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.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"Karma" - Bill Jr.

Today we removed 5 dead standing trees at a home in Waveland. The gentleman who owns the property lost just about everything to Katrina. After Hurricane Hugo struck the Carolina’s in 1989 Bob spent 6 months volunteering - helping people repair their roofs and rebuild. It was nice to help out a disaster relief veteran. Bob said he feels like the time and energy he spent in his younger days after Hugo is now coming back to him in the form of volunteer support like ours. He is now relying on volunteer and charity support to rebuild his home and take care of his family. Samaritans Purse donated $6,000 in lumber to him and concrete for his slab that needs to be extended. While we worked to remove the trees Bob worked on the base of his new home.

He is retired, disabled and on a fixed income. We were able to remove three dead trees that threatened to fall through one of the trailers on his property – specifically the FEMA trailer where his 2 year old grandson sleeps at night.

He has been worried about the trees, one of which lost its top half during the last rain/wind storm passing through – luckily it fell away from the trailers. As he said “If you get up on one of the FEMA trailers and jump on the roof it will cave in, there is no way one of theses trailers would be able to handle a tree."

Friday, October 06, 2006

Sunday, September 17

Pathfinder – MLT

When the Boston College Summer Appalachia kids were here a few weeks ago, we set them up at Pathfinder Mission over in Bay St. Louis building little sheds – the people at Pathfinder call them “Pods.” They are 8x10 pre-fabricated sheds that are supposed to be really “volunteer friendly.” There is a wonderful church in Indiana who has volunteered to manufacture them and send them down to Mississippi so they are ready to assemble. The front and back are made of plywood and then the sides and roof are made of sheet metal. They are big enough to hold a washer and dryer for a family as well as whatever else anyone wants to put in there. They are not necessarily the Most volunteer friendly project since the wood gets warped pretty easily and causes some headaches, but they are a pretty good project.

We have been talking to Steve and Charlie over at Pathfinder about starting a similar project in Pass Christian for the residents here. Steve and Charlie have been awesome about helping us out and even donated 10 shed frames so that we could get set up. It was only after we arranged this deal with them did we think about how there isn’t really any good way to get the pods from Bay St. Louis to Pass Christian. We ended up loading them on the back of our dump truck and making a few different trips. They are kind of a pain to load and unload but hopefully, they will be worth it.

Steve is almost finished with his time at Pathfinder. He has been there since just after the storm and has done incredible work. He thinks it is time for him to start working with families on houses and get as many people back into their homes as possible. He is going to “adopt” a house and work on it until it is totally finished. It is inspiring to hear him talk about the work he is doing and in my opinion, it is gong to be the people like him who make the biggest difference around here. Obviously, everyone plays a role and as I was told recently, “Everyone who volunteers or gives money is a Dot & pretty soon, there are enough dots to make a picture” – but I think Steve’s work is incredible. He might even be worth 2 dots. Thanks for the Pods!

posted by Marianne Tierney at 11:32 AM

Sunday, September 6, 2006

- Jen

One result of the storm that concerns me a lot in the recovery process is the effect of the housing shortage on renters. People who have low-income jobs and had to rent before the storm find the price of their rent skyrocketing if the building they were in is still in tact. I found an amazing short video on it done by the Mississippi Center for Justice, at the following link:
On the first day I was down here in January, I was assigned to moving a disabled man out of his apartment in Biloxi. His apartment wasn’t affected at all by the storm, but the cost of rent had tripled, and he could no longer afford to live there. Currently we are working on clearing an undeveloped lot for a single mother who can no longer afford her rent and has to find an alternative solution to living on her family’s property in a camper. The effects of the hurricane are hitting some populations harder than others, and the difference seem to be going unmitigated. I think the local governments should try to be more creative in diminishing some of this difficulty. One ridiculous example is in Waveland. Habitat for Humanity is willing to build homes over there for residents, but the city is putting up all sorts of inflexible red tape for the organization, preventing much needed progress in the area. Much to my surprise, one of these barriers seems to be the attitude of some of the locals, being biased against the completely respectable and effective organization that Habitat for Humanity is. I would really like to some of the communities have a bit more empathy for the economically vulnerable population trying to come back and resume their lives. Housing is obviously a huge issue and the local officials should try to be as creative and helpful as possible in getting the area back on its feet.

posted by Jennifer Marsh at 1:35 PM

Friday, September 1, 2006

Friends & Parties - MLT

Well it has been an exciting week here in Pass Christian. There was a great group here from BC last week and it was wonderful to see how excited everyone was to be here and be a part of the solution. We worked them HARD! I hope we didn’t scare them out of never coming back again. We sent some out with the Tree Team everyday to take care of the ever growing Tree problem and we had others doing all kinds of work – work in the cemetery, building sheds for Pathfinder volunteer camp in Bay St. Louis, clearing lots, building a fire break – it was hard work. We tried to come up with fun stuff for them to do too. We had our friend Leslie from the Boys & Girls Club come and talk to them with her son and our friend Karen come with her daughter Sofia. We took them bowling and our friend Terry even arranged for them to have a pool party! I hope they enjoyed themselves. It was great that they were here and it was good for us to re-focus our energies after they left to see where we are at.

Exciting Things:

- Hurricane Katrina’s 1 Year Anniversary (August 29th)

- My Best Friend is here now visiting and doing work

There was a lot of 1 Year “celebrating” going on around here. The President flew over our house a few times with his 5 helicopters and blocked off the roads while I was trying to drive around East Biloxi at one point. I never actually saw him, but he was over there trying to build morale while causing traffic jams. Jen, Margaret and I got up early on the morning of the 29th and went to War Memorial Park in town where Good Morning America was broadcasting live. We saw Pass Christian native Robin Roberts and Patti LaBelle and gave our card to some inquisitive Good Morning America workers who may or may not be able to get Rosie O’Donnell to sign on to a “Sound of Music” quoting contest with me. There were parties and cook-outs as well as memorial services and a beautiful mass that we went to. All of the Catholic churches in town combined to execute a gorgeous mass with elements from the white church, the black church, the Hispanic community and the Vietnamese community.

I was really excited that my Best Friend was around to share in all of it with me. It has been great to have Margaret down here. It is really hard to explain how things work down here or why they are so different from home – its little subtle things, but now that she has been here and sees the work that we do, she has a much better understanding and will, therefore, understand me much better when I am trying to tell her about it on the phone. She’s been a trooper when it comes to taking down trees and hauling logs and it’s always good to get an outsider’s perspective. Thanks Margs!

posted by Marianne Tierney at 3:14 PM

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lull in volunteerism, push to persevere – beca howard

Lately there’s been a shortage of volunteers all along the Gulf Coast. Up until about a week and a half ago Katrina’s Kitchen (which offers 3 free meals a day to anyone – locals as well as volunteers) was packed for meals. Now the numbers are visibly smaller. Since we got down here, every Monday at Katrina’s Kitchen has always been a hustle and bustle of pumped up volunteers who’d recently arrived for a week or two of service. By Friday night’s dinner the place would be nearly empty as groups were doing their good-bye meals and heading out, but sure enough the next Monday would be just as jam packed and energetic.

Robert Renfroe, from the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service, came and spoke to a group of BC Summer Appalachia volunteers we had down last week. He said that volunteerism in Mississippi is down the most it has been since Katrina. With school starting up again a central section of the volunteer pool is gone. We’re already getting booked up for every school break – both high school and college – as I’m sure and I hope other organizations are. But there’s a lot of time from one school break to the next. Small groups and individuals are still volunteering here and there but the drop is noticeable.

From what I saw of media coverage from outside this area it seems to me that the one year anniversary of Katrina was covered fairy well. Most impressive to me about the coverage was the message that clean-up and rebuilding are not anywhere near being done and that help in whatever form – volunteering, donations, spreading the word – is still crucial. I can hope that awareness will last but just as the coverage dropped off up until the anniversary it may not last much past it.

