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....

Friday, December 28, 2007

Always a cheater.....

So in addition to occasionally writing on this blog, I also read a number of other blogs. One of my favorites is the revgalblogpals. It's my impression that it is really more of an online community than a blog. The revgals show that they are a group of women pastors and church professionals who share with/support one another through the magical medium of the blog. Now, by writing this, I am forced to admit that I am stealing from these women. I am not a member of this community, but regularly peruse their blogs to learn, laugh, ponder, and cry with them.

One of the special weekly treats on the revgals blog is their Friday Five. Each week a member asks all of these blogging women of faith to list five of something on their blogs- sometimes they are funny lists, sometimes they are deeply emotional lists. The lists are always entertaining. This week's Friday Five got me thinking. Since it is the last Friday of the year, Singing Owl (blogging woman of faith's online alter ego) asked the women to list five memorable moments of 2007, giving actual bonus points to anyone who pulled out a warm and fuzzy God moment to share.

The blog assignment, plus the nearing end of the year, plus my general liking of lists got me going on this...so I decided to play, even though I'm not listed on the roster.

Here's what I got- my five memorable moments of the year:

1. The day I spent crying over my job, only to return home to a letter in the mailbox, from a homeowner, who said that she felt God had left her in my hands. That letter that changed my tour with disaster work forever and has carried me through every difficult day I've had on the Coast.

2. The spontaneous BBQ at the Handsboro apartment. Sharing instant fun with people I love dearly....unplanned, unstructured, undeniably the best moment of the spring!

3. My church's mission trip to the Gulf Coast. Their love and support throughout this year was so powerful. But having them here on the Coast, seeing it all through their eyes, seeing their relationships grow- there's nothing like that and I'll never have the right words to describe how it inspired me.

4. My cousin's wedding this summer in MA. My mother's side of the family is pretty tight. We gather as a group of 40 or more each year for Thanksgiving. But that is about the only time the whole gang is together. Except for my sister's funeral three years ago. The wedding this summer felt like a real release. The family celebrated, really celebrated, with joy and love again. It changed everything about how we talk, walk, and play together. I also got to spend some quality one on one time with some cousins that I've always wanted to know better. And the wedding itself. The idea of two people standing before God and everyone they love and making a commitment to one another in faith, hope and love- it still gets me- every time!

5. My first trip to Ghost Ranch, NM. A sunrise hike to the top of Chimney Rock, an afternoon jaunt to a dirty cave, the group challenge up Kitchen Mesa, and some quality alone time.

6. The ongoing lesson in humility, and through that- forgiveness- that I've been living since arriving on the Gulf Coast. I've seen some of the ugliest and most beautiful parts of my own character come out down here, and I've seen all of that in others as well. A whole new world of gray is opening up every day. I've begged God for years to teach me to forgive. I think the daily failures I experience here are teaching me how to forgive myself, and then others. It's a fantastic start..... and an answer to a whole lot of prayer.

Okay, there's my list. It's six. Not five. I cheated on my stolen assignment. And it's no longer Friday. Fooey!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Since my last blog...

...we held a memorial service in honor of Rich. It was as beautiful as a memorial service can be. It's going to take a while for everyone to heal. And that's just speaking for his PDA family here on the coast, most of whom had only known him for 3-12 months. His funeral was held in his hometown in Ohio last Saturday. PDA Gulf Coast staff was unable to attend that service because...

...we went on retreat in Gulf Shores, AL. In what has now become an annual tradition for our staff and long-term volunteers, we had scheduled this retreat more than a month ago, and given recent events, we felt we all really needed some quiet time together. We enjoyed fabulous beach weather, tasty meals, some quality board game time and even gathered to watch White Christmas together. It was just the refreshing retreat we all needed after a busy fall and an emotional December.

...I went to see the Singing Christmas Tree.

...I attended the home dedication for house that PDA volunteers have been working on through one of our partnerships. Talk about coming home for the holidays!

