Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pass Christian Final Day

Hard to believe but our trip is just about over. Headed out to Cheri’s this morning with a bit of a chill in the air. At least sweatshirt and short type weather. First thing we did was a thorough clean up of the site. I told Cheri that she could have one heck of a weenie roast with all the scrap lumber. With the site looking clean and sharp we began to work on the “pick-up” framing which included framing in old window openings, moving a couple of existing door openings, curtain and cabinet blocking and installing hurricane straps to each and every stud to the rim joist. Larry told us to leave the sheathing to the next crew that comes in next week.
While the students were busy, Verne and I loaded up all the camp tools and put them away in their sheds. By 11:00 a.m. we had completed all we had set out to do for the day. Now for the best part: the signing of the posts. It has been a tradition here ever since the volunteers arrived to rebuild Pass Christian after Katrina to sign the foundation posts with sayings, their names and where they came from. The students could hardly wait. I handed out the permanent markers and let them have at it. Each one left a personal message for Cheri that I am sure she’ll cherish forever.

After some final photographs, Cheri hugged and thanked every one of us and it was hard for her to hide her emotions, (mine as well). We accomplished a great thing here that each of us will remember the rest of our lives.
Larry asked if we could give him a hand at his house with a small project, and with all he has done for us, we had no problem helping him out. He has a beautiful house on the Bayou and he was glad to give the new students a tour. In the meantime, the rest of us took care of the small project and were done within a half hour. We all shook Larry’s hand and thanked him for all he did for us and he did the same to us. He said he was truly blessed to work with such a great group of volunteers and that we we’re welcomed back anytime.

With that, we headed back to camp, had lunch, showered, packed our bags, cleaned our room and loaded the van. We met with Greg to pay our bill ($945 for room and board) had our photo taken, shook hands and said we’d try and be back during spring. We arrived at the airport with well enough time to check in, caught our flight to Dallas at 5:45 and landed in Seattle last night around 11:00 p.m.
There are so many thoughts going through my head at this moment. Who got the most out this trip? Was it the homeowner, the students, Verne, myself?
Hard to say for the others, but personally I think I did. Our first trip was a success, but we didn’t get to complete more than a foundation for Shannon. This trip we got 90% of the framing and 100% of the foundation completed in just 6 short days. We do a home that was basically a total wreck and with teamwork and determination we left a new shell in which Cheri could rebuild her life. Never once did I hear a student complain about the work (sometimes pretty dirty and disgusting). Instead I saw them working towards a daily goal and feeling deeply satisfied in what they accomplished. They all stood back on our last day with pride and joy knowing what they did will make a difference for Cheri. What more could a instructor ask for? I’m proud that I gave each student and Verne the chance to experience what we did. I wished I could have given it to all my students and to you as well.

I like to thank my students who were, Derek Tofstad, Ben Abbot, Tom Louden, Joe Burns, (Mr. YMCA) Galen Castle, Tony Siviltili and Derek Phifer. I would especially thank Verne Cysenky for all his great help and assistance. It would have been impossible to have completed as much as with did without his great help. Thanks Verne!!.

To you here at the college, thanks for reading my diary and for those who gave financial help to my students as well.
I hope that you too could take something away from our experience in Pass Christian. If each of you would try and give some time to help others in any way you see fit, the personal reward is hard to repay. Within our own community of students, or Auburn, South King County, Seattle, or Tacoma, there are many needs that need to be met. There are many venues that you could use to make a difference and if you’re not already helping in some small way, I encourage you to seek out and find a way you can. We certainly cannot depend upon government agencies to take care of the all the needs (pretty evident in Mississippi and New Orleans) but we certainly can rely upon ourselves.

Verne and I discussed the possibility of making a return trip during the college’s spring break and inviting faculty and staff to travel with us back to Pass Christian and once again help build a home for a deserving Katrina Victim. If this is of interest to you, please contact me. If I get enough responses, I’ll pursue what it would take to make that happen.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pass Christian Day 6

Had a great day yesterday traveling to New Orleans. Students and Verne enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells. Not quite as busy as it was in May, but still quite few people out and about. We got back home around 8:00 p.m. and most of us were in bed by 10.

