I started this blog to keep my church, friends and family updated on my year volunteering in Katrina recovery with the Presbyterian Church (USA). I've now signed on for a second year working in disaster recovery and another year living in Mississippi. It's getting good....

Monday, October 30, 2006

Church Pumpkin Carving Photos (10/29/06)

Yesterday the church had a punkin carving get-together. I thought you all would like to see some of the photos!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Candy, Casseroles and Corn Maze, Oh My! (10/28/06)

So do you remember when they told me that flexibility was the most important quality in a disaster worker? Apparently God wants to test me on that one. All year. This week especially. It's been a roller coaster of Erin emotions.

I had the ups- receiving a warm, fuzzy care package full of my favorite things (magazines, popcorn and love) from my home church, getting the software installed that I need to run the casework program, making new contacts at the housing summit, spending quality time with my housemates, etc....

But I also had some downs- rain, rain and more rain, the frustrating housing conference with no answers, a three hour long meeting with our program leadership to discuss house concerns, losing my work cell phone in a hayfield, etc....

Patience. I am working on patience. I have a housemate who keeps reminding me that it is more important to be faithful than to be successful. That seems to be the motto of our year, maybe of all work on the Gulf Coast right now. Success is difficult to measure down here. A mentor once told me that there are some days when success is simply not making things worse than when you arrived. I am not sure where I fall in all of that, but I do think that there is a certain amount of success just in being present. Just showing up says a lot. I am here. I will try to do what I can. But I will also just try to listen and be present. And I will eat candy. Lots and lots of candy.

Thanks to the fantastic family I have back in Dickeyville (DMPC), my housemates and I are stocked in magazines, candy, popcorn and Halloween fun (see photo above). Thank you, thank you, thank you! You all are so wonderful for thinking of me. And really, every day recently, I have been getting cards in the mail from DMPC folks, which truly brighten each and every day.

Except for casserole day! I don't have the photos yet, but yesterday we received a shipment of more than 100 casseroles from the ladies in Meridian, MS. It is so sweet of these women to bake food for the volunteers down here- but just wait until I show you what hundreds of casseroles look like in your freezer- not to mention in your jeans.

To work some of the casserole off, we had an active adventure today. I am posting a few of our corn maze photos. Who knew they grew corn in Mississippi? But if there is a corn maze to be found- I will find it! And it was fun.

The lesson is, whenever you get frustrated, grab some candy, some casserole, or some corn maze and restore your faith in friends, family, and community.

Love you all,

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Oh Casserole, My Casserole (10/26/06)

This week's casserole count is at .5. I thought we were at zero, which would be a momentous occasion and the reason why I started this post, but I was wrong.

We had "spaghetti pie" for dinner with the Episcopal church last night. I'm not sure why it was called a pie- I suppose the pie dish in which it was served provided the name- because it looked like a casserole. I mean, eating in layers, is eating in layers. So I am counting the spaghetti pie as half a casserole, since there was no mention of casserole in the name.

Also, in an effort to curb the effect the casseroles are having on my rear, I started the 2006-2007-move-that-thang-workout-plan today. Morning in Mississippi was welcomed with a bit of sweat. Let notice be served- the casseroles will not win!

Bring it!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"I don't have any answers, but I can tell you what WE are doing...."(10/24/06)

That's all I have heard the past two days as I have struggled through the Harrison County Affordable Housing Summit. About 75 professionals from the public, private and non-profit worlds gathered at the most extravagant casino on the Gulf Coast to talk about how no one has any real solutions to the housing problems facing this community in the rebuilding process. You see, the politicians and newspapers like to talk about how the coastal communities are well on their way through the rebuilding process- with big developers and stable businesses moving back in. There is a work boom going on! Hurray Gulf Coast! Everything is great! Nevermind that all the folks who have come back to work can't afford to live here and that there is no public transportation to speak of, so if they live outside the cities, they can't get to work without a car, but they can't afford gas, and if by chance they actually owned a home in town prior to the storm and actually have the deed to said house, they can't afford their skyrocketing insurance rates any longer, if their insurance company still exists and is still writing policies, etc, etc, etc. No one is building affordable housing. No one is planning transportation. People are living in storage units. Really. And I am not just talking about these problems as if they only impact those at the bottom of the pay scale- I am talking about teachers and firefighters who can't afford to live in the communities in which they work but can't afford to commute either. The problem is growing. And the leadership doesn't have the answers.
Don't get me wrong, it was great to see so many concerned parties get together for a giant brainstorm session, but if you've ever met me, you know that I like to get things done. We didn't get anything done this week. I know that there are no easy solutions. I didn't expect to come out of there with a plan, but it is so frustrating to talk around all the problems and have no action items to take home at the end of two very long days. We did gather some useful information about government aid programs, pull in plenty of networking time and made a few good contacts with other agencies working in the Gulf. Ah, hope! Oh and we managed to find the back way into the casino's very posh pool, which I fully plan on taking advantage of when the heat returns in the spring.
Tomorrow, we're back to trying to save the world....or at least our little piece.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Why am I still awake? (10/22/06 at 1:30am- seriously!?)

