I have a new respect for carpenters. Honestly, I didn’t think it would be so difficult to cut a piece of wood correctly. Today at the St. Bernard Project we finished applying a second coat to all of the rooms by 11am. Since we were going to be at the house for the rest of the day we broke up into groups and either worked on base boarding or windows.
When the two people who worked for St. Bernard Project were demonstrating how to do these tasks it seemed really easy. But it turned out to be rather difficult. Measuring angles and distances was more challenging than I imagined. The worst part of it all was when you realized you made an irreparable mistake and had to start all over again—then consequently walking in shame back down the stairs with a long piece of wood that didn’t quite fit.
However, by the end of the day everyone seemed to have learned from many of their mistakes and everyone started to make real progress. In away that is a lot like the city of New Orleans. After Katrina the city of New Orleans was devastated and after nine years the city still hasn’t fully recovered. But in the last few years there has bee substantial progress and there is an increasing amount of liveliness in the city. People are learning that the lesser-known problems, like the lack of a central local hospital or the receding swamps, are often the most important issues. Working on the house was long, difficult, and tiring but in the end it was worth it.
For the last three days of the trip, our group spent our mornings and afternoons tirelessly working to rebuild a home for a man named Harold and his family who desperately needed and truly deserved it. With the generous aid of the St. Bernard Project (SBP), we painted walls as well as measured, cut, and installed decorative trim to make the once devastated house look, once again, like a place to live. In this effort we hope to return a sense of normalcy to a family that has been without it for nearly a decade. Believe it or not, Harold and his family were actually one of the lucky ones who were chosen by the SBP. Driving down the very same neighborhood it was less than a rarity to see houses similarly ravaged by Hurricane Katrina but which lacked the support from an outside party. Nine years later and there are still many homes that look just as they did after the storm, if not worse. It is truly amazing that after all that time there is still so much to be done.
While there are obvious issues concerning the sustainability of rebuilding houses that remain in such “hurricane hotspots,” the work we did felt necessary nonetheless. Until a fundamental change in both environmental and governmental policies take place to make sure such a travesty doesn’t simply take down every effort to rebuild from the previous one, there will remain skepticism about the value of organizations such as SBP. To families like Harold’s however, the work we did was absolutely essential regardless of its sustainability.
The construction work, cutting trim specifically, seemed an especially good way of providing benefit for everyone involved. It helps the host family in the most obvious way, the site managers by giving them work and a sense of giving, and us volunteers by teaching us a useful skill that many of us might not otherwise learn. Measuring and cutting base board was a task unlike any I’ve done before with tedious math and trial and error techniques that proved exhausting yet rewarding. I was trusted with power tools that gave me a real sense of responsibility and leadership. The whole thing was much more rewarding than I could have imagined especially when looking back and seeing that what I truly enjoyed doing the most was the hard work. This trip got me excited to do more like it through Gettysburg and elsewhere. At the risk of sounding cliché, I felt like a new wall in my life was being put up that I didn’t have there before.