One Person’s Story

While canvassing the neighborhoods of the lower 9th ward, our student nurses were privileged to listen to stories of people who lived through hurricanes Betsy and Katrina, people whose lives continue to be challenged and changed each day.  This is one person’s story . . .  

During our week of canvassing the Lower 9th Ward, speaking with 

residents, assessing their health and referring them to

the newly established Lower 9th Ward Community Health Clinic, one of 

our groups ran across a man, sitting on his porch,

by the initials of L.D.  In the course of our health assessment, we 

discovered L.D. was very severely visually impaired.

Several days earlier, people had broken into his house and stolen his 

glasses and all his contacts, along with many other 

personal items and information.

We sat with L.D. for a short time and he told us his story.

L.D. has lived in that old brick house ever since he was a child, and 

thus far, the structure has survived the flooding

of both Hurricane Betsy and Hurricane Katrina.  When Hurricane Betsy 

struck, L.D. was only a senior in high school.  L.D.

and his family had stayed to ride out the storm, but were forced to 

evacuate their home in search of higher ground when 

the water rose to the top of L.D.’s chest.  He and his family waded 

through the water for nearly a half mile before they 

found refuge on the third floor of a middle school.

Years later, L.D. became an elementary school teacher and worked at 

that same school where he had sheltered back in 1968.  

By pure coincidence, his assigned homeroom was the very room where his 

family had stayed during the storm!Just prior to Hurricane Katrina, L.D. transferred to Louis Armstrong 

Middle School, and again, was assigned a homeroom of 

the exact room number of the room he stayed in during Hurricane Betsy!  

However, he was in charge of a class for only

five days before the residents of New Orleans were ordered to evacuate. 

 This time, L.D. evacuated, albeit late.  If he had not, L.D. might not 

be here today. Caddy corner on the next block, his 

neighbor drowned in his own home.  Down the road, L.D.’s cousin drowned 

in the street.  

 Across the street, two men survived

the initial flood by taking shelter on their respective roofs.  One man 

was rescued by a boat three days later.  The other

man had been missed.  Seven days later, desperate from dehydration, 

that man drank some of the flood water.  He was dead

within three days from massive septic infection. Four little girls and their mother, all of whom L.D. had taught, 

drowned during the storm two blocks over.  His school was

unable to be salvaged and it was demolished.  Among the survivors, 

stories were told of dead bodies, many of them former

neighbors, floating in the streets.  It was said the alligators, which 

began to inhabit the neighboorhood, were even seen 

eating on the newly drowned corpses.  Residents battled with bayou 

snakes and rats.

L.D. now lives in the gutted out shell of his childhood home.  He now 

has nothing and lives off of the food stamps he 

receives on a regular basis.  

Though we will refer him on to people to help him get his life back 

together, L.D. told us how tired he was of the 

current state of affairs.  He plans to move on from his current 

location, frustrated by the slow progress of rebuilding his

neighborhood due to red tape, governmental bureaucracy, and unfair 

politics.  

One day, things will get better here.  Neighborhoods will rebuild and 

communities will grow.  For now, the people take it

day by day.  For us, it is about reaching out and helping one person at 

a time, showing the residents they aren’t forgotten, 

listening, and doing what we can to build up this devastated community. 

— Erik Thronson for The Eastern Brown Pelicans

Simple Gestures

Its funny how the smallest and most random moments in life can have the biggest impact. Although the food at camp is surprisingly yummy, all week I have desperately wanted WheatThins for some random reason so when the offer came to ride the van to the Walgreens that is 15 minutes away (Yes 15 minutes! No Walgreens on every corner here.), I quickly grabbed some cash and went along. After picking up the WheatThins and some Diet Pepsi, I got into line. As I was swiping my debit card, the cashier looked me straight in the eye and said “We really appreciate you being here.” At first I was completely shocked at the amazing customer service. Wow! The people back home barely say have a nice day and this woman was giving me a heartfelt thank you for shopping at the local Walgreens! I soon realized that she was not thanking me for my purchase but instead for being in the city and doing a small part in helping these people get back on their feet. I know it may seem simple, but that moment has had the biggest impact on me thus far. The woman had nothing tangible to thank me for, but she took a moment to say thank you anyways. It really made me think about all the things tangible and intangible that we never say thank you for and how the simplest gestures can really have an impact on someone you don’t even know. Eating the WheatThins later that night was even better after the experience!  🙂