Today was another beautiful day in the Pass. Little windy and cool, but still able to work in shorts and T-shirts. Ain’t that just a darn shame!!

Got to Cheri’s around 7:30 a.m. and she greeted us as we arrived. Today’s plan was to complete as much of the major wall framing as we could, so I got the students and Verne up and running and spent the next two hours working with Cheri to finalize her floor plan. Interesting enough that here in the Pass, the permit process is pretty laid back compared to Kent or King County. We’re building her house with just a sketch she made on a CAD program and working out details as we go.

I did help her rearrange her walls to give her a more livable space. She really appreciated my background in home building design and layout and she ended up with a floor plan that she really loves. Nice big kitchen, spacious living area and a master bedroom suite and 2nd bedroom. Not bad considering it takes up only 1000 square feet. The orginal house only had 640 SF to begin with. She has been living in such a small space the past two+ years in her FEMA trailers, that she got use to living that way. Now she says she feels like a queen with all the space she has.

Around 11, I called in everyone and asked them what goal they wanted to set for the day. All of them wanted to complete all the major framing, install a large roof supporting beam so we can open up here living room, and be ready for wall sheathing tomorrow. Their goal was to get it all done and then go home. No time limit, just “git ‘er done, then go home” Well by 5:00, they met their goal. The framing looked excellent and the 2nd level, looked completely different. This time they met their own expectations and felt great about what they accomplished.

As we were cleaning up, Cheri, with tears in her eyes said “I can’t believe a group of students from Green River Community College from Washington state, traveled all this way just to help me out”. She then added that she wanted to know how she can contribute scholarship money to help support a student for the rest of the year. Wow, here is a woman just getting back her life and she already wants to give back some of what was given to her. What a wonderful person. I gave her my business card and said to contact me when I get back and I’ll get in touch with the Josh in the Foundation office.

Ended back in camp tired and hungry. Had a great dinner and it was our turn to do the dishes. No complaining from anyone. We all chipped in and were done in no time.

Tonight we plan on having a campfire and taking some time to reflect on our experience here in the Pass. I’m looking forward to hear how the experience has affected everyone. I’m also interested to know how the students plan on taking what they experienced here and how they plan on applying that to the rest of their lives.

Tomorrows out last day. We plan on wrapping up at Cheri’s around 1:00 p.m., then pack up all our gear, return to camp, take showers, pack our bags and catch our plane at 5:00. If all goes well, should be back in Seattle around 11:00 p.m.

I’ll have one more wrap up journal tomorrow. I do look forward to getting home and seeing my wife, Meri. She has been patient with me for being gone all week with my students. Thanks Dear.

I also look forward to talking to as many as you about our experience as well. Thanks to those who supported my students financially as well as spiritually. As a teacher, this is an experience I wish all of you could have. It was and has been a tremendous teaching experience.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Pass Christian Day 5

Same as yesterday, woke up to a beautiful day. I let the group sleep in till 7:30 (usually we were up by 6:00) and they were quite happy. Most of the other volunteers have left and in fact, we had to fend for ourselves for breakfast. Luckily I know how to make a mean milk and cereal so took care of myself and the rest of the group followed suit.

We loaded up the van with some extra tools we would need (nail gun, compressors, drill bits and such) and arrived at Cheri’s around 8:30. Larry was there to greet us and after just a short little chat, we went right to work. We were joined today by Tom and Ben since they finished up their siding job yesterday. Good to have them back.

We jumped right in doing the finishing touches on the floor system. Drilling holes and installing 2 -10 inch bolts for the Header joists on the 6 posts, installing solid blocking, trimming some oversized pieces, and establishing our line for the floor sheathing.

While all the above was going on, Larry and I had a chat about what we thought we could accomplish by Tuesday afternoon. I told him I was sure we could complete the entire exterior and interior wall framing by Monday, and then have all the exterior sheathing in place by Tuesday. With that he and another student went to get us the framing lumber.

An interesting side note. Larry needs a little extra help due to his breathing problem, so he always asks for a student to ride along with him to help. Each time I get a different student to ride with him and each one gets to experience his wisdom and wit. Each student returns back to the job site with a greater appreciation of Larry from all the wisdom, story telling and jokes he tells when they ride with him. If you haven’t heard me say it before, Larry is an amazing man. He and I have become best of friends and see eye to eye on many things. If you ever get a chance to meet him, you would grow to love and appreciate him as much as I do.

