Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Persevere's exit strategy and my new position

We have begun closing up our operation in Mississippi and will be concluding the Katrina Relief Project on June 30th. When Persevere showed up last June in Pass Christian we committed to at least a year on the Gulf Coast and have fulfilled that promise. June 6, 2007 marked the year anniversary of our early morning storming of the beach to officially kickoff the project.

The decision to conclude our Katrina Relief Project was not easy because there is still so much that needs to be done. But for many reasons concluding the project makes the most sense. We are also sticking to the original plan of "moth balling" Persevere. We plan on returning to the Boston area, keeping Persevere's organizational structure intact and storing the equipment and tools we have accumulated over the past year. If a major and pressing "Katrina-sized" need arises in the future that Persevere can help address then we will consider responding.

Going forward I would like the volunteers and supporters of Persevere to focus their attention and resources toward Hands On Disaster Response (HODR). I have taken the position of Operations Director at HODR and it is great to be back working with them. HODR has always been a great supporter of Persevere and our Katrina Relief Project. HODR's business model and style served as the main inspiration for Persevere's formation following HODR's exit from the Gulf Coast in January 2006.

I'm excited to be working with the tremendous team at HODR and helping them expand and build an even stronger organization. HODR's ability to both coordinate and apply volunteers and resources to a relief effort is unparalleled and I'm looking forward to continuing their incredibly effective and important work. When Persevere goes into dormancy on June 30 th I would ask that Persevere supporters look to Hands On Disaster Response for info on future opportunities to help ( www.hodr.org).


Bill Driscoll Jr.
Exec. Director of Persevere's Katrina Relief Project

Friday, March 09, 2007

Thank You Doesn’t Seem Enough

The following is a thank you note that we received from the Freed family in Lady Lake, Florida. While we helped with tornado recovery the Freed's allowed us to camp in their backyard and provided us with a home away from home. We presented them with a Persevere sign when we departed as a token of our appreciation.

I don't know if the young men and women who came to Lady Lake FL and camped in my back yard in 30 degree weather at night and worked all day doing excruciating heavy work, I don’t know if they know how they impacted the lives of my neighbors and my family. Your strength of character, compassion, impeccable work ethics, the perfect guests, and your desire to simply help people unable to help themselves, well it is overwhelming that in the young people that you are you have already learned the most valuable gift you can give another human being and that is the gift of your time. The fact that you have a talent for what you do is a plus in my book. And each of you presented yourself as a professional. I remember my husband’s words oh so clearly when you parked in front of our house and began unloading and strapping on your gear, he said "those kids know exactly what they are doing". He was never more right about anything. One of the elderly ladies from sunshine park asked about you, she wanted to know if I had heard from those nice young kids who helped clear the park, you know the group with the boy who wore the earphones when he used his chainsaw :-), she thought he must have been listening to music while he worked:-)because they stayed out there all day and just kept going from tree to tree. And she wondered why they smiled so much after each tree. She said now she knows, it was satisfaction of one step at a time. Persevere.....to keep moving forward no matter what obstacles get in your way. She now has a FEMA trailer and said she can handle anything after
Feb 2nd, she can PERSEVERE. I just need all of you to know how much you touched me.

I now have a frame for my sign and it hangs in the den, many people have asked what it stands for, usually Kevin Jr. answers with "that’s a small group of people who when joined together with the same goal can accomplish anything". I think my son is pretty smart, because at 13, he has learned from you something that a lot of people never learn their entire life.

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! All our love, respect, admiration and prayers. The Freed Family, Kevin, Kathy, Nick, Justin & KW

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Alabama Tornado Response - BonaRespond's Blog

The following is an excerpt from the BonaResponds blog found at www.bonaresponds.org

Enterprise Alabama—By Jim

Today we switched parts of town. We moved from the area immediately adjacent to the Enterprise High to the Baptist Hills region to the West of town. On three different occasions over the past two days I have had people come up to me and suggest we go to this area as it is the poorer section of town and was not only very hard hit but largely forgotten. So today we did. And “they” were right. Wow, it was bad.

The houses here were all smaller but many had been completely destroyed with roofs blown off, windows broken, and trees and wires down everywhere you looked. It was bad. Really bad.