 — Abby Sullivan for The Green Tree Frogs

Returning

Today a small group of us went back to the old nursing home to continue our demolition work. Though I volunteered for the project, I initially wasn’t so sure I’d be up for another day of pulling down ceiling tiles, breaking through walls with giant sledgehammers, pushing giant wheelbarrows, and wearing those stifling masks and gloves. As it turns out we were more than ready for our second day. In fact, we were the first group to unload the supply truck and the last to leave the site.

As we left I realized just how much we had accomplished with only two short days of work. We started with a massive building which had hardly been touched and by 4pm today you could see through every wall and every ceiling!!! I just cannot get over how much of that building we were able to take down in only twelve hours and with no experience whatsoever.

Just think about how much we could do for the people of New Orleans and for people all over the world if only we would all get over our initial reservations about projects we may find challenging and if only we would all spend just a few hours doing something that we thought we’d never do.

— Kelly Petrowski for The Green Tree Frogs

Creative Expressions

One night for reflection, the Green Tree Frogs were challenged to creatively express what they were experiencing.  Here are a few creative expressions . . .

Stripped

The world stripped clean,

Lives changed forever.

Past remembered.  Hope.

— Bridget McFadden for the Green Tree Frogs

Project Poem

And Camp Hope said

     Let there be sledge hammers,

     crow bars,

     safety goggles,

     sun block

     and AGGRESSION!

On that day,

The Great Wall of China cowered in fear

of our mighty motivation

and of our demolition derby tools.

On the second day of the week, Camp Hope said:

      Let there be paint,

      scrapers,

      ladders,

      insect repellent,

      and the color ORANGE.

The house became imbued by freshly squeezed tangerines.

Our derrieres have residue of work turned into play

like glue and kids from first grade

as they are stained with orange hand prints

like our project was to beautify our denim canvases

      with finger paint.

— Corey McCord for the Green Tree Frogs

Life as a House

On Tuesday, the student nurses went to the lower 9th ward to educate residents about a local health clinic.  We connected residents to vital community resources and screened for high blood pressure and diabetes.  Our job is complicated by the fear and disorganization of the neighborhood.  People refused to open their doors.  They live in gutted out homes.  Most are the only ones to inhabit a home out of a whole block of homes.

Billy owns the only two story house on the block, a camelback shotgun house.  When the hurricane came, Billy and his father stayed behind.  As the water from the broken levy rose over the first story of this house, up to the balcony of the second story, Billy and his father helped neighbors climb on to their balcony.  One neighbor floated using an electrical wire to keep from being swept away with the current.  For days, Bill and his neighbors waited for help. 

Two and a half years later, Billy and his father are rebuilding his home.  Despite flood and mold damage, Billy wants to rebuild his life.  To him, the house reminds him of survival and gives him hope for the revival of his neighborhood.

Other changes are rapid.  Yesterday, a student nurse met Randolph who has high blood pressure.  After discussing ways to lower his blood pressure, he mentioned that he did not take his medication for the day.  On a follow up visit, the same student nurse reassessed Randolph’s blood pressure.  He told the student that he had taken his blood pressured medication that day.  Through visitation and reminding people that self care even in the midst of devastation and struggle is critical, the student nurses realized that at the end of the day our work in NOLA (New Orleans, LA) gives hope to those still in the lower 9th ward by letting htem know they are not alone — they are not forgotten.

 When we return to Illinois Wesleyan we will bring with us this important understanding and this critical knowledge:  that an active community is one of the best health resources available.