...I became a house-sitter extraordinaire! I've been hanging at a friend's house all week while she and her family are on a cruise. I'm enjoying the space, the real shower, and all of her sweet animals. Eddie is making some new friends over here and there haven't been too many issues between him and the cats.

...My mom surprised me with a visit. She's staying through Christmas morning. She can't believe how warm it is here.

...I was in a minor car accident, which left me in bed for two days with a sore neck. I'm very thankful it wasn't too bad and that the lady who hit me has insurance.

...I didn't get my Christmas Cards out on time. See above. Expect yours next week.

...Mom and I visited the live nativity scene across the street. They had a real camel. A CAMEL!

...I finally, finally feel like I may be ready to celebrate Christmas. It's almost here!!!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Hoping for Peace

This morning, for the second Sunday of advent, we lit the candle of peace.

I'm not feeling the peace right now.

Let me back up.

Wednesday afternoon, I received some tough news from home. My family has been battling for information about my sister's death with the hospital, insurance company, and radiology company for almost three years. This week, my family reached a settlement, but it came without answers. I hadn't been very involved in the process, but the minute it became final, my heart ripped open. I will never know what happened to Molly. For almost three years, I've told myself I didn't care. I do. I care so much that I can hardly breathe. And that's how I have to continue, because we'll never, never know. My mom won't know. Molly's daughter won't know. It's more than I can handle.

On Thursday, we had a regular staff meeting. We started saying good bye to our coordinator, Rich, and two long-term volunteers who have become great friends. There were a few tears and a few laughs, but most of the goodbyes were to be saved for our beach retreat planned for next weekend. I bought a cake for these three lovely men, but as we got busy with the business of meeting, I forgot to take the cake out of the fridge and we never ate it.

Friday morning, I woke up early to have my four problematic wisdom teeth removed. Driving back from the oral surgeon's office, I received an email about an emergency meeting. We drove into the village and nearly the entire PDA volunteer force was gathered around the fire pit. I was still a bit foggy from the surgery, and stumbled into my trailer. Wilf and Virginia came in and shared the shocking news that Rich had been killed a one-car accident overnight. My head cleared and my heart sank. I've been a mix of denial, sadness, anger and fear ever since that moment.

Rich Cozzone was a man of faith and service. His job, like many of ours, had him driving all over the coast all the time. Bad weather, bad roads, blackberries on, crazy supplies falling from trucks, long hours, rushed schedules....

But it was Rich! It couldn't possibly happen to one of us. It just couldn't. And I was just talking with him. I mean, the man lives in the trailer next to me! We just spent time sanding the walls of a local church where he told me the story of how he met his wife. We've struggled and served next to each other these past few months, and now he's not there. And I'm just the girl who's known him for a few months. Rich leaves behind a wife, three young-adult children, a grandchild on the way, hundreds of students, and dozens of teams of volunteers, just to start the list.....

I don't understand. I can't find the peace. The joy of this season is lost on me right now.

Most weeks, this work, this place, is full of the highs and the lows. We live our entire existence in the extreme struggles and successes of lives in recovery. The beauty of people working together balances the lack of funding for building materials. Watching volunteers and homeowners from totally different backgrounds befriending one-another eases the thoughts of families spending a third Christmas in a FEMA trailer. These rationalizations are my attempt at making peace in this environment, in my own limitations, and in those of my community.

But how do you explain these seemingly senseless losses? How do you make peace with the untimely death of a family member? How do you go on without asking why? Without asking how? Where's the peace in that? I don't see it right now.

I'm angry. I am so sad. I am totally lost. And as I am writing this, I am realizing that I am also totally selfish. This shouldn't be a blog about me. It should be a prayer request for Rich's family back in Ohio and the PDA family here on the Coast. It should be a sweet letter of celebration of the life of a tender-hearted man. But I keep finding myself stuck in my own questions and doubts. It's a mess. I'm a mess. And not very peaceful. Not one bit. I want to be done with advent this year. Done.