The encouraging thing is that the people down here on the Gulf Coast still have high spirits and are persevering, however slow the progress might seem. One local described the difference between a local’s view and a volunteer’s: “Y’all can see the progress – you notice what’s been cleaned up, what’s been started. But we still drive down the street just thinking: ‘That’s where the supermarket should be, and why isn’t my baby’s nursery school there anymore?’ It’s tough to see the progress. But we try, and we’ll keep trying.” While it hasn’t gotten any easier, I’m sure, the people who have chosen to come back seem to have made their decision to rebuild and persevere.

posted by Rebeca Howard at 7:16 PM

Thursday, August 24, 2006

- Jen

This week 21 students are down from Boston College doing service through the Summer Appalachia Volunteer Program, a program very near to my heart as I worked closely with it when I attended BC. I find I am always most revitalized during weeks that we have volunteers down, with their enthusiasm and eagerness to work hard. Additionally this week, in an effort for the Appalachia group to connect with the community and get different perspectives on how Hurricane Katrina has affected the area, we had Karen and Leslie, who have been great friends to Persevere, come over and speak to the volunteers about both their personal experience in the past year and how it has affected the organizations they work for, Hope Haven and Boys & Girls Club, respectively. We also had the BC volunteers watch the WLOX dvd to get some contextual background on what has been going on for the past year with the impact the storm has made and the evolution of the recovery efforts. Although we had these evening activities for the BC students, I feel like I was able to benefit from them much more than I expected. In the day to day work of doing office duties and tree removal I find that I lose perspective as to why it might be helpful for me to be here. The hurricane aftermath that I see every day becomes a norm and it is impossible for me to imagine the area before Katrina hit. Seeing the DVD and hearing from Karen and Leslie gave me a lot of perspective of the Mississippi Gulf Coast they remember and love, and hope to see return again. For that cause, I am willing to work.

posted by Jennifer Marsh at 7:48 PM

Saturday, August 19, 2006

receiving trailers a year later – beca howard

We've been doing a ton of tree removal jobs lately. We have a great system going - someone to tie the rope, pullers, chainsawers, and even a set-up in which we use the dump truck to pull the big trees (those that Jen, Marianne and I may not be quite strong enough versus the wind). As Ron told us when he watched us take down a couple of trees, "you're a well-oiled machine." So, while tree jobs have become the norm, I'm still surprised at the need.

We are the only organization along the Gulf Coast removing dead trees even though everyone sees the problem - from the local news to the forestry department. Aside from the shock I still have that we're the only group helping out in this way, I am also shocked as to why certain trees need to be removed. Most dead trees we remove so they won't fall on a trailer or house under construction. But in some cases, families still haven't even received their FEMA trailer. So we show up to an empty lot and I think to myself "Why are we taking these trees down?" And then I learn that it is so that the property can be safe to receive the trailer or start rebuilding.

This past week we worked on two lots so that their owners could receive their FEMA trailers. One lot needed trees cleared. We were able to remove the dead pines arounds the property to secure the area where the trailer would be put. The second lot needed major weeding to make an area suitable to place a trailer. The owner of this lot had to relocate to northern Louisiana a few months ago in order to work and had to leave her lot unattended.

Nearing a year later, people are still only now receiving their FEMA trailers. While some people are moving back into their homes and businesses are slowly but surely are reopening, there are still just as many people in the very first stages of rebuilding. It's a year later and many are just receiving the financial and government help they deserve. And still many others are still waiting.

posted by Rebeca Howard at 6:29 PM

Saterday, August 12, 2006

- Jen

Today I was a team leader in my very first Kaboom Playground build. Given that I have a weird fascination for project management and structures of organizations, I was more than impressed with how well-run the build went. The two project managers from Kaboom set everything up so impressively that the day just ran itself, and by 2:30 in the afternoon there was a playground in place where there was just an empty field six hours before. The energy and enthusiasm from the 150 volunteers was fantastic. My group was responsible for putting together a couple slides, and after we finished that, everyone pitched in to haul over the mulch or dirt to the different areas of the playground. Kaboom is a national organization that has a Gulf Coast initiative to build 1000 playgrounds in the areas of the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Katrina in the next three years. They seem to have a good recipe to make this happen, given the enthusiasm of their staff and the level of community that they get involved in the project. It made work that could have been very long and arduous happen in a fun, productive way. I was also really impressed with the family that was responsible for funding the playground—the 4th generation fund. The family had relatives who lived in Pass Christian, so when they heard about the devastation to the area the family got together an established the 4th Generation Fund in honor of their family who lived in the Pass. They have been funding recovery projects such as this playground at Pineville Elementary, but not only did they fund it, some 40-50 family members from across the country came out to help build it. The day for me was a great illustration of how people and organizations can work together to bring great positive results for the community, in this case, a much needed play space for the kids at Pineville Elementary School.

posted by Jennifer Marsh at 12:22 PM

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Southern hospitality – beca howard

On my plane ride to move to Mississippi in June, I sat next to a native southerner. He told me of the one time he was in Boston for a conference, the great food, the beautiful Common. The one part he said he didn’t like was the rude drivers. “They cut you off, flip you off……no one would ever do that in the South,” he told me. “‘Cause everyone’s armed and dangerous, never know when someone’ll pull out a gun.” “Well, there’s one way to look at southern hospitality,” I replied.

Although I did enjoy the man’s interesting point, I have found an impressive amount of truly heartfelt southern hospitality. My first job when I got down here was building office space at Hope Haven. The founder of Hope Haven and his wife invited us all to their home for lunch and a little pool party one weekend. Just last weekend, Karen, who works at Hope Haven, had us over to her house for dinner. Evelina, the woman who runs the local newspaper, took us out to dinner the other night and keeps us up-to-date on town events.

Then there are Ron and Rosie who live down the street from us. We happened to meet Ron by chance a few weeks ago and since then they have taken us in. A couple Tuesdays ago they invited us to their home for a home-cooked fried shrimp dinner – I’d never tried shrimp and to my surprise I actually like it! The next week, though only Jen and I were around, they took us out to dinner and showed us their new house which is close to being finished. When Ron found out Jen likes to play golf, he even offered to try to find her a sponsor so she could play on his team in an upcoming golf tournament which benefits the Fire Department and offered to share his clubs.

While the free food is much appreciated amid Salvation Army frozen dinners and Katrina Kitchen meals, the hospitality and connection to where we’re living is what I really love. Getting to know these people, knowing we’re welcomed into the community and really starting to feel a part of it, instead of just people who are just staying there, is awesome. I can’t thank them enough for all they’ve done for us!

While we were painting the pharmacy the other day, a woman pulled her car over from the busy street and asked us if she could buy us cokes or anything as a thank you for our work. She didn’t work at the pharmacy; she may not even use this pharmacy. But the overflow of hospitality is inspiring. There’s a lot of negative stuff that has and maybe still is going on down here – people not receiving the help they need. But seeing how positive and genuinely warm-hearted so many people are is just incredible.

Terry, Ann, Karen and Rosie aren’t actually from the South. So either southern hospitality has rubbed off on them, or people are just nice wherever you are. But one way or another, whatever people’s motivations, I’m pretty sure none of it is out of fear as the man on the plane had joked.

posted by Rebeca Howard at 12:21 PM

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Power of One – Jen

This past month I have particularly become aware of the difference volunteers can make, even for a few days or a week. Right now we're overwhelmed with work orders and projects to get done for the Gulf Coast but we need the hands to do it. I have been calling every place I know down here looking for overflow volunteers who might need some work, but as one volunteer coordinator from Waveland put it, tens thousands of people are all in need of help-- the work isn't going to run out for a while.
Last week two of my college roommates were down visiting and volunteering, and one of the days four more of our friends from BC swung by on their road trip out to their Jesuit Volunteer Corp orientation in California. They stopped in to do service for a day, and it was great to have them! All of us went over and worked on painting the St. Vincent de Paul free pharmacy in East Biloxi. It was great how quickly the work went with the 9 of us there, despite the heat. It was really revitalizing for me-- having a group of volunteers getting work done gave me a sense of familiarity (we even busted out some icebreakers--very BC) and hope that when we get more volunteers down we can accomplish things so much quicker. Common sense, I know, but it really lifted my spirits, and makes me realize how much every person who comes down to help out really makes a difference. I have heard many comments in the past few years at school in regards to week long service trips probably don't make a huge difference, but I can tell you know how much they do-- and I am now trying harder than ever to recruit anyone and everyone I can to come down to the gulf coast and lend a hand!

posted by Jennifer Marsh @ 9:46 AM

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Jordan River – Jen

Today I went to a luncheon meeting over in Bay St. Louis at Jordan River Estates, a housing development on the banks of the Jordan River that was devastated and is still one of the worse areas I have seen in terms of getting help. There is still debris strewn everywhere, although there are about 5 houses being built back currently. I went over there after meeting Libby and Arlan last week, two of the homeowners in the area, who have been trying to get help for the community. Libby started and heads up a homeowners coalition for the block. The coalition has about 175 families, who meet once a month and have a pot luck luncheon and discuss what is going on in terms of clean-up and rebuilding, and work together as a community to try and build back the neighborhood that they all loved and want to go back to.
I was just there for a short time to talk to any homeowners who are in need of dead tree removal that are endangering lots, powerlines, or are fire hazards (all the acres of trees in the area are dead and now present a huge wild fire hazard to any structures they are trying to rebuild). It was really inspiring to see how this neighborhood has come together to build eachother up and work together through this hard time.

posted by Jennifer Marsh @ 7:46 PM

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Carmen – beca howard

The other day I met a woman named Carmen and her husband, Clarence, who is in a wheel-chair. The home they lived in pre-Katrina still lies mostly untouched since the storm. They now stay with their two daughters in a home they built for one of them. The FEMA trailer the couple received sits in the daughter’s yard; since her house isn’t big enough for them all, Carmen’s daughter stays in her parents’ trailer, giving them her bedroom and bath.