It's late and I haven't slept much, but I also haven't updated the blog in a few days and wanted to drop a hello in here. First, my family freaking rocks. I was on the receiving end of so much love this week. I had several packages come in from sisters and mom- including one with Halloween candy and decorations. Thank you guys! I love you!

Speaking of Halloween- I need some costume ideas. I mean, how do you dress-up for the devil's day when you live in a church? Help me out here.

This weekend has been really fun. Many of the 15 GCM crew came into Handsboro to chill a bit. There were board games, football games, long talks, celebrity magazines, a bit of beach time, and 2/3 of my favorite 80s movie (Better Off Dead). I learned that while down here, you just can't beat some quality time with folks who really understand what you are doing and the point of this adventure. I love this team!

It's also a bit crazy since we have several volunteer teams coming in and one big team leaving for home tomorrow morning. The church is full of energy and spirit, and noise and smells. I'm so sad to see the SoCali team go home, but I know we have some great peeps coming in to help out this week.

It is raining again. Maybe it is time for me to turn in.
I love you guys!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Without the rain, the work wouldn't get done. (10/18/06)

Have I mentioned yet how the volunteer work teams make all the difference down here?

Here at Handsboro we make home for a constant cycle of volunteer work teams from all over the country. Some teams bring experienced construction workers and some crews come to do office or medical work. Some teams arrive with 40 members strong and some consist of just one or two dedicated people. They are from large California churches and small North Carolina congregations. They come in all ages, shapes, sizes, and attitudes. And each one of them brings a needed shot of faith, hope and love to this community- including myself.

We're currently hosting a team of 30 from Newport Beach Presbyterian Church in Orange County, CA. It's a huge, wealthy church full of folks who are ready to fix things and do good all over the globe. They've been a bit frustrated this week because we've been slow to get the work done. You see, we've been thrown a kink in our work plans by mother nature. It's been raining! Since Sunday we've had nothing but rain, rain, rain. I haven't seen rain since I arrived on the Gulf Coast- I wasn't even sure it rained here at all. This week, I learned. It rains. It's been dumping. And that rain really slows our roofing, painting and building plans. Sometimes I think it might be funny to put a bunch Californians up on wet roofs and watch what happens, but down here they won't let me do it. I suppose that's Southern Hospitality for you. So, we had to scramble to find inside jobs for the Cali crew. We searched and searched our files, and finally found a great inside job just under our noses- the church sanctuary. Being over 100 years old the church has seen some shifting and her walls were covered in cracks and tears (you folks at DMPC haven't heard of anything like that, have you? He, he). They spent the day filling the cracks and preparing for new paint.

This morning, when I joined them for their daily devotional mini-worship, one of their team members read Philippians 2: 3-7 and spoke about being a missionary as being a servant. He spoke about doing the work that needs to be done, regardless of your own agenda. He had been one of the team members who wanted to get out into the town and build roofs and houses and meet people and change lives and who had been frustrated by how the weather had changed his mission trip plans. But this morning he looked around the patched together sanctuary and noticed that, " if not for the rain, this work wouldn't have been done".

That struck me. He was talking about this week's rain spurring all of the work on the church building, but I heard him preaching about the Katrina rains and how the work in this community wouldn't have been done with out them. All of the families, churches and schools that are rebuilding down here were hurting before the storm. The hope and joy coming out of this rebuilding effort is lifting this community higher than it stood before.

I also heard him talking about me. If not for the rain of tears that followed my sister's death, and my move back to Maryland, I may not have found my way down to Mississippi to join in the rebuilding effort to get my work done. I don' know that I would have had the emotional, physical, spiritual and financial resources to take on this challenge if not for the year and a half through with I struggled, explored and learned. And as much work as I do in this community, there is just as much work going on in my head, and my heart. That work would not have been done, if not for the rains.