Back to work…we finished off the entire flooring system by 11:45, just as Larry and Tom arrived with our framing lumber. During lunch Larry and I discussed the floor plan which Cheri drew up on a simple computer program with no dimensions. After we agreed on what dimensions she needed, I had the students gear up for wall framing. This time I set the goal to have all the new exterior walls up and have the old interior walls demoed and have some new walls at least snapped out on the old floor.

Well true to the Green River tradition we started this year, we met the goal and in fact were done 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Again it was awesome to see the teamwork take place and the quality of the work they put into Cheri’s home. At the end of the day, the place hardly looked the same, especially the 2nd floor.

Once again we headed down to Shaggy’s for some well deserved refreshments, then back to camp for a shower. Since no one cooks on Saturday, we headed to Long Beach and had dinner at the Cajun Crawfish Hut. The place came highly recommended by Larry. Well we weren’t disappointed. After fried pickles and fried alligator for appetizers, each of us had a great seafood meal. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to have fresh crawfish because they’re not in season, but the meal still was great. Got back to camp around 8 p.m. and the camp is pretty much vacant. Students were playing ping pong, making cell phone calls, chatting, and just hanging around. I think they are pretty beat after giving their all the past two days.

Tomorrow they get to sleep in till 8:30 and then we’ll head to New Orleans around 9:30. We’ll spend the day there and return late Sunday afternoon. It’s a well deserved day off and we’ll be back to work on Monday.

Hard to believe how much we have accomplished at Cheri’s house in such a short amount of time. I’ll be anxious to see what she has to say when we return Monday. I think the students along with Verne have done a great job that far exceeded what either Greg or Cheri expected us to accomplish in just 4 days. Green River Community College should be proud of what has transpired here. I know that I am.


Pass Christian Day 4

New day, new hope and great sunshine. As you may recall yesterday was kind of a rough day for me and my students, but today was destined to be different. We’ve had a little bit of rain the past two days and now with a crystal blue morning in front of us, we were ready to get back to our tasks at hand.

Joe and Tom headed off again to work on their siding project and we headed back to Cheri’s at 7:30 a.m. As soon as we got there, everyone got busy either cleaning up our mess from yesterday, moving her few belongings from upstairs to downstairs and removing the bracing that held our post in post while the concrete dried

Then the fun began. We have been living dangerously the past two days with the wobbly stair case, deck and railing. Add some rain to the mix and now we have slippery and dangerous. Until today, we needed stairs to get upstairs to get what demo work we had to do and to get down her “stuff” and all during that time we could hardly wait to “bring them down!!”

Larry and I headed down to the Pass to pick up some supplies and with just a little instruction from me, the students had the pleasure of demolishing the deck. By the time we got back (about half hour) it was down and they were piling up the scrap. We all spent about an hour bending over nails, stacking the material and cleaning up any and all scrap and by 9:00, the deck was no more. Seeing the deck gone, the upstairs demo-ed and cleaned up seemed to light the fire for the students, Verne and myself.

With that task behind us, we began framing the new addition floor. I had a group of students layout and install joist hangers on the ledger we would attached to the house and the rest of us began cutting to length and notching the post to hold our built up beams (2- 2 x 12 pressure treated lumber). By noon, we had the notches done,(using chain saws, skill saws and sawzalls) and all the ledgers ready to install. Cheri arrived with 5 boxes of pizza and pop, and I thought it appropriate to take lunch (nice of me wasn’t it?).

As I was finishing up my lunch, I looked at what we had left to do and decided to set a challenge to Verne and my students. I announced to them that I believed that if we worked as a team, we could easily have the entire floor system framed and ready for floor sheathing by 4:00, (it now being 12:30) Well they took the challenge and after discussing what jobs needed to be done and in what order, we set up our teams and off we went.

It was truly amazing to watch; other than helping out once in awhile with some technical advice and demonstrations, Verne and the students went after the job. There was quite a bit to do. Install the ledger and rim boards, check for alignments and straightness, check for square, measure and cut all joist to length, and install all the joist perfectly on layout and nailed so they were structurally sound.

