On a Mission in New Orleans

Recollections from a crew of 11 Fernandina Beach Disaster Relief workers, tasked with rebuilding a home in the Garden District of New Orleans

Doug Ganyo resting in front of 'Our' Project in New OrleansHelmut Albrecht reports on The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Team from Fernandina Beach that is putting their effort in rebuilding New Orleans.

Day One Monday: Day one of our mission is over and we are all tired. But lets go in sequence: the night was hard since the bunk beds have only a thin layer of foam mattress, which makes it to a 150 setting on the sleep number scale.

The morning started with a briefing by Project Homecoming and the information that they just have received a grant to rebuild 11 homes as energy efficient homes. Project Homecoming is getting more and more involved in community projects that also include parks and playgrounds (and not only the construction and reconstruction of homes).

Finally we were assigned to “our site for the week”, which is located on 4th Street close to the Garden District. Driving through the neighborhood, we see a hodgepodge of homes. Some of them very nicely renovated, many of them still in various stages of dilapidation. “Our home” is a duplex and the site supervisor told us that the tub they had recently pulled out was build 90 years ago. The home was not damaged by the flood but strong winds had taken the roof off, which caused all the water damage inside. With all the windows taken out, the house is pretty much gutted.

We have not met the owner yet, but are looking forward to get introduced to her at the neighbor evening on Thursday. It is always very gratifying when you can put a face on your work.

Our task today was to scrape the windows and to get them ready for a primer coat. To reduce the cost for the renovation, many of the windows of the original home can be reused after treatment. It was a very healthy exercise in patience and quite possibly therapeutic (at least for somebody like me who does only little physical work).

The temperature ran up into the 90th and with the famous New Orleans humidity clamping around us, we were sure to test the truth of the label on our PDA t-shirts being “sweat free”. I am disappointed to have to report that the t-shirts failed miserably.

After a day of hard work and almost all windows completed (site supervisor inspected), we retreated to the Olive Tree Village and a SHOWER; a well deserved treat.

Dinner was prepared by one of the FPC teams and since Gene was involved (who’s cooking genius I could already experience last year in Houma) it was delicious: the best red beans and rice dish I ever had. Actually it’s the cooking that keeps drawing me back to New Orleans.
The evening concluded with sharing our experiences of the day and scripture.

Everybody is tired and we will all go to bed soon. Another long and hot day tomorrow. We have to finish the windows and start with the siding. My group is also in charge of dinner tomorrow evening and I have my doubts if we can match Gene’s benchmark.

Recover, rebuild, rejoice, it promises to be a good summary for this week.

Tuesday: Letter from New Orleans – Day 2

A moment of rest in Louisiana Humidity

Han, first of all to your question from yesterday: the reason that the guys sleep upstairs in our camp is that Presbyterian guys are polite. We came home from the worksite very tired and so we did not want the girls to head up the stairs to the second floor.

This morning we left the Olive Tree Village earlier and took a different way through the Garden District. Going along St. Charles we went through an area of richness with beautifully appointed and well-repaired southern villas. Turning into 4th street, where our site is, was like driving into another world.

As we had some time before our site supervisor arrived, we decided to take a walk trough the neighborhood. The next-door neighbor, whom we greeted yesterday, greeted us friendly this morning and seemed to be glad (relieved?) that we were back to continue our job. Many of the homes in the area had been repaired and renovated, but some are just beyond repair. We passed a place that was once a greenery. The truck with fertilizer was still parked in the fenced and locked yard, overgrown with all kinds of flowers and bushes. The roof was like a meadow. Not the garden paradise it once was as Mother Nature is claiming its future. Next door was the “Turning Point” bar, that just had opened for business; a reflective name for a bar in this city and neighborhood.

Back to our home site; we continued to work on the windows and finished the scraping as well as most of the sanding. The windows are now ready for a coat of primer and we are looking forward to our new assignment tomorrow. We have not met our client, the owner of “our” house, yet, but all in our team felt that she is entitled to an excellent job with the highest quality of workmanship (not always so easy in 90+ Fahrenheit, high humidity and little experience in what we are doing).

We left the jobsite earlier this afternoon since we had to prep dinner for all 32 volunteers in our camp. Tuesday is chicken day and so we stopped at Winn Dixie to get some additional ingredients to fix “Mimi’s chicken” (which is chicken done in the oven with tomatoes, mushrooms and onion soup) as well as barbecued chicken. The menu also included a fresh salad, green beans, mashed potatoes and brownies. Reviews were pretty good and we did receive a “well done” from Gene, the chef from yesterday evening.

After dinner reflection. We talked about our experiences on the job site, about what it means for us to serve. Jody, from the Illinois group, shared her story with us. Jody moved to New Orleans short before Katrina to take a well-paid job with a university. She was able to evacuate on time. When she was allowed to come back, most of her belongings were not usable anymore and she could not move back to her home. She found a new “home” up north. After she had developed a distance to the disaster, she was able to have her “Katrina” days and to come back to the city. Being here to give back to the city she still cares a lot for is for her like keeping New Orleans as one of her personal anchor points.

When we received our assignment sheet for the week it said for our site “repair time” and we joked about how this should work. By now we know that it was a typo and that it should have been “repair trim”; however, when I hear Jody’s story and when I reflect on our experience over the past 2 days, maybe we are here to “repair time” for the people we serve.


  1. Dan W. Boles

    The t-shirts are “sweat free” because they were made in a factory that is certified not to be a “sweat shop”, not because they (don’t) prevent you from sweating.

  2. Daniel C. Lee

    Dan W. Boles – I’ve collected a few of the PDA/Project Homecoming shirts through various serving opportunities and I always had the same sentiment as the blogger about the “sweat free” status of the shirts.  Thanks for the enlightenment!

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