The camp we chose to work through is called Camp Coast Care. It is an Episcopal/Lutheran camp. I didn't get the story from the director, but the word in the bunkbed lodge was that so many of the churches were destroyed that this camp was erected as the new church, at least for St. Patrick's Episcopal. People from a variety of religions come to the camp, however, as was evidenced by the MASH 4077-like signposts that showed groups who had been coming for the past two years.
Along with our group, there was an Americorps crew of young kids who were great workers. There was a way cool family of 7 who came in honor of the matriarch's birthday and Mother's Day. There was a Episcopal church group from Cape Cod and another from Beverly Hills. ("We don't live there. We just go to church there," they kept telling us.) And then there were half a dozen singles and doubles who came on their own.
My bunkmate, Leann, has been to this camp 6 times since Katrina. Mission trips are Leann's deal. I get the impression that her congregation at home is not particularly liberal, and Leann would fit in at the hippiest of UU camps and conferences, so she gets her service needs met on mission. From what we saw, Leann will have many more opportunities.
For those of you who are blissfully ignorant, Hurricane Katrina was a category 5 hurricane that blasted the Gulf Coast of the US in 2005. Tuesday AM as we drove to our work site, I would have guessed that it was a category 3 or 4 and that it hit 9 months ago. The major highway that runs down the gulf coast is Highway 90. This was Highway 90 last week.
As we drove we kept seeing cut-ins for driveways. Tons of them. But when we would look up the driveway there would be either nothing, a concrete slab, or what came to be known as "stairs to nowhere"- the last remnants of a home. I'd seen a couple of these in the Outer Banks or down near Miami after Hurricane Andrew. I have never seen mile after mile of ghost town like I saw in Long Beach, Gulf Port, Bay St. Louis, and Waveland, Mississippi.
The shock was a slow build. First you learn what a Katrina cottage and a FEMA trailer look like and then you realize they're everywhere. Next you notice the slabs and driveways. Then you see the construction vehicles everywhere. The broken highway. The homes of the wealthy and the casinos that were rebuilt immediately. The rough roads. The broken piers. The empty beaches. The few standing buildings that were not demolished but are unusable.
We got to the house and began the sheet rock installation. I am a good tool passer, measurement rememberer, ladder holder, and encouragement giver. I am a really good sweeper. Sadly, my real skills were needed when a member of our crew sliced his thumb with a utility knife. Lucky for him, it wasn't a dangerous injury. Lucky for me, his wife insisted he get it looked at. So for two and a half hours I got to do what I am trained to do: sit in an ER waiting room.
In the afternoon our group split up. I got to go to another house and do something else I was born to do: tape plastic over windows for painting. Height comes in handy. Another camper and new friend was Eli. Eli is 6'8". One of the construction supervisors grabbed Eli and wouldn't let him work anywhere else. "He can hold sheet rock to a ceiling flat-footed!" the ecstatic supervisor told me. I, too, would be snapped up for my gifts - but that is a lesser story and doesn't come until Thursday.
The painting crew was in a fine mood. We got a ton of work done in the afternoon, were feeling useful, had great weather... then we went to rinse off our brushes and sprayer. That's when I noticed the box. This was in the front yard. It had random dishes, jars, part of a lamp, some utensils. There was also the remnants of the family patio under the tree and a handmade sign saying "Do not move the bricks!" To us, this house was a sense of usefulness - to someone else it was a lifeline. Has it arrived in time? I wondered.