The Eastern Brown Pelicans

Excavation

For many of the people in our group (Catahoula Hounds), our trip to 

New Orleans has been one big excavation. 

 Marli, who was part of the group who gutted out a former nursing home,   found pictures and mementos of patients who used to stay there. She says                    it was an emotional time for her, realizing how difficult it must have been for                                    the people to just leave all of their personal belongings behind. While taking out 

furniture, a box of cigarette and lighter fell on Craig’s head. He 

thought that the patient was probably hiding those from the nurses. We 

all thought it was pretty cool how digging through those ruins led him 

to also (accidentally) find out someone’s secret.

 Today, I was with Lauren and the other nursing students. They went 

from home to home to check the residents’ blood pressure and give them 

information about the medical center and other helpful and free 

resources available to them. Walking the streets of the Lower 9th Ward 

and looking for patients was a hunt in itself. In Delery Street, only 7 

out of the 61 houses (some still in shatters) we saw were inhabited. 

Pretty much of St. Bernard’s Parish was deserted. So there goes our 

mission—four girls trekking a dead town, in search for people, under 

the scorching, Louisiana heat. However, when we did find a resident, it 

was a treat—like the 41 year old  man mowing his lawn or the “spicy” 

grandma living in the big, peach house–as we got the opportunity to 

hear their experience and stories before, during the hurricane and the 

aftermath.

 These little anecdotes show how our group “excavated” not just the 

tourist-infiltrated French Quarter we got to visit the other day, but 

the real New Orleans: the city that after almost three years still has 

an empty K-mart store and hundreds of dilapidated homes; the city that 

was not only hit by the hurricane, but also whose levees broke that 

left hundreds of people dead and many more homeless; the real New 

Orleans whose citizens are constantly disgruntled by aggravatingly 

bureaucratic insurance companies, fraudulent contractors and their 

neighbor-turned-thieves, and who are unfortunately jaded by the 

government’s inaction, indifference and downright irresponsibility! 

 But I also think these stories reveal how much we dug about 

ourselves… 

Yesterday, Hope, Ro, Jessica, Teddy and I were among those 

who went to St. Margaret’s, a nursing home. That’s where I got to meet 

Stella. Stella’s a nice, old lady, who didn’t respond much to my 

questions other than a blink or two. So when I asked her which book she 

wanted me to read (it was a choice between “Matilda” and the New 

Testament) and she said “yeah” when I held the second book up, I 

immediately knew I had to read the Bible to her. To tell you the truth, 

I was very reluctant and I didn’t think she would be interested to 

listen or respond to what I read. But I tried anyway. I started with 

the story of St. Paul and how he turned from a murderous persecutor to 

a spirited missionary. And lo and behold, Stella kept blinking away, 

laughing and smiling in response to the miraculous change in Paul’s 

life. After that, she wanted me to continue, so I read to her some of 

my favorite verses, and I would hear a loud “yeah” every time I spoke 

about Jesus, healing, forgiveness, heaven and HOPE. Just by Stella’s 

little movements, I knew she was happy that morning. Never in my life 

did I think I would have one of the most wonderful conversations in my 

life by reading the Bible with an old, bed-ridden woman. 

 That and countless stories that my group experienced through the ASB 

show our own sweet discoveries about life and our views about the 

world. For me, I realize that even though I cannot expect some people, 

like the American government, to help solve the problems in New 

Orleans, I can still choose to be optimistic. My time with Stella 

reveals that I can never underestimate the power of miracles and how 

they can change a person’s day, even life. Being an International 

Studies major, I realize that no matter how depressing circumstances 

may be for the world right now, I can still choose to pursue a career 

in Development and make a difference. I can choose to dig deeper and 

find innovative solutions. I can choose to believe in hope and be a 

beacon of hope. — Marie-Claudine E. Villacorta for The Catahoula Hounds

The Day Time Stood Still …

Our very large group has been broken up into five teams for the purposes of reflection and connection.  These teams are:  The Mighty Magnolias, The Catahoula Hounds, The Green Tree Frogs, The Honey Bees, and the Eastern Brown Pelicans.  Our first reflection is from the Mighty  Magnolias

