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.