitchen, to the tool shed - sorta, Tony, your paperwork left a lot to be desired, despite your gusto for building! :) - to the tool shed, to the job site, the Warriors got it done in style with a smile.

Blue 6 left us with a number of mementos. There are photos of them in New Orleans strategically placed around the building - in front of the men's urinal, the door in the office, the door going outside, the refrigerator, and the ice maker. It seemed as if they had no faith that we at Hands On would remember them. How could we forget you? My favorite going away present, though was the blue colored milk. What a riot! And people drank it, too!

It's only been a week, but it feels like an eternity. No one reads haikus any more and no one calls me "daveers".

Best of luck to yall - Tori, Tony, Dan, David, Mary, Crystal, Jessica, Danielle, Tyler, and Abby - on your next spikes. We can't wait until you're back here in Biloxi! :)

:: Chris ::


OK. So this past weekend we had a slow down for reflection, team building, cleaning, and relaxing. Some volunteers have been at Hands On for a few days shy of one year. Others have been around for a bunch of months. The nature of the operation has changed from the fast-paced gutting and demolding to more measured building and community capacity building. It was time to accept this change and share experiences.

As part of this weekend, we had an 80's prom. There was an earlier post about the genesis of the idea for prom. Well, on the 20th, Dr. DJ G-double-el-mo, showed the world what was in store musically over the next few weeks. An 80's music tournament, where the winning song would be the song that the prom king and queen danced to.

Between the 20th and the 30th of September, when we had prom, there was a flurry of activity. With the theme, Love in the Eye of the Storm, committees formed to decorate, make food, manage a budget, set up, clean up, and take photos. Volunteers began raiding America's Thrift store on Pass Rd for appropriate 80s attire. This was a Hands On event that would be spared no effort to make it awesome.

As prom night drew near, anticipation grew. People raced to find prom dates and finalize costumes. Then there were hair do's. The whole nine yards. The day of prom coincided with the massive base clean up. The folks who worked on the prom tent tied together two army tents, hung a disco ball, flashing lights, had a smoke machine, and a DJ booth. Astrid, lead on the decorations committee, printed movie posters and album covers from hot 80s hits. Top Gun, Huey Lewis and the News, Madonna, and others graced the olive green walls of the tent. Dead branches and plastic bags decorated the ceiling. Dr. G-mo-money spent a few hours with Mr. Dan the Happy Man whittling down a 9 hour play list to just quintessential songs filling 3 hours.

After a tasty dinner, folks started arriving in the tent. After a few minutes, I began taking portraits of couples and groups in front of the artistically awesome backdrop that Mr. Mural Dan created. I can't tell you how much fun it was to see the groups just ham it up in front of the camera.

I have no words to describe the pure bliss and happiness that everyone found on prom night. It was a night of clean, unadulterated fun where everyone let loose on the dance floor, singing, and just having a great time. Luc role played the bad boy silent type, aloof from the prom activities. Girls like Carrie and Kate swooned over Luc's coolness. Beau brought his NCCC team who had a blast dancing up the floor. We were even joined by Silver 2 folks - Jennifer, Alex, Eric, and Vanessa. Even Gary, the church secretary showed up!! He was awesome and after an hour of dancing, he gave us permission to have the party until 11.30!!!

By far, prom night was the most fun and best night I've had since I came to Hurricane Camp in January. I have to give mad props where props to the musical genius and magic of DJ Dr. G-mo-mold and his side-kick, Mr. Diesel D. Everyone put in tons of effort, but music is the soul of this camp. Guillermo's and Dan's effort unleashed the passion and spirit in everyone, making an unforgettable night.

:: Chris ::