But last week, when we started this advent season, we lit the candle of hope. And there is something I've always loved about the tradition of lighting advent candles. The quiet, the ritual, the symbolism, yes, yes, yes. But mostly, I love that each candle is a part of the whole, eventually guiding us to the Light of Christ. Even in that little circle of 5 candles, it is a journey. And that journey has an order. The peace candle can't be lit before the hope candle. That equation would never work out. So for tonight, the second Sunday of advent, instead of lighting the peace candle, in my heart I'll keep that hope candle lit. I'll keep a hope that even though I don't feel it right now, the peace candle isn't too far away after all. And maybe, maybe, maybe, through this dark time, I can keep trying to walk the journey toward that light.

Monday, December 03, 2007

In the past 72 hours I have....

...decorated my trailer for Christmas.
...been totally inspired by a New Life Church member.
...changed another flat tire.
...cried over friends who've left the coast recently.
...completely enjoyed being with good friends who are still here.
...met with a homeowner who's getting paperwork together to apply for funding to repair her home.
...burned one grilled cheese sandwich.
...only eaten one Big Bopper. (good job!)
...watched too much football.
...played way too much snood.
...watched 2 Christmas movies.
...fallen asleep reading the same book three times.
...slept a grand total of 13 hours.
...bowled a 49.
...bowled a 149.
...seen my teeth on tv.
...sanded the walls of a church.
...killed three cockroaches.
...been introduced to a fabulous new team of AmeriCorps volunteers.
...enjoyed breakfast with peacocks.
...forgotten to do laundry.
...argued with a Wal-Mart employee.
...received a handful of the best hugs I've had all fall.
...missed my nieces and nephews terribly, while nursing a sore throat.
...secured funding for two floor repairs.
...welcomed an addition to my home:

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Here's to hope....

Recently I was home for Thanksgiving. I was heckled a bit by loving friends and family about not blogging. I decided to get back to it. Then, somehow, another week has blown by. How?

This fall has been rough. I hate that every blog I write starts with some version of that sentence. But then, that is what this is all about. It is hard work. Period. I've never before been a part of something totally new. We're still creating this mass-scale disaster recovery stuff. It is new every day. I don't know how to explain that to people who haven't come down to the Gulf Coast, because it really doesn't make any logical sense, but it is so true. We're still disorganized, under-staffed, under-funded, befuddled, and confused. You'd think that we'd figured some of that out by now, but nope, we're still playing catch up. Whew. So we're busy. Always. Even when there are no volunteers in town. There is simply too much work to do. And I am amazed that ANYTHING gets done. But somehow it does and and that is unbelievably inspiring.

I spent the day Friday in a meeting room with our PDA Gulf Coast HQ team planning and organizing. It was my favorite day of the fall. For the first time in a months, I have hope and energy and I'm excited about our work again. We can do better and, now, I believe we will. It changed my outlook on everything down here. I'm smiling at people in the grocery store again, I sing along with the Christmas music on the radio, I get fired up to go in to the office..... I'm ready!

Bring it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Litany of Thanksgiving

Give thanks to the Lord who is good. God's love is everlasting. Come, let us praise God joyfully. Let us come to God with thanksgiving.

For the good world; for things great and small, beautiful and awesome; for seen and unseen splendors;
Thank you, God.

For human life; for talking and moving and thinking together; for common hopes and hardships shared from birth until our dying;
Thank you, God.

For work to do and strength to work; for the comradeship of labor; for exchanges of good humor and encouragement;
Thank you, God.

For marriage; for the mystery and joy of flesh made one; for mutual forgiveness and burdens shared; for secrets kept in love;
Thank you, God.

For family; for living together and eating together; for family amusements and family pleasures;
Thank you, God.

For children; for their energy and curiosity; for their brave play and startling frankness; for their sudden sympathies;
Thank you, God.

For the young; for their high hopes; for their irreverence toward worn-out values; for their search for freedom; for their solemn vows;
Thank you, God.