Our first day at work was a long one! We started early with a 6am breakfast and had some time to get ourselves ready to set out to our work site at 7:30. Upon first arriving at the site, the remains of what once was St. Margaret’s Nursing Home in the 9th ward, we were giving an orientation from the director of Operation Nehemiah, Fred Franke. He emphasized how grateful the New Orleans community is that we are here to help (this point was driven home when one of the local residents came out of his house to thank us personally.) We then split up into three groups; a little more than half of us stayed to do demolition work on the former St. Margaret’s buildings and others bused over to the new, operating St. Margaret’s Nursing Home to talk to residents, and our nursing students went door to door offering health screenings for the local clinic. Volunteers at the new St. Margaret’s building helped to prepare  and host a St. Patrick’s Day party, enjoyed music with residents, read to and got to know the residents as well.  Some projects at eh demolition site included removing sinks and light fixtures, clearing debris and knocking down walls (all of which was fun but tiring!)  The former St. Margaret’s site was very interesting because many of the residents’ belongings have remained untouched since the storm.  It seems, in the 9th ward, as though Katrina stopped time and many of us found ourselves imagining this place on August 29th, 2005  under 7 feet of water, when so many people had to leave their lives behind (and many of them, to this day, still have little or nothing to return to.)  We continue to reflect on what we are doing and why we are here. We are challenged to keep our minds turning throughout the week and even longer, seeing that our impact and our reflection doesn’t need to end when we return to Bloomington this weekend.  After a physically and mentally exhausting day, sleep seems like a great gift before we are ready to start a new day tomorrow!  

— The Mighty Magnolias

Sunday: A day of exploration

Bright and early on Sunday morning, 20 people in our group join families and friends in St. Bernard’s Parish at Our Lady of Prompt Succor, Catholic Church and Gethsemane Evangelical Lutheran Church of America for Palm Sunday worship.  The people of the Catholic parish embraced students and asked them stand to be introduced in worship for all to meet.  The students were even included in the liturgy having been invited to bring the gifts to the Altar.  If this were not overwhelming enough, the president of the parish invited our entire group for dinner sometime this week.  What a reception!

Gethsemane ELCA was alive and energetic.  This congregation had just taken the tent (where they had worshipped since Katrina destroyed the church) down the day before.  Fully ensconced in a new sanctuary, the congregation checked on each other, sang joyfully together, shared the sacraments of Eucharist and baptism.  All in all, it was a wonderful, welcoming experience.  Rebirth from the devastation of Katrina and new life found through the willing and helpful hands of volunteers who enter and leave this community week after week.

 After church, we took a group picture, loaded the bus and headed to the French Quarter. Wow, what a ride it was into the Quarter! We divided up into our five teams and headed out to find places to eat to enjoy the real New Orleans cuisine. Many enjoyed different types of dishes and get-to-know you discussions over lunch. We were on strict schedule to get back so after enjoying a beignet (a deep fried doughy, yet crispy treat with lots of powdered sugar) we all headed back onto the bus and then back to Camp Hope.

On the way to Camp Hope, our bus was able to drive through the 9th Ward area–an area where nothing is left standing anymore, but tall green grass. (We heard later that night that Bill Clinton and Brad Pitt were in the 9th Ward earlier that day with students!)

After a hardy dinner in the cafeteria, we had an orientation meeting to St. Bernard Parish. John Boothe, a local older gentleman, shared his experiences–a powerful message we will carry with us as we begin our work today!

 Here are a few questions we continue to ask ourselves:

Why are certain areas of the city restored and others not, even two years later?

 How can we contribute when we live so far away?

How have people survived with this kind of devistation in their face everyday?

What can we learn from these survivors?  How can we take their spirit of faith and hope back with us to Illinois?