We did it and had 5 minutes to spare. I was really proud of what they had accomplished and let them know so. It was just too cool to see how they all pulled together, experienced students teaching new students, the efficiency they developed, the team work and more importantly, the satisfaction of setting a goal and attaining it and doing it with superb quality. Did I say I was proud? If not, well I was.

Cheri was completely blown away how much we got done today. She was even more surprised when I guaranteed her, that by Tuesday noon, all her exterior walls would be up and sheathed and all her interior walls would be completed as well. (Haven’t told the students and Verne that yet, but they will know tomorrow morning.)

With that we packed up with our spirits high and headed down to Shaggy’s on the beach to have some appetizers and some cool drinks. Our conversation there centered on what we did today and that knowing we got Cheri that much closer to finally having her home back.

I really wish all of you could have been here today. What an experience for me as a teacher and better yet what an experience for the students and Verne. I know they are coming back charged up to tell of their experience and encourage others to come down and help.

Hard to imagine how in just a few shorts hours I went from being upset and frustrated with system I have no control over, to a day of pure joy and a sense of accomplishment. Again, I wish all of you could have such and experience.

Tomorrow we’ll sheath the floor, snap wall lines with a goal of completing by noon. Then I’ll let the students enjoy the day at the beach or what ever else they would like to do. Life is good, even when facing frustration and desolation.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Day Three: Pass Christian, Mississippi

I woke up to a light rain but by the time we got to the job site it was over. The day started out beautifully. This day was to be one of my most emotional days I’ve ever spent here in the Pass. You’ll understand as you read on.

Upon our arrival, Cheri, the homeowner was there to greet us. I had barely got out of the van when she came up to me and as soon as I introduced myself, she wrapped her arms around me and gave me long, long hug and with tears said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve been waiting for this day for such a long time. I had almost given up. Thank you.” Well needless to say I was overwhelmed with her sincerity and gratitude. I then went on to introduce her to Verne and the rest of my students and with tears in her eyes, she thanked them as well.

After that, Larry arrived and picked up one of my students to help him get the concrete. The students then spent time fine tuning the alignment of the post and within a half hour Larry pulled up with a small concrete mixer with about 1.5 yards of concrete. The students jumped right in, grabbing two wheelbarrows and some shovels and began filling the holes for the post. Cheri was so excited, and the smile on her face said it all. We finished filling all the holes with a second truck load and moved on to finish removing the siding on all but the west side of her house.

As we started to remove the siding, Verne and I were downstairs lining up some tools and we saw Cheri on her cell phone. By her facial expression we knew she had just received bad news. And bad news it was.

Her second FEMA trailer that she is living in was flood damaged by Gustav this August. The phone call was from a FEMA representative telling her the trailer was condemned and that they are coming tomorrow to remove it and for her to get all of her belongs out. No if ands or buts.

Here now is a single woman, who has 5 dogs, nowhere to live, and literally is being thrown out on to the streets by an agency who I assumed was there to help and support her. Now my emotions quickly change from joy to anger. As she is on here cell phone frantically calling classified ads to find a hotel or home to rent, Verne and I begin talking about her dire situation. “How dare they do this to her” were my thoughts, (and some others that I can’t print here!) as was Verne’s. After some “cussing and discussing” as I like to call it, we came up with a plan, and called the students over to see what they thought.

We decided we would go and purchase enough sheets of plywood and enclose a 10 x 16 space in her basement that she could at least live in until a new FEMA trailer arrives or she found another place to live. There was no way she could live upstairs because we had just removed ¾ of the siding. The students agreed this was the thing to do. I called her over and told her of our plan and I volunteered to go and purchase the material on my credit card and that she had no choice, it was going to be done.

Needless to say, once again with tears in her eyes, she thanks us over and over again, telling us how wonderful we are to be going out of our way to help her overcome one more obstacle from getting her home finished. So we went right to it.

There was one 110-volt outlet wired from the temporary power pole that worked in her basement as well as one 220-volt outlet. Verne drove back to the camp and got some electrical supplies to rewire her “new room” with three 110-volt outlets using the one that was there and getting two more from what used to be the 220-volt outlet.