For growing up and growing old; for wisdom deepened by experience; for rest in leisure; and for time made precious by its passing;
Thank you, God.

For your help in times of doubt and sorrow; for healing our diseases; for preserving us in temptation and danger;
Thank you, God.

For the church into which we have been called; for the good news we receive by Word and Sacrament; for our life together in the Lord;
We praise you, God.

For your Holy Spirit, who guides our steps and brings us gifts of faith and love; who prays in us and prompts our grateful worship;
We praise you, God.

Above all, O God, for your Son Jesus Christ, who lived and died and lives again for our salvation; for our hope in him; and for the joy of serving him;
We thank and praise you, Eternal God, for all your goodness to us.
Give thanks to the Lord, who is good. God's love is everlasting.

from the Book of Common Worship, pg. 792-793

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ten Random Things About Me

There is a bit of tagging going on with this post. From SL and Linda, and now to me......just because it is fun!

Here's what I came up with...some randomness fit for a list:

1. I drive a green Chevy Cavalier that's called Burt. She's a girl. A girl called Burt.

2. I've lived in 5 different states and two countries.

3. I've worked in a cubicle, in a church, in an office with a mountain view, in a school, in a courthouse, at an indoor pool, at an outdoor pool, at a restaurant, inside a historic library, and at the county fair.

4. I've never worked retail.

5. My favorite foods are all orange: Cheetos and mac-n-cheese.

6. I hate the feel of bare mattresses and bare pillows. Sometimes I wear socks on my hands when I change my sheets.

7. I'm quite accident prone. I've broken my arm 5 times, broke my foot and a couple of toes, herniated a disk in my back, and also had major injuries to my knee, ankle, and shoulders.

8. I pick up accents pretty easily. It's because I make fun of the way people talk and then it sticks.

9. I cry. All the time. At birthday parties. At sappy movies. In church. At every wedding. When ESPN puts together sports montages. If I loose my keys. All the time.

10. I love leopard print anything. It's tacky and bold and I just love it. Can't help it. Love, love, love.

Do you blog? Have you done the random list yet? No? Then it is now your turn. Consider yourself tagged, suckers!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

To Blog or Not To Blog....

It's been a while.

Not sure what I am doing with this blog thing anymore. I started blogging about a year ago as an efficient way to help family, church, and friends keep up to date with what I was working on down here.

Not much has changed.

No one likes to hear that. I call home and people say, "what's new?" and I got nothing. It's the same stuff. So I stop calling home. Some of the same stuff is drama and frustration and sadness. But a lot of that same stuff is really good. I am surrounded by wonderful, loving, busy folks doing great work ... just as they have for the past 14 months.

But same stuff makes for boring blogging.

But to give it an honest try, I will attempt to share what news I can from the past month that might be of some interest to my faithful pals who've stuck around to continue reading this blog, even when I'm not so good at updating it.

In the past month I have:

  • Busted another car tire (that's five in one year, if you are counting)
  • visited the most awesome friends ever, up in Oxford, MS
  • struck a deal with a long-term recovery org, americorps, and pda that might actually help some folks down here
  • pushed through exactly ONE grant application on behalf of ONE family
  • cheered my cheeks off at the very cool VooDooFest in New Orleans (I'm still totally in love with Trombone Shorty and Irma Thomas)
  • become a key player in an all-out peanut-butter-prank-war
  • logged more than 3000 miles on my work vehicle
  • walked 50 miles in 3 days back at home with my sister to benefit the Nat'l MS Society
  • nearly adopted a dog, three times, before panicking at the thought of that commitment
  • missed church three times
  • enjoyed visits from two of my amazing roommates from last year
  • started making plans for my visit home for Thanksgiving....dreaming of turkey!

Guess I had more to say that not.....

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Why now???