Although Carmen is appreciative of her daughter’s generosity and their good-fortune in having a family member’s home to live in, she feels cramped and yearns to be back in her own home. Clarence’s wheel-chair has scraped marks along the hallway walls of the house and nicked the doorframes of the bedroom and bathroom. But the couple’s own home is far from being livable, even though it’s nearly been a year since the storm hit.

Carmen told me what she’d received from FEMA, that hey had no insurance and what little progress they have made. Numerous contractors and volunteer groups never returned her calls or told her they couldn’t help because of the scale of the job.

I met Carmen when I went to talk to her about applying for grants for building materials. She was so enthusiastic and appreciative that I was even there talking with her about rebuilding and helping her put things in motion. A physically tiny woman – no taller than 5’ at most – her joy filled the room.

posted by Rebeca Howard at 8:14 PM

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

It’s good to have friends – Jen

This past week I've been really fortunate in getting to know some of the people in the community down here better. Saturday night, our friend Karen had Beca, Marianne, and I over for a really great meal. We had a great time hanging out with Karen and her daughter Sofia, and the food was fantastic. Wednesday night our friends Ron and Rosie who have very generously started taking us out to dinner each week treated us to chinese food. Following dinner they showed us their new house that will be finished soon. Ron and Rosie have been really great in making us feel like family. Thursday night Evelina, who founded and runs the town newpaper, took us out to Kafe Katrina.
Community is really important to me-- it's what I loved most about Boston College and what I knew I would miss the most. So it means a lot to me now that we're starting to find this sense of community, not only in our work but also in regular life. I am learning so much about this area through people's stories and I love hearing about how people got to where they are.
There are several times every week when I am so thankful to be able to commit a year of my time down here-- to stay and hopefully make a difference with our work, but also to make friends. I feel priveleged to start becoming a part of the community.

posted by Jennifer Marsh @ 7:45 PM

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

2 girls, 1 dollie, an 1 clean garage – Jen

The past couple of weeks have been rather low key at Persevere since it is family vacation time. This week it is only Beca and I here to do work, and for a couple days our task was to clean out a garage over in Bay St. Louis. There is a woman who lives over there who is finally ready to rebuild and is getting a large shipment of building supplies from Home Depot, but had no where safe and secure to store them. If the supplies were put in the house they would have to be moved everytime they worked on a different room, which would greatly impede the process. Instead, Beca and I were going to clean out the gargage next to the house, which hadn't been touched since the Hurricane last August.
I didn't realize what an overwhelming task this was until we arrived and saw the debris-strewn garage, complete with freezer, tables, beaureaus, file cabinets, rusted paint cans, a stove, a coffee vending machine (which was awesome), and a piano. I had no idea how the two of us were going to clear out this garage in a reasonable amount of time. That's when we discovered the beauty of the dollie. In only a few hours we were able to load up all of the big, heavy items onto the dollie and cart them all out to the pile (all except the piano,since the wood was rotted we couldn't get a good hold of it without it collapsing completely). In one day the two of us cleaned and swept out the gargage so it is good as new. I left that day with not only a slight sense of accomplishment (and relief that we found no snakes in the dark garage) but a whole new appreciation for the dollie.

posted by Jennifer Marsh @ 7:43 PM

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dining with the Locals – MLT

On Tuesday this week, we went to our friend Ron's for dinner. Ron has been a wonderful friend to us and he and his wife offered to make fried shrimp for us. When he discovered that I was allergic to shrimp, he said he'd buy me a pizza. Ron has been taking a lot of pictures and he has done some incredible documenting. He grew up here in Pass Christian and he and his wife have lived in Long Beach for the last seven years. He is in the process of rebuilding his home and he is staying with friends that he has known his whole life - the Griffons.

When Beca, Jen, our friend Michelle and I went over there for dinner, we went to the Mr. Griffon's house. Mr. Griffon was the local pharmacist in town for years and years. He is the father of 10 and all of his children grew up in Pass Christian. When his house was destroyed, his 10 children came back and helped clean it all out and then build it back up again. While we were eating fried shrimp and pizza, Mr. Griffon and two of his daughters who were there talked all about the way Pass Christian used to be. It was great to talk to them about what the town used to look like and what it means to them. It was a wonderful dinner and is even more evidence about how generous people are around here. Dinner was fabulous and we all owe Ron, Rosie and the Griffon's big time.

We also did some good work this week at Frank's house, at the St. Vincent de Paul free pharmacy and at the cemetery. There is tons to do right now and it can get a little overwhelming when there are so many people counting on us, but I guess its good to be needed.
Someday I hope that the need for services like ours is not as great, not because I don't want to do work outside in the blazing sun, but because I hope its done. Until it is all done, I'm glad that people feel like they can count on us to do it.

posted by Marianne Tierney at 11:01 AM

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Odd jobs – beca howard

As usual we have many different projects and jobs going on at the same time:

-Tollman Rd. Cemetery
A few weeks ago we started working on a cemetery in Pass Christian, where we're located. The cemetery seems to have been neglected since Katrina - trees were down, some on top of headstones, and the entire cemetery had been overtaken with weeds. One of the fallen trees - a massive oak - had been trimmed down by another organization but whoever started the job was unable to completely remove the tree. We've been working as much as possible removing the fallen trees, replacing pushed over tombstones and weeding the terribly overgrown cemetery. We had a group of volunteers work extremely hard with us for a day and they made a huge dent in the job, but this is a big cemetery and weeding takes a lot more time than I would have ever imagined. We definitely need more volunteer groups (which we are seeking) to complete this project but will not leave the project undone or allow for the cemetery to once again become neglected.

Bill Sr. and Bill Jr. have been helping a man named Frank since they were down here in the winter with Hands-On USA. Frank and his wife are wonderful people who need an incredible amount of help rebuilding. His wife, Georgia, always says "Oh, he'll find something for you to do." From odd jobs like weedwacking to major rebuilding jobs like building stairs up to the attic we do whatever we can for the couple. Recently Marianne, Jen and I dug a trench down the side of the house which was sprayed to fight off termites. Bill Jr. wired cable to the many rooms of the house. Later that week Jen, Marianne and I returned with Bontay (a high schooler who's been volunteering with us), to put the ceiling up on Frank's carport. The consistency of the relationship we've formed is incredible as we get to see the continued progress and Frank and Georgia know they can rely on a group of people, in a situation where many families still feel very much forgotten or neglected.

-St. Vincent dePaul Pharmacy

Another continuing project is the Saint Vincent dePaul's Pharmacy. The free pharmacy has been a partner with Persevere since our start. Bill Sr. remodeled the inside of the trailer over the winter (the pharmacy is temporarily being run out of trailer) to get them up and running again. We've conitinued to do whatever needed, including painting the exterior of the trailer recently. Last week we had 5 recent BC grads volunteering with us. One was here for a week before she starts at NYU Medical School. The 4 others made Persevere a stop on their cross-country road trip to California where they will begin Jesuit Volunteer Corps placements. In one day the group was able to seal the windows and paint the pharmacy from the drab and dingy yellow to a more warm, vibrant baby blue.

-Katrina-filled garage

This week Jen and I cleaned out a garage which hadn’t been touched since Katrina. The garage, sitting behind the house of an elderly woman, is going to be used as a secure place to hold building materials for her home. We were told the job would take at least a couple of days with a decent-sized crew and to watch out for black widows, snakes – generally, to beware of anything and everything that could be in there. So, instead of a sizeable crew, Jen and I found ourselves driving up to the garage alone, unable to find spare hands to help out. When we first got there the garage door was off but leaning mostly over its opening and there was stuff that had been tossed around by Katrina filling the garage – you could barely even step inside. With a well-devised plan to keep Jen only in “secured” areas (due to an aversion to snakes) we cleared the whole thing out in a day. Finding that garage’s floor was one of the most surprising things I’ve encountered in my time in Mississippi, no joke. And that’s including the oven, 1940s coffee vending machine and piano we found in that garage alone! …Luckily, neither black widows, nor snakes were among the odd finds.

posted by Rebeca Howard at 6:24 PM

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Jerry's Mowers – beca howard

Today was my 3rd trip to Jerry's Mowers - a small, local, hidden store which sells and services lawn mowers, saws, etc. It's a great place. It's run by an elderly woman who is now my hero. She knows absolutely everything about tools. Very personal service, you can tell everyone who goes there (aside from us) has been going there for years. So today, as I pulled up in the big red dumper, the high school kid who has always helped me says "Uh, oh, what's the problem?" Every time I'm there one of the men working at Jerry's comments: "That saw is as big as you are," "You actually use that?" or just give a generally surprised look that I'm there with whatever tool I have and just pulled up in a big truck. (Granted, the pole saw is at least a couple feet taller than me, and no I do not use it.) It's a funny thing down here: everyone has a pick-up, so women drive them often. But, at the same time, there are some very distinct gender roles and blatant surprise when a woman does "a man's job." Everyone at Jerry's is incredibly nice and helpful, and I find the surprise is quite amusing...especially now that I think they're beginning to realize I do know what I'm talking about, even if I do wear a skirt.
My goal for the year: to become friends with the people at Jerry's so I can get one of their awesome t-shirts with a huge picture of a guy on a mower across the front.

posted by Rebeca Howard at 5:36 PM

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Heat Index? – MLT

This week we worked with an awesome group of high school students from Chicago. There were 14 of them and they were really great workers, even though the heat index was something like 104 - I don't actually know what the "heat index" is since I come from the North where we don't have to worry about things like the "heat index," but it was Really hot. Jen & I brought them out to work on a cemetery in town which has been completely forgotten about. Mayoral candidate Alice Russell asked Persevere if we might be able to do something about the cemetery and we told her we would try our best. It was explained to us that this cemetery is known as the black cemetery in town, which still seems kind of ridiculous to me - the segregation of cemeteries. One huge tree and several smaller ones had fallen on some of the headstones and it was completely overgrown. We spent a few days trying to chop up the trees and clear up a few lots, but it was a good project for a group like the one from Chicago.