Derek and I went with Larry and his truck to a Lowes in Waveland, Mississippi where we purchased 15 sheets of OSB, two strap hinges and some expanding foam.

By the time we got back, Verne had the electrical completed and just about had her telephone wired in as well. The students had been busy getting the small area ready and after we had arrived, started install the OSB sheathing and had the 16 x 20 area enclosed and ready for a door by 4:00. By 9:00 tomorrow she will have a door hung (recycled from one we removed earlier) and have a small living space she can live in until something better turns up.

She is ecstatic about what we accomplished on her behalf. And all of us (students, Verne and myself) feel pretty good inside that we just helped a person in dire need and all it took was some extra time and effort.

I asked Cheri to tell me a little bit about her story, which was much the same as Shannon’s. I asked her what made her come back and want to stay and without skipping a beat she said “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”. Meaning she lived through the experience, and though unpleasant, made her realize fighting back has made her appreciate every little thing that she know has.

Think about it, if you were to suddenly be told that you are going to be living in a 12 x 16 foot space for who knows how long, how would you react? Would it be anger or frustration or fear? Not Cheri. After losing everything and having her home destroyed she is thrilled that she at least has that space to call home until something else comes along and is tremendously happy with that. Wow, what lessons we are learning during our time(s) here.

After we got back to the camp, I decided we needed to go have some fun, so we all headed to Biloxi to the Hard Rock Casino and had a great dinner. We all needed that after our roller coaster day of emotions and hard work. Got home around 10 and here it is almost 11.

It was a truly unforgettable and life changing day for all of us here representing Green River Community College. Tomorrow we begin framing Cheri’s new expanded floor. Should be another great day.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Day Two: Pass Christian, Mississippi

As expected, I was up before the rest of the group by 5:30 a.m. I went for a walk up the beach with temperatures around 60+ degrees. It was still dark at that time of morning and the amount of stars in the sky was incredible. Dana Rush would have loved it. No city lights over the Gulf make for a spectacular star gazing experience.

At 6:10 I flicked on the room light to gently wake up the rest of the crew and all of us headed down for breakfast at 6:30. With so many volunteers here (120 is the count now) we have to eat in 4 shifts for breakfast.

Greg Nitchman met up with us around 7:00 and gave us our assignments. Two of my students who came last spring, volunteered to help finish putting siding on a project about two miles up the road. The remainder of us loaded up our tools and headed out to the remodel site.

It is quite a different project than last spring. We are adding on about 320 square feet to a home that survived the wave surge, but just barely. The home owner is currently living in her second FEMA trailer as the first one was condemned due to formaldehyde gases from the underlayment. Ironically her current home was also condemned due to flood damage from Hurricane Gustav this past August. The surge wave was 10 feet high and her home has insulation in the floor, which has created a mold crisis.

How much more can the people here in the Pass - who are still living in FEMA homes - take is beyond me. Every one of the homes have been condemned and most families haven’t’ even started to rebuild their homes. I admire their determination, but just when they start to get ahead, it seems like they have to take two steps back.

Time is running out for these families with FEMA money tightening up more and less and less volunteers coming in to help. The stories of atrocities by contractors are on the increase as well. My heart goes out to this community and I’m glad that we can at least play a small part in helping it out.

I was very happy to hear that my best friend Larry (the tractor guy from our first trip) was running the job we are working on. Some of you may remember my tales from last year. What an awesome southern gentleman. He met us at the job around 8:00 and we got right to work marking out the hole locations for the pilings (only 6 this time), drilling holes for rebar, and cutting rebar. Within an hour we had all 6 holes drilled (no septic tanks or large trees thank goodness) and were setting our first post by 10. All the poles were in and braced by noon. Larry was really impressed and called the inspector to see if he could make it out right away. The inspector passed us off by 1:00 p.m.

I was very impressed with my students, especially the new ones. Each jumped right in, caught on quick to what had to be done, and really out-did themselves. The best part is they got to meet and work with Larry, and they became his best friends as well.