Yesterday I was sick. I've had a cold for a while and it really caught up with me yesterday. I slept for about 20 hours and never left my trailer. The one good thing about being sick, however, is that all that time in bed allowed me the opportunity to discover the sheer BEAUTY and JOY of this fantastic new show called DANCING WITH THE STARS. You can watch it on ABC.com. Seriously! Where the heck have I been the past four years? That show is freaking awesome. The dancing, the has-beens, the drama, the sequins, and one really bad cover band. I'm in heaven. I almost don't want to get well....

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Today's Frustration

I went home this past weekend for the MS Challenge Walk, an annual event in the DC area where about 400 folks get together to walk 50 miles over 3 days to raise money and awareness in the fight against Multiple Sclerosis. It was another amazing weekend of fun, family, blisters, bananas and hope! (photos to come)

I returned last night to disaster recovery's ever present chaos. For weeks we've been working to develop a partnership with another local agency who just happened to disappear into thin air while I was out of town. Some jobs we had lined up with homeowners fell through because of mortgage foreclosure and lack of payment to the electric company and city water offices. We have volunteers in town and no work prepared for them to do. And still there are homeowners in need all over the place.

I continue to be AMAZED by the lack of organization, structure, stability in this "disaster zone". It's been two years and still the whole plan can fall apart over a long weekend and there is nothing we can do to prevent it. It just doesn't make sense. And it does.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This is what people are living through, two years after the storm.

Click here to read the article.

For reasons of confidentiality, I cannot tell you the shocking details of the stories of folks down here who are dealing with contanimated FEMA trailers, but let me say this-

Two years after the storm, more than 17,000 households in Mississippi alone are still living in FEMA travel trailers and mobile homes. These trailers are making people sick. Hopsital sick. Families are taking extreme measures just to survive. Two years later. People are living in tents on their property. 82 year-olds are taking out mortgages. 72 year olds are rebuilding their own homes with mis-matched cabinets and doors found at scrap yards. Volunteer teams and funding sources continue to dwindle.

There's an agency down here called Drop In The Bucket. I think they have the right idea. But some days, I see only the bucket and not the drops.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Saturday Night in Mississippi

You've got to see my pal Becca's blog entry (click here) so you'll know how much fun it is living in a PDA trailer park in Mississippi!

Friday, September 21, 2007

TD Ten

It was a beautiful sunny, busy, scary day.

The Mississippi sunset was perfect.

But Tropical Depression 10 was lurking just off-shore. We're still not sure what kind of weather we're in for tonight and tomorrow. We're grateful that it never strengthened to a Tropical Storm or Hurricane. But they ordered mandatory evacuations for people living in trailers and low-lying areas anyway. They opened shelters. They started the free busing of people without means to travel out of their trailers/homes. My friends strapped down my trailer. I strapped down pods. We obsessed over the NOAA website all day!

I was nervous. For me, for our camps, for our staff, for our pets, for our homeowners, for our neighbors, for friends who work for other agencies, for local officials, for all who began to prepare. Mostly, though, I was worried about all those who survived Katrina and all that they must be feeling today. I wasn't here when the big ones have hit. I can't know what they feel hearing the warnings and evacuations come over the news. It's scary.

May the wind be gentle, the rain be light, and the storm move quickly on by us.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I'm back in Mississippi

And it is just another day at the office, as evidenced by this email I received today:

TO: Mississippi VOAD Board General Membership:


According to the National Weather Service the tropical wave that is
currently dumping copious amounts of rain on the east coast of Florida,
causing flooding in Jacksonville and at least one tornado (last Monday) is
expected to become a surface low by tomorrow morning. The National Weather
Service believes that it is possible that this surface low will move its
way across the Florida peninsula over the next day or two and re-emerge in
the Gulf of Mexico. If this occurs it is possible that a sub-tropical or
tropical cyclone will develop in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. If
this happens, it is possible that this system will develop very rapidly
from a mere surface low to Tropical Depression 10 to Tropical Storm /
Category 1 Hurricane Jerry. Remember that we saw this happen just last
week when a small low pressure system developed into Category 1 Hurricane
Humberto in less than 24 hours. Therefore, it is possible that this system
may (or may not) develop into a storm that could affect the ALM Division by
as early as Friday or sometime this weekend.