They arrived Thursday morning and got right to work, loading up the chainsawed logs we cut into the Gator and weeding individual lots. It was hard work out in the sun but they had fun and they were a huge help. They didn't even mind all of the Black Widow spiders we saw! Its going to be a while before the cemetery is exactly what we want it to be. We still have a lot of weeding to do and we have to do something about the massive tree stump that is still in the way, but we made a lot of good progress.

Today, the whole Persevere team spent an early morning in the water filming a promotional video and then went to the Military Base in Gulfport. We helped load a huge tractor trailer that Our Lady of Fatima in Biloxi rented to move all of their overflow of donations from after the storm. It was a good day with great people. It started pouring rain as we were finishing and it is still crazy to me how quickly things can flood - drainage system, Mississippi, drainage. Luckily, Katrina's Kitchen was serving Turkey Hill Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream - made getting drenched totally worth it.

posted by Marianne Tierney at 3:08 PM

Saturday, July 22, 2006

water damage – beca howard

Thursday I met Dong and his family. He and his wife bought their house 2 months before the storm hit. Their entire one-story house was flooded. Although they received very little help from FEMA and had no insurance they have been able to rebuild entirely due to support from volunteer groups and donations. Dong is now single-handedly building an addition to his house for extended family members who need a place to live. Dong has no construction experience, but that doesn't deter him - he is doing what he can with the materials he has.
Dong is a Vietnamese man who does not speak much English. His 3rd grade daughter Kathy has learned English at school and translates for her father. While his wife works he takes care of their two children, Kathy and Kevin and builds as much as possible. Thursday Bill and I helped Dong put up three walls of the addition. The job took more time than it normally would due to the language barrier - lost translations, gestures and pictures. It was amazing, however, to be able to work with such a generous, hard-working man who is so determined to do what he is able for his family. Dong made us egg-rolls for lunch and while I played cards with Kathy and Kevin he told us (through translation) about his struggles in the past year as well as all that has been accomplished.

I also recently met Ron, a retired man who has been taking photographs of Katrina's damage and the area's recovery since 2 days after the storm. He and his wife's home, in the first block from the ocean, was washed away by Katrina. Ron grew up two lots away from Persevere Headquarters, in a home nearly 3 blocks away from the water, which was also washed away by the storm. He and his wife are rebuilding a further inland according to the strict new building codes in the same area where they used to live. While they build they are staying with an elderly friend in his home. With all the work in dealing with the loss of their home and rebuilding anew, Ron and his wife are doing everything they can for the man with whom they are staying including asking Persevere to do a tree job on the man's property. The trees had been officially identified as a threat but since they were not falling or leaning, Ron had been told that they were not priority. Saturday we went over to the man's house where we took down the two rotted trees.

It was very hard for me to comprehend the damage water can do. It still is hard to imagine how so much water can travel so far inland and move so fast. Storm surge facts: the storm surge was 27' high (some people guess as high as 40' in some areas) and went as far as 6 mi. inland along the Gulf Coast and up to 12 mi. in areas along rivers and bays. "More than half of the 13 casinos in the state, which were floated on barges to comply with Mississippi land-based gambling laws, were washed hundreds of yards inland by waves" (CBS News article below).

CBS News: "Mississippi Coast Areas Wiped Out"
Video from Beau Rivage along the water - keep in mind that the opening in the Beau Rivage sign you see is about one story high
Mississippi Public Broadcasting video (here you see the barges on land and great birds-eye view shots)

posted by Rebeca Howard at 5:43 PM

Friday, July 21, 2006

"Choose battles large enough to matter and small enough to win"
I heard this quote in one of my classes last year, although I don't remember if it was from an author or professor so I will leave it anonymous. This quote has come to be a frame of reference (or lens, perhaps) for me in all the work down here, in how I think about each job. It's important to start small with important things so that they can be accomplished well.

posted by Jennifer Marsh @ 12:20 PM

Friday, July 21, 2006

Cemetery Project – Jen

Down the road from us here in Pass Christian, there is a baptist cemetary that has been pretty negelected in terms of being cleaned up. There are trees that need to be cut down, some that have smashed over gravestones, and the whole place is overgrown with weeds. It seems to be a point of contention with some of the community members, who are upset that this particular cemetary has been forgotten.
Last week we started cutting down some of the trees, and this week we had a great group of High School volunteers down from Chicago who started moving out some of the tree logs and got some of the grave plots weeded. It was tedious work in the intense heat, but they were great workers. We hope to keep working on that cemetery for the next few weeks until it gets done.

posted by Jennifer Marsh @ 6:13 AM

Monday, July 17, 2006

Susie Comeaux, Easton, MA – Volunteer dates: 6/6/06-6/13/06

After having driven down to the Gulf Coast in March and seeing how devastated it was even after 6 months had passed after Hurricane Katrina, I felt that seeing it wasn't enough and I wanted to go back down to do my part in the relief process, however minimal that might be. I spent a week in June with Persevere and was amongst their first volunteers. While slight visible improvements had been made since I had seen the area in March, it was still overwhelming how much work there is to be done.

Our first project was putting up street signs in Pass Christian. I never would have realized how important street signs could be until I saw an area where so many homes and landmarks had been wiped out, to the point where families returning after the hurricane might not even be able to locate the sites of their destroyed homes. The lack of signs had also apparently been a problem with the ambulance drivers, who, when responding to calls, would not know exactly where to go with the streets unmarked. While our task was pretty simple- to nail the signs to the nearest post or tree- several people passing by rolled down their windows to thank us, tell us how much the signs were needed, or to show their excitement at seeing another concrete part of the rebuilding process completed.

Another project we worked on was gutting a church located near the Persevere headquarters that had been flooded pretty much up to the top of the walls. With a pretty large group, we finished the entire thing in a day and a half. It was really cool to see how much a group of people can accomplish and how quickly, and to be able to see the results- pretty satifsying after hard work in 100 degree weather!

At the end of my week in Mississippi, we went over to the house of a woman whose home had suffered serious damage from the hurricane and who was one of the first people to move back. A group was working on her deck, which she had just finished building right before the hurricane hit. She showed us before and after pictures, which were really intense, for lack of a better word. But to see how far she had come in rebuilding was inspiring- volunteer groups like us had helped her chip away at the rebuilding process and she worked her butt off herself doing what she could. So even though my task for the afternoon was removing nails from the deck boards, a seemingly insignificant task, it was part of a whole bunch of tasks that needed to be done in order for her to get her home and her life back together. The most incredible thing about it was her attitude- she was so genuinely appreciative of all the volunteers' work (on her home and on the entire Gulf Coast) and she told us that despite all the devastation and the sadness of losing not just houses, but homes and pictures and memories, it was also an uplifting experience to see how many people responded to the need for help.

So especially after talking to her, leaving the disaster relief effort after a week, I know my time was well spent. And even though I couldn't stay longer and do more, if a whole bunch of people keep chipping away at it, there will be results, just like the concrete results that could be seen with this woman's home. After having left, I have to say that I miss the interesting meals at Katrina's Kitchen, drinking Anheuser-Busch canned water, and spending time with the fine individuals of the Persevere Operations Staff, who are working their butts off to give more people concrete results, and slowly but surely rebuild the coast.

posted by Persevere Volunteers at 3:58 PM

Monday, July 17, 2006

Grants – MLT

Its Monday in Mississippi and today, I was on Grant duty. I came to Persevere with a little bit of knowledge about grants. I spent some time working on grants and grant proposals when I interned at Haley House - a Catholic Worker community in Boston - so I know a bit about how to go about researching them and what is involved. It has been wonderful to talk to different people around here though about the best way to get results. The Grant-Blitz last week was great and gave us some wonderful contacts at the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits, and Lesley from the Boys & Girls Club has been so helpful.