I know the teams come down here to serve and touch the lives of the Gulf Coast community- I just never expected to be included as a recipient of those gifts, to be included in that community so soon.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Driving around with a car full of Erins (10/16/06)

This afternoon I toured some of our worksites with a volunteer named Erin who was taking video footage for her church in Newport Beach, CA. What is it about Californians that makes them all want to videotape everything? She was the second director I've worked with from CA in a week. Anyway, Erin is one of the coolest volunteers I've had the pleasure of working with down here....must be the name. We traveled around and spoke with homeowners and volunteers and just talked about all things disaster recovery. It made me wonder how it is possible that I've only been here for 41 days. (?!?!?!) I feel so connected to this community and the people with whom I am sharing this experience. I can't imagine what the next 10 months will bring....and I can't wait to find out either.......

Long, long week (10/16)

Things have been busy! I had a confusing week of trying to do casework with folks down here without knowing anything about the Presbytery's vision of casework- not knowing if there was money to spend, which types of assistance they want to provide, etc. Then I met with the leadership on Friday and learned that they don't really have a vision, so joy of joys, I will get to create the program from scratch! It is exciting and terrifying all at the same time and I am loving it. When I get nervous I just remember that God has a plan for me here and for this program to help this community. So I am back to resource and information gathering in an effort to learn about what is being done in the community and where we still have holes that maybe our new program can help fill in.

This weekend we held a fair to kick-off the after-school program that a few of my housemates are creating. We had a balloon pop, a cake walk, cotton candy, a pie toss contest, face-painting and the all-important bounce house fun! Some church folks and some neighborhood folks came by to play for a few hours and I ate a bunch of yummy fair food- all good stuff in my book. We also made time this weekend to stop by the Gautier Mullet Festival. Now, my roommates and I thought we were going to an 80s hair-style celebration, but quickly discovered that the mullet is a fish down here. It was a wild- fish throwing, music rocking good time. And yes, they did have a hair cut contest- because even fishin' folks recognize the hilarity of the mullet haircut. I still can't believe I forgot my camera!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A day in the life.... (10/10/06)

Back at work. Today I was up at 5:00am to help my housemate Linda with her Hispanic Outreach efforts. We went to a local day labor pick up area with coffee and doughnuts. Her goal is to create relationships with the Hispanics in the Gulf community, assess needs and maybe, eventually work on building up a new worship community. Today was a great start! Then I went out to the Interfaith Warehouse- a fantastic place many local churches partner with to provide supplies and furnishings to families in the area. I got to see how the help is really delivered. Then I came back to the office and spent the day on the phone and in person working with families in need. I'm still working through our backlog of work requests, but I am developing hope that we'll get through some of them soon. With that in mind, I will be hitting the phones again tomorrow........
Love and peace,

Monday, October 09, 2006

A great weekend of football, fun and fellowship. (10/8/06)

What a great weekend!

On Friday, my housemate Linda and I went to dinner in Biloxi and finally found where all the young people in the gulf live- in a gym at the Methodist Church! There were about sixty 20-somethings gathered for food and fun organized by Hands-On, a non-profit volunteer agency working in the Katrina rebuilding effort. But they live in a gym. A lot of them. With 3 showers for 60 people. The gym did not smell good. Not at all. I am glad that I don't live in the gym. There will be no complaints about my living situation, ever. I don't live in a sweaty gym- hooray! But it was fun to met other young folks working in the area, and I am sure we'll head back over to the sweaty gym again soon to make some friends.

After the sweaty dinner, Linda and I joined the rest of our roommates at the hottest, most happening place to be on Friday night in Gulfport: the high school football game! They do love their football here in the deep south. We arrived at half time and the score was 42-0. I spent the second half watching the cheerleaders and band members avoiding each other and remembering how painful high school really was for most people. Then some snotty high school girl ma'amed me in front of all my friends and that stopped me from feeling bad for her any more. I mean, I know I live in the south and so kids at church and tellers at the grocery store are going to call me ma'am, but I just can't take with when the cheer captain does it when I am giving her my coolest schpeel. Whatever. I am old. Maybe it is time to accept it. Humpf. We finished the evening enjoying the surprisingly cool weather out at the beach. A beer by the water is always a good way to end the night!

On Saturday, some of our PDA friends came over for the Texas/OU football game. I also snuck out for a quick hike in the nearby National Forrest. The trails were so damaged by the storm that many paths are now impassable- but that just serves to get me into the scrambling mood and attack those trees. The spiders slow me down, though. Big spiders with really big webs.