After lunch, we began to remove the siding on the house. Pretty challenging considering we worked off the deck which is not the strongest it could be. We then decided to move inside the house and pound off the siding using sledges, posts and just plain muscles. Probably got about half of it off and then decided to call it a day around 3:30.
After cleaning up we drove down to Shannon’s house and the new students were in awe at the amount of damage and desolation Katrina left in her wake. Just like us last spring, it is hard to put into words their feelings.

When we got to Shannon’s house, unfortunately she wasn’t there and there still is a bit of work to do on the inside, but most everything is done on the exterior. Some of you may recall that we signed the post when we finished last spring. I wish you could see them now. There is hardly a space left on any of the post from all the signatures of the volunteers who worked on her house after us. Again, hard to put into words the feeling I got seeing all those names.

Her house looks pretty good, but all of my students were quick to point out that the craftsmanship of the handrails and stairs were certainly not up to Green River standards, but I reminded them that most volunteers who work here have very limited carpentry skills if none at all. I am certain Shannon is very happy to have her home just about complete.

We then drove around the area to let the new students see the “ghost-town” like conditions around Shannon’s home. A few new homes are being built, but just a handful. We even found some places we didn’t’ know existed and it was amazing how much debris was left. It was obvious to all of us that these families just couldn’t take the destruction and just walked away.

We headed back to the camp around 4:30. Showered and rested around the hall, talked to many of the volunteers, ate dinner and most headed back to the room. We seemed to have brought a little bit of bad “voodoo” with us. It was raining fairly hard outside and you can imagine the comments we got from the other volunteers about brining the rain with us. It should clear out by tonight and clear once again tomorrow.

All in all a great first day although at the same time I feel even more compassion for the community of Pass Christian and the Gulf Coast. This is the beginning of year 4 since Katrina and instead of forging ahead, I get the feeling they are falling behind and being ignored by the rest of the country. Still many opportunities to help down here and I am sure they would welcome as many of you that could come down and help. It truly is and has been a blessing for me and my students.

More tomorrow…Glen

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Day One: Pass Christian, Mississippi

We arrived safely in Gulfport Mississippi around 5 PM (two hours ahead of Pacific Time) and had no problem getting luggage or getting our van. We arrived here at the Camp around 6:20 with a completely packed parking lot. Greg Nitchman the Second Wave director told me he was expecting around 60 volunteers this week and looks like we may have more like 90 or 100 counting us.

It is true dormitory living this time as all of us are in one room with 5 bunk beds. Greg asked us if any of us were shy and if so, we'd better get over it!! Oh well, just like college days.

Had dinner around 6:30, meatloaf and real mashed potatoes, and had some interesting conversations with another group from Ohio who arrived two days ago. These 6 guys all work at a belt manufacturing plant and due to the economy there only work two weeks, then are laid off for the next two weeks, the return to work for another two weeks. At least they still have a job when many of their neighbors don’t. Kind of shock for me even though we’re just starting to feel some of the economic crunch in Seattle. Anyway, their boss suggested they come down during one of their weeks off, so all drove down here and will be here till Friday.

Greg still believes we’ll be working on remodeling a home and adding a pier type foundation on to it. Should be quite an experience. At least we’re somewhat experts at building a pier type foundation from out last trip.

After dinner, students heading down to the beach. It’s about 75 with a real light breeze coming off the Gulf and just a light touch of humidity. I’ve; changed into shorts and more than likely will be wearing them most of the week. So sorry the rest of you are dealing with highs of 50, lows near 30 and rain showers. Supposed to be very pleasant here all week.

The new students have had a chance to take a trip to see the destruction. I’m saving that for tomorrow morning. 3 of the students came last year, and they’ve been pretty tight-lipped about what the new ones will see. It will be interesting to see their reaction.

I had a student last week who decided they couldn’t make the trip, so I offered their spot to Verne Cysensky our Trades Division Maintenance Mechanic. He was thrilled that I asked him to come and he is just as excited as the students are to see what the area is truly like. We might break off into two groups with Verne heading up one group of students at a different project and I with the remodel. We’ll wait and see what happens in the morning.

So far, it looks like it will be a totally different experience for me and my students since we’ll be working with the other groups here. I look forward to meeting with as many of them as I can and share our experiences together.

Well that’s it for today. Pretty short and sweet and I’m ready for bed. Long day of traveling and need to get rested up to tomorrow.