We had a big grant due Friday and even though I was proud of it, by the time we got it into the mail, I was sick of looking at it. We created the Gulf Coast Quality of Life Initiative and are preparing to put it into action starting with The Forest Fire Prevention Project. We spent a lot of time vamping and re-vamping this project until it was just right. The Post Office closed at 4:30 and I definitely got an adrenaline rush as I ran it in at 4:05. It was good, but it was a Pro-cess! The letter from the Mississippi of Secretary of State that refused to show up, the budget that was added and added again, the IRS letters and the copies that had to be in the right order. I felt good about it and I feel like I learned tons about the grant world in one afternoon. We all worked really hard on it and we worked well together. That night, even though my eyes hurt from squinting at my computer, I felt a little bit like I had just taken my first steps or gone through some other important milestone moment. I e-mailed Kathe, the woman who founded Haley House to thank her for all of her support and everything I learned from her. She e-mailed me back and told me that she was still in the middle of writing a grant of her own, but it was nice to be in solidarity. I guess in the nonprofit world, this kind of work never ends.

Today, I wrote another proposal and then went through 20 websites to see if we and our Gulf Coast Quality of Life Initiative would qualify for any other foundations. I quit at 5:30. Enough for one day. At 6:00, Jen came back with the mail. She handed me an envelope. I opened it up and inside was a letter and a check for $100. It was from a small foundation that was created out of a community of monks I had sent a proposal to. They hadn't required all of the other forms or any extra copies and it had just been a little write-up about what we do, but they responded positively! I know its not much and we certainly have a long way to go in terms of funds that we need, but something I wrote got us some money to last another day. Another day when we can help people like Donna and Frank and Everett across the street. It feels good. We'll see what happens with the bigger one, but for now, grants are pretty cool.

posted by Marianne Tierney at 5:10 PM

Monday, July 17, 2006

Everett & Elaine – beca howard

Our only neighbors on the street, Everett and Elaine, moved back into their home last week. We brought them home-baked "welcome back to the neighborhood" cookies the other night. The elderly couple was so thrilled to be back in their new home and be able to share that experience with us. Within less than a minute of being inside their home Elaine was showing us through every corner of the house. She showed us their new closet, telling us that all of the clothes inside were from a distribution center and how grateful she was for those free articles.

Everett, a man in his late sixties, had cleared their lot and the interior of their house by January entirely by himself. When it was finally time to rebuild his wife urged him to go to a local church to seek help from volunteers. That's where he met a man named Ken. As Everett puts it "once I told him about all the work I'd already done, he knew we were one of the families he wanted to help." Ken worked with Everett every day until the couple's recent move-in. Elaine mentioned that he installed their kitchen counter, cabinets and appliances. He helped Everett with everything from the plumbing to the molding on the walls. Without his help and the labor he donated, the couple said their house would have been finished but entirely bare - there would not have been money for furniture or anything else.

Everett is a remarkable man. Aside from all of the impressive work he accomplished on his own in preparation for rebuilding, Everett is an impressive man in terms of his reflective nature. Everett was near tears when telling us about how much it meant to him that Ken was so devoted to helping his family. Ken went to their house every day and stayed with the couple until their home was complete. Everett told us that before Katrina, he sadly doesn't know if he would have gone to another part of the country to donate his time and effort had a disaster hit elsewhere. He said he just didn't really understand a situation like that or the immense fortune it was to have volunteer help before he lived through it. Now he says that if a disaster hits somewhere else in the country he will go and serve that community as much as he is able, as so many, including Ken, did for him and Lorraine. Everett is now donating his time to another rebuilding project, working with Ken. Now that his home is completed he will work toward the heart-warming moment of moving back in for another family.

posted by Rebeca Howard at 5:43 AM

Monday, July 17, 2006

The nature of the job – Jen

Throughout my time volunteering at Persevere I have experienced so much of a bittersweet feeling that I think is the nature being a disaster relief volunteer, where times when it feels like we are most helpful and most effective are when we are able to provide a solution for a situation that I wish were not a reality to begin with. Today I had such an experience.
Every morning I have the same routine of getting up, making coffee, and checking my e-mail. In my e-mail box there was a story that Bill had forwarded from the Sun Herald entitled "Standing Dead Trees Are A Danger" about how Hancock County residents are distraught because of the trees that pose threats of falling on trailers or starting forest fires, and about how they can't find anyone to remove them. Since we have the capability of removing trees, we tracked down the Hancock County board of supervisors, who connected us with some great people from the county who have done a tree danger assesment. They said they would e-mail me with a list of people who had called in needing work done. I met with them this afternoon and was able to get a list of all the locations of places where people needed trees cut down.
I left the meeting feeling pretty great that Persevere is going to be able to help solve this problem that is so widespread and not being addressed by other groups, until I got home and recieved the e-mail with the work orders-- 65 names of people who needed help. At first it feels great that we're being provided with so much work, but that feeling always gives way to sadness that there are so many people who are looking for help.
I sometimes feel like I have the greatest job in the world in being able to try and provide small answers for people in a time of much uncertainty, but it always gets balanced out with the wish that no one would need my help to begin with.

posted by Jennifer Marsh @ 6:02 AM

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A First View – MLT

The other day, I was psyched to pick up my friend who arrived safely in Mississippi. Steph is down here for a few weeks and even though she is not volunteering with Persevere, she is staying a few miles away and is relatively close. Beca and I, after attending a fabulous Grant-Blitz crash course with grant makers and the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits, were able to go pick Steph up. On our way home, we drove down Highway 49 which is pretty much up and running. There are tons of stores on 49 and restaurants and it is in relatively good shape. I was asking Steph about her trip and I was excited about what a good morning Beca and I had had and we were all just chatting.

When you get to the end of 49, you reach Highway 90. Highway 90 runs to our house and I probably drive on it 2-3 times a day at least. Highway 90 also drives straight along the beach and everything on both sides of it was completely destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. As we turned onto 90, and faced the shell of the Grand Casino that still remains, Steph got really quiet. I realized that she had never been here before and had never seen the destruction that has become a part of my life. I stopped jabbering and told her, "This gets a little dramatic. You might want to be prepared." As we continued down 90, I looked at the beach to our left and at the destroyed homes and businesses on our right.

It is crazy to me that I can quickly get "used" to seeing the devastation that Hurricane Katrina caused. I drive by these ruins everyday and it just becomes a part of life here and I barely pay too much attention to it anymore. Driving with Steph reminded me of how insane this whole situation is. The debris from a lot of the lots along 90 is gone, which is an improvement, but the rebuilding is still weeks, if not months, away. I asked Bill yesterday if he thinks he'll ever be here to see what this area - specifically the drive along 90 - looks like when it is all redone and beautiful again. He said he'd like to be. I would too.

posted by Marianne Tierney at 6:29 AM

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Many friends... few couches. – Bill Driscoll, Jr.

I believe, under normal circumstances, that scoring hand me down furniture for the new place would be easy. Given the amount friends and people we know in the community the normal cycle of life is people move and/or buy new furniture and need to get rid of the old. We are prime candidates – young, just out of college and have just moved into a new place that needs furnishings. The only problem is that almost all of our friends were affected by Katrina in terms of home and possession loss. Thus leaving them also without a couch and probably looking as well.

Finally after weeks of couchless and chairless relaxation we got the call. We went from sitting on top of buckets to folding chairs and now we have received our very own hand me down futon.

I had started pricing futons at local furnitures stores this past week and was close to buying when I got the call, “we have a futon if you want it.” Quick answer = yes. A big thank to the Latham's

posted by Bill Driscoll Jr. at 7:41 PM

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Toughest Part – Bill Driscoll, Jr.

A few months ago while at Volunteering with Hands on USA I witnessed a farewell speech that has stayed with me. A nurse stood up to share his parting words. He spoke about how in his younger days he was a medic in Vietnam. Everything moved so fast and the work he was doing seemed so exciting. The fast pace made would be traumatizing experiences hard to understand or comprehend.
He conveyed that he saw a lot of the same qualities of the fast pace and trying circumstances in the volunteer work along the GC.

He cautioned that he did not realize until much later what the toughest part about being a medic in Vietnam was. "It was what you could not do... It is what you can not do for these people here that will hurt the most, “he said.
His speech, at the time, seemed very off beat and kind of odd but his words remain true. Volunteers like myself can only do so much and we go out of our way to help people anyway we can. The point is we do what we can, we will never be able to solve all of everyone’s problems, but we are able to accomplish a great many things. But knowing what couldn't be done is obviously harder to face than what was accomplished.

