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.