Working with Persevere Volunteers we came to the job site and I almost laughed. There was no way we could clear it. There were at least 15-20 trees down in the now shared (the fences had been smashed by falling trees). And these were not small ornamentals! They were HUGE! Indeed one was at least 10 feet in diameter and was estimated to have gone through the Civil War. But even more than the HUGE tree, was the sheer magnitude of the work. There was just so much to do! It was surely impossible.

But with the help of a tractor, some local volunteers, and a much needed tractor, BonaResponds and Persevere succeeded in moving most of the downed trees and brush around the yards. The yards still need a part of another day, but the improvement was simply remarkable.

Again the crew was phenomenal: they did not even stop for lunch and never once complained. To a person they worked incredibly hard. How hard, in a futile effort to keep up, I even worked! In fact, it was probably the most physically demanding day of tree removal I have ever done!

At the end of the work day, we physically left Enterprise. To a person we wish we could stay and do more, but it is time to go to Mississippi. So we drove to Pass Christian where we separated into our assigned teams. For the time we spent in Alabama, I have only great things got say, I expect hard work for BonaResponders and this group may have raised the bar.


oh and here are more pictures!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Citrus Cyclone


Owing to our motto of not just vounteering but persevering, the crew left for Florida late friday night February second to aid tornado victims in Florida. Armed with the Persevere chainsaw fleet, a weather report, coffee, and a few contacts in the area, we arrived in Florida saturday afternoon and prepared our plans for the next few days. We were fortunate enough to set up camp across the street from the Sushine Community trailer park, a neighborhood that was directly in the tornado's path.
The command structure in the area had thus far failed to materialize. However, the police were very vigilant in thier security. All volunteers had thier records screened and information recorded before being allowed through the second checkpoint. When we geared up and entered the neighborhood, we saw clearly how destructive the tornado was. Entire trailers were in trees, and entire trees were in trailers. Tin and alluminum siding were wrapped around high branches, cars, homes, and lightpoles. Debris was everywhere. The downed trees, and those left dead and standing, still posed a major hazard to the people in the community. So we went to it. We cut out cars, cut down trees, moved debris, and covered a roof with a gigantic blue tarp. We were able to work steadily from sunup to sundown
In some ways, it is difficult to explain the feelings I had during this trip. It was incredibly rewarding to be able to help so many people, to learn more about first response disaster relief, and to work with such great volunteers, but it is challenging to hold that feeling of accomplishment in the face of such devastation. Thankfuly for all people involved, there are people like Kathy. Kathy was a resident in the neighborhood adjacent to the trailer park who opened up her property to volunteers. She regularly told all of us how thankful she was for our help and heaped hospitality on everyone.
As we left, FEMA had finished putting up its tent, and the RedCross had established itself in the neighborhood. The government appeared prepared for the longterm implications of the tornado. Obviously, for those who lost everything or those who lost loved ones, this tornado will be a permanent scar in thier lives, but for many others it should lose significance with time...All in all, it seemed like the tornado response will be a success for those in the affected community.
Returning back to the Pass to continue out longterm hurricane relief, I will take with me the belief that these disasters can be solved. An important belief in the face of Katrina.

Persevere Goes to Florida

Around ten o'clock last Friday, Ben and I were getting ready to go to bed when Bill Jr. called and asked if we wanted to go to Florida for a couple days to help with the recent tornados. We said we would be right over. After a bit of research and some quick packing, we were on the road.(We left around one in the morning) When we reached Florida, we started calling around to get hooked into a command center. After figuring out what the plan of action was, it was already getting pretty late. After a long day of cutting downed trees, driving all night, and networking all day, I was glad to finally get some sleep.

We ended up going to the town of Lady Lake. We were working in a trailer park that had been hit hard. It was easy to pick out the path of the actual tornado as there was just a swath of destruction cut throught the landscape. We started cutting right away and helped clear tons of debris. We difinetly made a huge impact in the community, the short time we were there.