This past week we completed the last part of a tree job we started two weeks ago in Pass Christian. The work was done for a man who lost just about everything including his house to Katrina. His pickup truck is about all he has left. He lives in a FEMA trailer now in an area with very few people around. The Isles section of Pass Christian had approx 470 homes. Only 23 survived Katrina, and by surviving I mean were standing, and not livable by any means.

His neighbors are gone. no houses stand and no other FEMA trailers are around. It must be a lonely place. He had about 10 trees that needed to come down and we agreed to take on the job.

With relative ease we dropped 8 of the trees. Two skinny pines remained but were in a particularly tough spot with phone and cable lines on one side, tall healthy pines behind and two small two healthy oaks on the other side it left us without much room for error.

He said he wanted to save the oaks. For a guy, as he put it "in a bad place," I was going to do what ever I could to save the oaks from being damaged or having to come down. I try not to make promises when dealing with trees saying only that I will try and avoid damaging live trees but can't make any guarantees. There was really no way to take the two dead pines down without a lift of some kind or dropping them onto the live oaks to avoid the lines.

Down the road from our home base in Pass Christian there is another volunteer groups called Randy's Rangers. Randy has a Lull lift and let us borrow it for the tree job. We had never met Randy and this was our first contact with him and his group. We picked up the Lull lift and he gave me a crash course on the machine and off I went.

The Lull lift proved to be invaluable. We were able to take the two pines down without any problem and we saved the oaks and the lines. I was determined to take down those two pines without damaging the small oaks. I didn't want to be responsible for taking more away from someone who has already lost so much. The 10 trees coming down for him was a big victory in his battle to recover and leaving the living oaks still standing is a symbol of a growing future. Saving the oaks may have been a bigger victory for me than him, but either way they are up and he is happy.

The success of the job wouldn't have been possible without the generous support and loan from Randy's Ranger's: THANK YOU RANDY!

Monday, July 10, 2006

My Yankee Accent – MLT

Today featured an interesting encounter - I met Randy. Randy and I have been playing phone tag for a few days. He and his wife are running a really impressive relief program here in Pass Christian and he has done a lot of great work. I am not sure where he is from originally, but he is Southern. I had talked to him about using his Lull Lift to take down the rest of James' trees today. After I woke his wife up by my knocking on their trailer, she told me that Randy was already out working and it might take a while to track him down. Resigned to go yet another day without actually meeting Randy, we decided to work on some other jobs. As we were in the truck driving away from Pass Christian, Randy called and told us to come to get the lift from him.

We turned the truck around - which is a process in and of itself - and headed to find Randy. When we got out Bill introduced himself, Jen shook Randy's hand and I said, "Hey Randy. I'm Marianne." He responded saying, "Well! You're not what I expected." I smiled. Maybe I'm younger than he thought I'd be, maybe I'm shorter, I certainly had more freckles. He went on to tell me that he has a hard time understanding me with my "Yankee accent" and his wife can't keep up because I talk too fast. I've been called a fast-talker before, but I don't think I've ever heard my speech referred to as "Yankee." He went on and asked, "Where are you from anywa?" I said, "Guess." He looked over at Jen who was wearing a BC t-shirt and said, "Boston?" I nodded and smiled as Jen told him that we had just graduated from Boston College. He asked what my major was and when I told him "English" he responded saying, "English! But you can't hardly speak it!" More smiles. Randy is a really good guy though and has a good sense of humor and we got along well. His lift worked wonders at the tree-site and I was glad that we were able to finish that job.

When we dropped the lift back off at Randy's lot, I ran over to his trailer to let him know that we had brought it back and to thank him for it. I knocked on the door and heard Randy tell me to "Come on in." I entered the trailer and stood before Randy and his wife. I said, "The lift's back. It worked great. Thanks so much. It was perfect." "Did you leave the keys in it?" Randy asked. "Yup" I said, "keys are there." And then Randy said, "Well, you're just about as close to perfect as you can be while still being Female."

I looked at his wife. She smiled. I chuckled and smiled and walked away. I like Randy. Never had anyone say anything like that to me before, but what're you gonna do? My Yankee accent and I live in Mississippi.

posted by Marianne Tierney at 7:33 PM

Friday, July 07, 2006

Moving Day – Jen

Today we helped move in a woman and her daughter into a new home-- a permanent home, which is a first since their home was destroyed in the hurricane. The job of moving her belongings was not to taxing in itself and seemed not that significant, but in retrospect, and from what she told us, it was a pretty big deal for her to be set up in a house again.
As cliche as it is, any job that we do makes me think about the ripple effect of a water drop that is part of the Persevere logo. So much of what we do is small acts here and there, but hopefully its ripple effect goes beyond the scope of the action. The thing I like most about working with Persevere is that we focus so much on building relationships that follow through with people, making sure that we do all we can, and if we don't have the ability to do something, finding someone who can, not just doing jobs here and there-- quality not quantity I suppose. Beyond the physical rebuilding that we are doing, I hope that we help in rebuilding a sense of community down here as well. Service has always been a reciprocal relationship in my experience, and that has been shown once again here on the gulf coast- there are so many people we've come across who are giving us a hand in getting started-- particularly the people at established non-profits down here (Hope Haven, Boys and Girls Club), which has been great.

posted by Jennifer Marsh @ 6:56 PM

Friday, July 07, 2006

Odds & Ends – MLT

Things are going well at Persevere Disaster Relief World Headquarters. We took most of the trees down for James and he was so grateful. Beca, Jen and I gutted a house over in Bay St. Louis in a day and a half which was pretty exciting. The owner of the house is an older woman and her son and his wife came over to check on our progress when they knew that we were working on the house. When they walked in the door and saw that the crew that had cleanly and efficiently taken the walls off of the house was comprised entirely of girls, they, the son especially, was pretty surprised. I think they expected to find a larger group with at least a few men thrown in there - not necessary. At first, I was a little annoyed and it has bothered me before that people in the south tend to underestimate women and what we are able to do. Although the more I thought about it, I can see how he would be surprised if we were not at all what he was expecting when he heard a crew was there gutting the house he had grown up in.

Saturday, we went back and took the ceilings down. We have a 15 year old volunteering with us on Saturdays now and I think he got a kick out of doing that kind of work. I just gave him a ladder and a crow bar and let him go. It worked out well though.

We had an awesome meeting with a woman we met from the Boys and Girls Club and she was a HUGE help. She talked to us about how to become more legitimate and what to focus on and she was hilarious while she was doing all this. She was probably one of the most entertaining people I have met down here yet. Even though she turned down my ideas about being the Mayor and running a coffee shop around the corner, she was really encouraging and helpful.

Saturday night we went to "Crab Fest" in Bay St. Louis. When I talked to my sister the next day and she asked, "was it hella southern?" I told her that that is exacly how I would describe Crab Fest. I felt a little out of my element and it certainly made me aware of the fact that I am far from home, but it was a lot of fun. The music and dancing and "crab roulet" and crafts and food were all great. Its all part of being here and doing some Disaster Relief.

This week, post 4th of July celebrations, has been good to get some office work done. I've been working on researching grants and creating a Needs Assessment sheet. Its not as much fun as being out in the field and talking to people, but it has to be done and I am glad to do it.

posted by Marianne Tierney at 8:04 AM

Friday, July 07, 2006

the pre-Katrina, post-Katrina divide – beca howard

The other day I asked a 12-yr-old boy "What's your favorite video game?" After thinking for a minute, he responded, "Well, before Katrina or after Katrina?" "Uh, before Katrina" I decided. "Zelda" was his quick response. "And after Katrina?" I continued. "Well.....Zelda." Even twelve-year-olds are making this distinction in every aspect of their lives, down to their choice in video games.

Hope Haven is the pre-Katrina childrens' shelter we've been building office space for. Pre-Katrina Hope Haven was a shelter for abused children with twelve staff members. All twelve lost their homes. The shelter was also destroyed. Due to the loss of staff Terry, the founder, reinvented the organization according to the needs of the area and the resources available.
Post-Katrina Hope Haven functions as a foster home for up to 6 children permanently and an emergency shelter. In the case of an emergency in which children are involved, Hope Haven has the capacity to house up to twelve children temporarily. It also provides training and assistance to other foster families in the area.
With its new home and the afore-mentioned office space in an adjacent building, Hope Haven is now open and received children yesterday. The home's foster family is ecstatic to receive their 4 children.
Yesterday when we were over at Hope Haven working the foster mom, Beverly, came in in a flurry of excitement pulling out last minute things from the storage room to make the kids' welcome perfect. Two days ago the kids went over to the house for a visit yesterday afternoon. Seeing Beverly with those kids was priceless.