According to MEMA, the National Weather Service preliminary reports say
that the area at risk from landfall stretches from Pensacola, Florida, to
Galveston, Texas. Unfortunately, the center of that risk area is the
Mississippi Gulf Coast. At this time, MEMA reports that the six coastal
counties are concerned about the effect of high winds and torrential rains
(flash flooding) on an area largely populated by FEMA trailers at this
time. The coastal counties are currently preparing a total of 23 shelters
in the event they are needed. This is currently a precautionary
preparation; they do not want to be caught by surprise as Texas was as a
result of Hurricane Humberto.

As a result, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is
tentatively planning to open the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC)
tormorrow, Thursday, September 20, 2007. If it does open, MSVOAD will be
asked to staff its' desk at the SEOC in Pearl.

Finally, it should be noted that there is nothing certain about any of
this. It is possible that this system may dissapate over the Florida
peninsula and never re-emerge into the Gulf of Mexico or re-emerge so
weakened that it dissapates there. However, they are concerned enough
about the possible development of this storm that they believe it is
important to alert the appropriate authorities now.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at
your convenience.

William H. Feist III
President (2007), Mississippi Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster
Emergency Disaster Services Director
Alabama - Louisiana - Mississippi Division
The Salvation Army, Southern Territory



Atlantic Graphical Tropical Weather Outlook
Note: This product is updated at approximately 11:30 AM and 10:30 PM EDT
Place your mouse cursor over areas of interest for more information
(Embedded image moved to file: pic13694.gif)

ABNT20 KNHC 190211
1030 PM EDT TUE SEP 18 2007









ABNT20 KNHC 191520
1130 AM EDT WED SEP 19 2007







Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tonight I struck up a conversation with a random man at a random bar on 6th St in Austin:

Austin Man: Pot a squat. (said while pointing at an open seat next to him)
Me: Ha, ha. (sit down anyway)
AM: Sure is nice out.
Me: Yup.
===random awkward banter about the weather in Austin ===
Me: What are the winters like here?
AM: Well, yew ever have chicken soup?
Me: Yes.
AM: Yew ever have bad chicken soup?
Me: Actually, no.
AM: It's like the chicken jest walked through it.
Me: I don't understand.
AM: Yer used to winter being cold?
Me: Yes.
AM: Folks are used to chicken soup that tastes like chicken. Austin winters are like if a chicken wore galoshes and walked through the soup. Doesn't really taste like chicken soup then. Ain't really winter here.
Me: Oh.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

During my first 24 hours in Texas...

We drove through a hurricane.
We marveled at the sight of some seriously huge crickets.
We toured the state capitol.
We tried to climb the UT Tower.
Lauren played with the UT Turtles.
We toured Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
I bought some Longhorn gear.
I two stepped with a Sweedish guy at a honkey tonk called The Broken Spoke.
I fell in love with a new country song called, "It ain't love, but it ain't bad."
I haven't been to bed before 3 am.
I ate about 4 cupcakes.
I got to meet some of Linda's family.

And I've still got two more days with these great friends to explore more!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On the road again

I'm headed to Austin, TX tomorrow. I am taking this not-so-quick road trip out to visit two great friends who've just moved to this great town! I've never been to Austin before so I am pretty fired up about getting a chance to check it out. And I needed a break from Mississippi. I didn't take any time off between my YAV year and my new job, so this long weekend is the perfect opportunity to create some space and refresh for the work ahead.

And we get to drive through a tropical storm!

More from the road....

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Spread the word!

From The Mississippi Press
Pascagoula couple gives meaning to $1 donation
Thursday, September 06, 2007
PASCAGOULA -- Sitting in the remnants of what used to be her shed, Mary Jones, 65, waits with the possessions she has left.

Her Pascagoula home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, and it had to be demolished. All of her clothes are stored in a makeshift shed assembled from the remains of an existing structure and pieces of plywood. The small, open building is where she and her husband sit and watch the neighbors go by.