One job sticks out the most in my mind though. There was an elderly woman with a large tree branch on top of her house that her neighbors were concerned would fall through the trailer. The police, along with her neighbors, had been trying to convince her to leave the trailer but she refused. When we showed up and told her that we were going to remove the branch and the fallen trees out back, she was more than happy to leave so that we could get the job done. After it was done, she was a completely different person. She was out and about, walking around the neighborhood and talking to her neighbors. We came back the next day and removed her collapsed carport as well. We helped out a lot of people when we were down there, but I will never forget the positive change in her demeanor after we had removed that tree.


Friday, November 17, 2006

What services do you provide?


I’ve had a number of people ask me that in the few weeks that I’ve been down here in The Pass. I know what they are asking; do you clear debris, do you build houses, do you provide loans?

When a middle age woman wanders in to our office to ask for help removing stumps in order to begin rebuilding, she stays for a good twenty minutes regaling us with tales of how she can’t get money from FEMA because she had to stay in Tennessee to care for her mother, who has recently passed away. She most certainly needs help with those stumps, but it seems that today, she also needed someone to listen. After she leaves the office I begin returning phone calls. I silently hope that the Smith’s phone will go unanswered; its so much easier to tell the answering machine that we are unable to help them; I dread having to tell a real person. When the phone is indeed answered, I take a deep breath and begin to explain that because the trees are not directly threatening their trailer, we cannot remove them until we gotten through the pile of work orders that are threatening trailers. I’m interrupted and informed that it is fine. More than anything, the family just appreciated the call. Now that they know, they can look elsewhere for help. For many, one of the worst parts of this last year has been the feeling of being jerked around, of countless beauracratic nightmares.

When people ask, I tell them about the concrete services that we provide. But the truth is that I often think that the most useful service we provide is as a small nonprofit that connects with individuals.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I'm not so good with titles


Coming off a year in a developing nation, I’m not surprised by what I find here along the gulf coast. After all, in Honduras people still remark on damage caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Taxis point out new bridges and neighborhoods that were never rebuilt. Corner store owners tell stories of how life was before, what happened during, and the struggle to get back on their feet. Anyone can tell you how devastating a blow the economy received. In short, Honduras is still recovering. So again, I’m not surprised by what I find here. Not until I pause and remember that I’m no longer in a supposed “developing” country. I’m in the USA and things here are NOT supposed to look like they do here.

Its been over a year since Katrina, and if I can send one message out to the world, out to whom ever it is that is reading this blog right now, it is this: the work here is not done, not even close. People ask about what I am doing, how the re-building is going. Are things almost back to normal? The re-building is just barely beginning. Thanks to the work of all those who’ve given over the past year and two months, and the resilience of the residents, the debris is pretty much gone and the gutting mostly finished. Only now can the re-building actually begin. In the meantime, Persevere is working hard to fill in the gaps by removing perilous dead trees, building storage sheds, starting kitchens for volunteers . . . all necessary projects so that the actual building can begin.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Steps - Bill Jr.

All too often the trees jobs we do are devoid of contact with the people we are there to help. The job the tree team does is vital to the safety and the homeowner’s ability to rebuild. While many people invite us in for lunch or show us pictures that they salvaged - we usually show up, take care of the trees and move to the next job in an attempt to take down as many trees as we can in a day.

It can be easy to loose sight of the fact that every little gesture and every big tree we fell makes an incredible ripple. Knowing that we are making a difference in the lives of those we help - we trudge on even when there is little contact with those we are helping on the tree jobs. But like golf, there are the shots that keep you coming back. On Thursday of this past week we took down several trees on a lot where a house once stood. We were taking the trees down so the family who owns the property can begin framing their new home. Their new home is normal but not ordinary. They are foster parents who currently have a two, four and five year old.

When they family found out that we were at their lot to remove the trees they drove over – little ones and all - and helped us stack the logs. Liz, their mother, probably thought it would be important to involve the kids in the process and let them see that they are one step closer to getting back into their home. What she may not have realized is that working along side a 2, 4 and 5 year old who were constantly trying to pick up logs that weigh twice as much as they do while wearing oversized safety goggles was quite a treat for us as well. We were reminded of why we are here and why we go out each day and work from sun up to sundown for no pay. We do it so each person and each family we help gets one step closer.