Karen is one of the three remaining staff members of Hope Haven. Yesterday we were able to help her move into her new home. She closed on another house less than a month ago. She and her family moved in, painted, and went to meet the neighbors who exclaimed "Oh, it's so great that the last family finally got rid of the black mold in that house so they could sell it." Karen had never been informed of any black mold (which had not been removed) and had to move out. Now, with her husband who is in the special forces recently deployed to the Middle East, she and her daughter, Sofia, have finally begun to settle into a home. As we were unloading the moving truck we came accross some of Sofia's artwork which had been on a top shelf, just avoiding the 4' of water Katrina put in their house. Karen told us that she wept like a baby when she finally entered her house after the storm because she was so grateful that this sentimental treasure had been spared.

posted by Rebeca Howard at 6:36 AM

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Crab Roule and Fried Pickles - Why I love the South – Jen

This is a digression from the reflections on volunteering, to talk about our adventure to the Bay St. Louis Our Lady of the Gulf 23rd annual Crab Festival-- and adventure would be the only word to describe it.
Growing up I had dreams of growing up to be a small town doctor, somewhere in the midwest or the south. Why? I don't know, considering I have grown up in New England. It wasn't until my senior year of High School when I revisted watching the movie "Doc Hollywood" (a not so good movie from the early 90's with Michael J. Fox) that I realized my vision of small town life was based on the scenes of small town festivals and family practices from this movie. Ever since then I have been so excited to attend a small town southern festival-- and Crab Fest could not have lived up to it more. Southern food, country dancing, lights everywhere, fun local crafts, and "cokes" instead of soda.
Upon arriving we saw what was a foreign practice going on -- Crab Roule. We watched from the sidelines just for fun, trying to figure out how it worked and what the heck was going on. Little did I know a few minutes later I would be responsible for releasing the crabs into the middle of the table to start it out. I was given this honor for being the person from farthest away-- when I am pouring live crabs out of a bucket for people to place bets on I know that I am indeed far from Portland, Maine. Of course having never seen Crab Roule happen before I was really confused about what to do, and didn't figure out that there was a hole in the bottom of the bucket and that all I had to do was lift it straight up. Instead I sent the crabs sprawling across the giant roule board, much to the resentment of all the locals placing bets. I quickly abdicated my crab roule catalyst position and headed over towards the food stands.
For dinner there were some great options-- crabs by the pound, crab-stuffed potatoes, jambalaya, crawfish etoufee, shrimp po boys, [insert any other typically southern or fried food here]. I opted for the fried pickles and crabmeat pie-- both were delicious, although I reccommend only eating fried pickles in moderation.
All in all it was an outstanding night-- completely satisfying for my first small-town southern fair.

posted by Jennifer Marsh @ 6:32 PM

Saturday, July 01, 2006

GIRLS & flood katrina – beca howard

Yes, that's right, Persevere Disaster Relief's operational team is made of of one guy and three girls. It's funny to see people's reactions to that. They come home to see what work is being done and instead of walking in to find a team of burly men they find us...three 5'3" women who probably look like we're still in high school - speaking for myself at least. Yesterday and today we worked on a gutting job removing 2 massive built-in cabinets and the wood paneling and ceiling tiles in 3 rooms. When the homeowner's son came over yesterday he asked Marianne, Jen and me where the rest of the team was. We said he was looking at it. He said, "Really? No guys?" His look was almost of disbelief. After talking to us and looking around his mom's house he complimented that we were doing very good work. It's nice to prove people wrong sometimes.

We continued talking and it turns out the son has a house right on the beach in Waveland. Structurally it survived and they're rebuilding. But they didn't get any hurricane insurance, of course because the damage was from the water....Flood Katrina, right?

finding a 4" grasshopper in my shirt hanging outside to dry

a church with a sign out front which reads "YOU THINK IT'S HOT HERE?"

a man in the supermarket who upon reading Marianne's Boston College shirt, in a very thick southern accent and smile said "Boston? Bunch of liberals up there"

spray painted on the back of an electrical van: "CAUTION, DRIVER JUST DOESN'T GIVE A SHIT ANYMORE"

posted by Rebeca Howard at 12:45 PM

Thursday, June 29, 2006

tree jobs – beca howard

For the past week or so we've been doing tree removal jobs - taking down and removing dead trees killed by Katrina. These trees are problematic for a couple of reasons. For one, there's the potential of them falling on people's FEMA trailers or houses once rebuilt. Secondly, the area is very dry and at risk of forest fires.

Last week we did a tree job in Long Beach for an incredible couple, Jane and Jim. The couple has experienced a very difficult year between Katrina and the loss of each of their mothers. Luckily their house, because it is brick, structurally survived the storm more or less. With four feet of water and roof damage they have been working on their house for the past seven months. They hope to be back in their home within the month. But, aside from the damage to the house itself, what used to be an immaculate back yard was filled with standing and fallen dead trees which came very close to the house. It was an absolute mess of dead dry tangled wood.
Jane contacted the fire department, her alderman and even the mayor whom all noted a severe fire hazard. But she couldn't find anyone who would remove the trees for her until someone from Hope Haven recommended us. With a few days' work our team was able to remove about 15 trees and clear the hazardous area away from her house. After showing Ann and me the before and after pictures of her home's damage from Katrina Jane cried while thanking us for our team's work. It is people like her who make this work worth doing. Some of my friends don't understand why I would offer to do manual labor outside in 90 degree heat in a longsleeve shirt for no pay. Jane is why. She has kept addresses and pictures of every volunteer who has helped her and Jim with their home. With the incredibly difficult year she has gone through, she is an inspiration of hope.

On Monday Jen, Marianne, and Bill Jr scouted another tree job. This homeowner had just found out he hadn't received as much through a loan to rebuild as he had expected. This man has to rebuild from scratch - nothing of his house was salvageable. Aside from the cost of rebuilding he had about 10 very large - 60-80 feet tall - dead pine trees on his property. A private tree removal company would have charged $800 per tree. Yesterday our team of 5 removed 8 of the trees. We have an appointment with the power company on Monday to temporarily drop the power lines while we cut down the last two trees so that they have room to fall without causing any damage.
The Isles is an area which is within the county but just outside of the town limits. For this reason it is not receiving as much aid as other areas. It still looks as bad as many areas did when I was down here in January. There is still a sheriff check-point to ensure that only homeowners and workers enter the area. Some homes were very recently bulldozed and removed. Families are still rummaging through their lots for possessions. It is a shock to drive through the Isles and see that it is in such bad shape 10 months after Katrina hit.

It seems like a frill to care about trees when there's not even the foundation of a house on the property. But once that house is rebuilt it will mean the world to those who live in it. And when one of those trees can easily fall and go right through a house just with a bad wind storm, it makes me very grateful that Persevere has the equipment and experience to be able to help where people are being overlooked.

posted by Rebeca Howard at 9:28 AM

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Trees – MLT

The other day we were working on taking trees down at a house Long Beach. The woman who lived there was incredible. She was so friendly and so appreciative of everything we were doing. She offered us food and made fresh lemonade and brought us into her trailer to see the pictures she had taken after the storm. She and her husband are hoping to get back into their house in the next month or so. It was great to work there and we brought down some of the dead trees on her property and tried to clear the land so they can begin to have a yard again. When we were finished there, we were already dirty from working in the yard so Bill suggested we go work on some other trees he knew of.

These trees were at a man's house in the Isles outside of Pass Christian. Bill and I had gone to look at these trees last week and I was shocked by the devastation that has not been touched out on the Isles. We called the man - James - and he asked if we could come by and meet with him before we took the trees down. We went out and met James that afternoon after he got home from work. His situation is horrible.

He is so sad right now and I don't blame him. He feels like he has been completely forgotten about and left behind. His house has been gone since November and he has been living in his trailer by himself since then. He has no neighbors and hardly anyone has come back to that area because nothing has been done to restore it. I wanted to be able to do so much for him and all we could do was offer to take some trees down. He had been turned down that afternoon for a loan that would allow him to re-build his house so he doesn't know what he is going to do now. It really seems like a desperate situation and he just sounded so lonely. I felt horrible for him and hopefully if we are able to take some of his dead trees down, we will be able to restore a little bit of something for him. Hopefully...

posted by Marianne Tierney at 6:48 AM

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Trouble with Trees – Jen

The past few weeks we have been working on a few tree jobs-- cutting down and clearing out trees on people's properties. When I thought of doing disaster relief and cutting down trees I assumed we would be clearing trees that had fallen over during the hurricane, onto houses or obstructing land that could be cleared for a new lot. What I didn't realize is that the massive amount of trees that died as a result of the storm present a couple different problems- the ones still standing that are quite tall can easily fall over onto trailers, houses, etc. if they aren't removed. They also present a hazard as fuel for forest fires that occur down here due to the Southern heat. It's awful to think what a widespread problem this could be in the future since it seems as though most of the trees were killed off by Katrina.
Before we do any of our work we go over to the site and take note of what we need to be doing, so that we can be fully prepared. Today we went over and scouted out the property of a guy who needed trees taken down over on the Isles, an area beyond Pass Christian limits that used to be a golfing community but was decimated in the Hurricane. We've been told that out of the 460 houses only 23 are partially standing. It unfortunately still looks like a disaster area 10 months later.
What was saddest of all is the toll that it is taking on the residents who still call the Isles home-- which was extremely tangible when we talked to the man whose trees we were going to cut down. " I'm not in a good place right now" he said a few times throughout his conversation with us. As we walked the property, empty aside from his fema trailer, he pointed out empty lots where his neighbors used to be, and the empty lot where the house that he grew up in used to be. "I still get emotional about this everyday of my life" he explained to us. It was hard to stand there as a 22 year-old just out of college and know how to begin to empathize with his seeming desolation-- where do you start to rebuild a life when it was so visibly washed away? It also makes me question the meaning of home-- what is it that makes people stay when their world seems to be just a shell of what it used to be?
So how is cutting down a few trees going to help breath life back into the gulf coast? We pick up the pieces any way we can-- today this means sawing down trees to allow for a piece of hope this man can grab onto- one more step on the path to building his home back.

posted by Jennifer Marsh @ 5:48 PM

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Katrina's garden – Bill Driscoll, Jr.