Sunday brought the double dose of church I've come to love- 9am service with the Episcopals and 11am Presbyterian Extravaganza. It's a fun combo and the commute is right (they both worship where I live). We bombed out of the service to make it to a sports bar in time to catch the horrible Redskins game. I've noticed a pattern this year- when I watch the games, the Skins lose. Maybe next week I won't watch and they'll be great again! Then we came home and I attended the Blessing of the Animals, hosted by my Episcopal friends. It was too cute. Everyone was told to bring any animal that would fit in their car to be blessed by the priests. The dog and cat owners were cute, but the kid with the fish just cracked me up! Then I went to the beach for a bit to clear my head before our evening- planned to include family dinner, spiritual gumbo and some board game fun! I met a few random strangers on the beach, watched a beautiful sunset and took off for home. We had a great team dinner and then dove into the bible study/discussion on faith that I have come to call spiritual gumbo- because you never know what will come out of that pot! We each take a turn hosting the evening, so it stays fresh. Tonight I hosted and we had a lively discussion about faithfulness. I can't begin to tell you all how brilliant, talented and funny the team is and how glad I am to have them in this adventure. We closed with a pathetic game of Trivial Pursuit- which may never be played in this house again. Unless we can get those blessed animals in on the game. They may actually be able to answer some of the questions. Wait, I thought I said my teammates were brilliant?

Oh well. It's late. I'm beat. Too much football. I love football. But maybe not every day. I love my housemates. I love the animals. I love all of you. And I miss you. Miss you like mad. But I am doing well, feeling strong and ready to work. This is going to be a good week.
All my love,

PS- I ate zero casseroles this weekend. No, wait. I heated up casserole left-overs for lunch on Saturday. Gotta love those Presbyterian women and all of their casseroles!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Home Visits Take One (10/5/06)

I left the comfort of 1304 Pass Road today to start my mission down here. Armed with a pile of yellow intake folders, I went out to visit 6 families that had called the Presbytery seeking structural assistance back in May or June. I didn't have much luck finding the homeowners today- missing address info, missing homeowners, missing street signs, etc. I was wandering around talking to neighbors and dropping off my little "Sorry we missed you" signs and I had all but given up on finding anyone, when I decided to go for one more stop: the home of an older gentleman who lives just a few blocks from HPC. I got to talking with him for a while....all about how he's lived in Gulfport his whole life, ridden out every storm that's hit these parts, and how Katrina scared him enough that he promises to leave two weeks before the next one hits. It was powerful to me- this man that had seen it all over the years, but that this one storm, this big one had changed him and so he had no desire to see it all again. I still don't know when or if we'll be able to help him rebuild his home, but I felt like today's visit certainly helped us both to rebuild a little of our faith. He needed someone to talk to- you could see it in his eyes. And I needed to feel useful. I needed to believe that we volunteers had been called down here to connect with folks and do more than hammer nails in walls. I have no idea what the plan is for me or for this community, but on days like today, I think it is enough just to have faith that there is a plan and that maybe we can get there together.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Much work to be done..... (10/4/06)

So, I spent today organizing to start my real job. Hurray! I am going to be working for the presbytery doing casework and follow-up with folks who we've already assisted with structural repair. But, before I can tackle that task, I first agreed to meet with the 200+ families we've taken work requests from but haven't been able to assist yet. Today I organized the files of work orders taken as far back as May, that have not been looked at since they were first written. Yikes. What touched me about all this- these people are all still waiting for help! What's holding us back- we need work teams to come and do the work! So, if you are willing and able, consider coming down to help. Organize a work team of friends, family, church-goers, co-workers, whatever. We have teams as small as two and as large as 60. Bring what you've got! We'll find work for you to do. And spread the word- there is still A LOT of work to be done down here! For more info or to register a team, email Linda directly at presbyrecovery@bellsouth.net or just contact me and I will send you info.

Okay, after I got over all of that- I went to an Episcopal Healing service at lunch, a Presbyterian Covered Dish Dinner and Prayer Meeting in the evening, and managed to eek out some time to watch the LOST premier. We closed this evening with a house meeting and some prayer time. For those who are so inclined, I would ask that you keep my housemates in your prayers. We're all working on finding the best ways to use our talents to help the Gulf Coast communities rebuild, without missing our families and churches at home too terribly much.

That said- I still miss you all like crazy! Don't forget to update me on what's going on in your world!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Back in Mississippi (10/3/06)

I arrived back in Gulfport yesterday, welcomed by the heat and humidity!

I had such a great time seeing friends and family this past weekend in Baltimore and DC. I hope to get the photos developed soon to share with you all! The MS Challenge Walk was a huge success- minus the blisters and other possible permanent damage done to my feet.

I did manage to come home with a wicked cold, so I have spent the past day and a half nursing my sickness. I pulled myself together today, however, just enough to make the trip up to Hattisburg, MS for a YAV meeting with the Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Mississippi. We went to see the office, meet the leadership, and get a lession in Presbyterian History- all useful information.

Hopefully I will be rid of the uck by tomorrow and ready to get back to work.
Until then......
Peace and love,