The Gazebo Gazette a small local newspaper in Pass Christian covered a story this week that hit close to home…there are random sunflowers and other things growing as a result of Katrina. Two lots away from our home base there is a watermelon growing and right next door to the watermelon a giant sunflower has shot up. The sunflowers are all around town. Here is the Gazebo Gazette article:

Suddenly, there seem to be sunflowers everywhere in Pass Christian – fields of sunflowers where there were none before, lone sunflowers waving hello from roadsides, and a towering seven footer spotted in the former trailer park at North and Church.

Why so many sunflowers? The Gazebo Gazette posed the question to Dr. Kerry Johnson, area horticulturist with Mississippi State University’s extension service. E also emailed him some photos of our local beauties.

Dr. Johnson observes that the sunflowers look like ornamentals, rather then native plants, and so must’ve come from a manmade source – probably the flooding of a retail outlet.

“My hypothesis is that a building that had seeds – a garden center, or a grocery store – was flooded, and the seeds were carried and distributed around,” he said. Bay St. Louis has seen a similar sunflower boom, especially as the days get hotter. “Sunflowers are a summer crop.” Dr. Johnson said. “So this is prime-time sunflower growing season.”

By: Evelina Shmukler

posted by Bill Driscoll Jr. at 8:30 AM

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

First 2 Weeks – MLT

The first two weeks here in Pass Christian have been very exciting. We have been working around the clock getting our "World Headquarters" all set up. We have gone from having practically nothing here to receiving a refrigerator, washing machine and lots of appliances.
Our volunteers have been great. We had 3 friends from Boston College come down for a week to help with the house and to finish the sign project. We also worked with a group from Credit Suisse to gut a local church and 2 high school youth ministry groups on houses in Pass Christian and East Biloxi.
I facilitated some of the work that a group of teens and adults from Cleveland did on our friend Frank's house. Frank tells an incredible story about how he survived Hurricane Katrina. He is a true survivor and inspired our volunteers to do some wonderful work on his house.
This week, I spent a few days getting offices set up at Hope Haven. Hope Haven is an amazing shelter for abused children and I am really proud to be a part of this project. We just finished painting the interior of the office and it will be unveiled on Friday and rededicated in its new home.
Bill and I drove out to the Isles of Pass Christian the other day to scout out a tree job and I was immediately overwhelmed with the incredible destruction that is still so evident there. There is TONS of work to be done there and I can't wait to be a part of it!

posted by Marianne Tierney at 1:24 PM

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

the first few days.... – beca howard

I've only been down here in Pass Christian five days. But things are going so smoothly with Persevere and our full-time crew that it feels like I've been here forever. Our homebase is definitely coming along and at a point where although not fully finished it is definitely functional for us to live and work from, and therefore be able to focus our energies with other projects around the area. This place has come a long way since the first week in April when we were down here building it.
The weekend is our time to get things done in the office and clean up around our place. So the first couple of days I was here I helped set up a few databases for our work orders and volunteer information. WebEx donated a WebOffice site to us which is already proving very helpful in keeping things in order and maintaining our sanity. The past few days I have been working building office and storage space with the rest of the crew at Hope Haven, a shelter for abused children. Hope Haven has not been functional since the storm, but with much excitement will reopen this Friday.
Everyone that I've come into contact with here is just so friendly and open I really feel welcome to be down here for this coming year. So, aside from being plagued by air mattress malfuctions, Mississippi has been treating me well.

posted by Rebeca Howard at 1:55 PM

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Starting Out – Jen

The first few weeks here at Persevere have been interesting-- adjusting to both post-college life and the reality of the Gulf Coast 10 months after Katrina came through and devastated the area. It's been good to see the progress that has been made since coming down in January-- a lot of the lots have been cleared and it seems the Mississippi gulf is moving into a rebuilding phase now. It has been really informative going to meetings of the different towns and volunteer organizations and seeing some of the challenges that lie even in areas such as communication and bringing action where action needs to be brought about.
Seeing the meetings of the towns and organizations and also getting out there and doing actual work-- since being here we've worked at a variety of sites doing various jobs-- gutting a church, preparing a school for rebuilding, building some office space for a shelter for abused and neglected children- has helped define for me a lot of the mission of what Persevere is all about-- small acts done well and done completely that add up to a lot of change and progress in the area.
The next few weeks promise to be like the last few-- getting our feet on the ground as an organization, which involves the fun process of figuring out how to keep ourselves afloat, so that every day we can go out and be able to take action to get Pass Christian, Waveland, and Bay St. Louis rebuilt.

posted by Jennifer Marsh @ 5:36 PM

Monday, June 12, 2006

- Bill Driscoll, Jr.

I have heard many stories over the Past 10 months relating to Katrina actually leaving certain people better off. In theory this hard to believe but it is true. Here is one such story that I heard recently while attending a volunteer conference in East Biloxi.

In the days and weeks following Katrina many PODs or "Points of Distribution" sprung up. These PODs provided the basic necessities for residents that were left with nothing. Stores and restaurants were destroyed or closed so just about everyone affected along the coast relied on PODS to get food, water, ice, and clothing at some point.

Residents were so grateful for the response and support that the PODs provided (some PODs are still open 10 months later). At a POD in Hancock county there was a woman who would show up each day and pickup food, water and ice. She was all smiles and very appreciative to the volunteers and staff at the POD. After a few days everyone seemed to be on a first name basis with her. Turns out this very gracious woman had been agoraphobic pre Katrina. The Hurricane had left her with very little and she would come every day to get ice and meals. She had not been out of the house for over ten years. Katrina had forced her to get over her fear of the outside world in order to survive. She not only survived she was able to overcome.

posted by Bill Driscoll Jr. at 9:53 PM

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Time Machine – Bill Driscoll, Jr.

I have been back for a little over a week preparing our headquarters and setting up contacts in the community.

I have frequented “God’s Katrina Kitchen” located on Route 90 (the highway that parallels the beach/gulf). It is a meal and supply distribution point that has been open since September. Word is that as long as there is a need and resources available “The Kitchen” will be up and running for as long as it takes. A bold statement considering their proximity to the water (about 70 yards - if that at high tide) I am a little concerned about their location in terms of future storms of any strength.

It is 10 months later.

There is still a line early in the morning when the supply distribution opens at "The Kitchen." Lines fill the tent at meal time. About a hundred people for breakfast today at 8 AM.

The meal tent is a mix of locals and volunteer groups coming in and out. Many of the volunteer groups stick together. They don’t mingle too much with the locals. The locals look rough. Not all, but most. Life was probably hard before the storm for those who eat here.

I still have a hard time eating at a place like this; although I have many times over the past 10 months. I try not to put myself in a position to take from anyone less fortunate especially those with nothing.

I justify meals at "The Kitchen" as necessary to do work for the community, and saving Persevere money so we can function more effectively in the community.
Waiting in line for my tray of scrambled eggs, two biscuits, gravy, 3 bacon strips, grits with brown sugar, and apple sauce, - I am reminded of stories of The Great Depression and the long lines of people waiting to get a free meal. There are certain pockets along the gulf coast that are living in the Great Depression. Katrina was a time machine jolting them to a time and a place with little work, a struggling local government, and lines for basic needs. Those who were struggling pre Katrina and essentially lost everything due to the storm are out there, they exist, and they are trying to dig out of a very deep hole. Ten months later they show up for food each day, some for all three meals. They wrangle clothes from racks and pickup some canned goods to cook at home - a home which in all likely hood is a FEMA trailer or possibly even a tent.

It is 10 months later.

Progress has been made along the gulf coast. Slowly but surely more debris disappears each day. More new frames and structures are going up but the pace is sluggish. Hopefully we will be able to speed up the recovery and rebuilding for a few in the coming weeks.

posted by Bill Driscoll Jr. at 7:34 AM