"We don't have no bad neighbors, that's one thing good about it," Mary Jones said. "We just sit out here and watch. That's what we're used to."

Mary and her husband, Oliver Jones, 64, can no longer stay in the Federal Emergency Management Agency travel trailer near the slab of their old house. Oliver Jones' pre-existing poor health was made worse by the formaldehyde in the trailer, Mary Jones said.

"My husband's been sick ever since we've been in it," Mary Jones said.

Oliver Jones suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes and Lupus, said Mary Jones, and he has had three heart attacks since the storm. He had one heart attack before the storm.

Mary Jones is in the process of taking her possessions out of the FEMA trailer and putting them in her shed.

"The hardest part is I ain't got no house," Mary Jones said.

The volunteer organizations still working toward recovery in Mississippi came together to start a fund that would help the Jones' and the entire state recover from Hurricane Katrina.

The Finish the Job fund began on Aug. 31 to raise $1 from every American to finish the rebuilding of safe, sanitary and secure housing in Mississippi.

"If everyone in America gave a dollar, that would equal about $300 million," said Michelle Wilson executive director of Rebuild Jackson County Long Term Recovery Agency. "We figure that would be enough to finish the job in Mississippi."

The fund is designed to fill in the gaps from other funding sources, Wilson said, including furniture, utilities, surveys and elevators.

The Jones will need an elevator or a lift installed, when their home is built. The house will have to be elevated six feet off the ground and Oliver Jones will not be able to climb up stairs to his new home.

The funding sources that do exist will soon be moving on to help people suffering from other disasters, and so will the volunteers, Wilson said.

"We're running out of time, and we're running out of money. We need to get people back in their homes," Wilson said.

"Two years after the storm we're still finding families that have given up on finding funding or repairing their homes," said Vickie White, case manager supervisor for the United Methodist Disaster Response Team. "There's still a great need here for not only funding, but volunteers as well."

Before Rebuild Jackson County began helping the Jones, three weeks ago, they were waiting for a grant to come through.

PDA is working with Rebuild Jackson County and other Long Term Recovery agencies along the Mississippi Gulf Coast to spread the word about this fund! For more information about the Finish the Job Fund click here!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Lunch, maybe

The other day Becca and I were trying to make lunch. With no volunteers at the camp right now, food is slim pickings, unless we actually get off our butts and go to the grocery store. That doesn't happen often.

So we found this in the freezer:

And we tried to make it, but it came out like this:

So we tasted it:

It was not good and we did not eat it. Ick. We need those volunteers to come back. Now! To rebuild the Gulf Coast, yeh, yeh, but also so that Becca and I don't have to eat gunk like this.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

2 Years After Katrina (August 29, 2007)

It's taken me a few days to post this, because as everything else down here, I'm a bit slow right now. Not because I am lazy or tired, but because we've been so busy.

I decided the night before Aug. 29th to do a photo essay of the day. It was the only way I thought I'd be able to describe what I saw, what the coast saw that day. So I took the photos you'll see below. I planned on posting them that very night with some profound thoughts about the day, but after getting up early for a sunrise service, working hard all day demo-ing the church that will become PDA's 6th work camp, praying and eating with friends/co-workers, and settling in for the night, I realized I hadn't brought my camera cord with me. Work teams who come to the coast learn early on most Monday mornings that missing one small tool can change your whole day. I packed for that day at 5:30 in the morning, intending to spent one night away from my lovely new trailer. I just got home about an hour ago, 4 days later.

Living on the coast after Katrina I've learned that great plans fail. Bad plans and worse, no plans, sometimes succeed. Great and poor plans change. All the time. What I thought I'd do today (go to the office and catch up) fell second to what needed to be done today (destroy a village in order to be ready to build again). And, the kicker is that all this could be done with or without me. At any moment. But since I choose to be here, I've got to be ready for the changes, the failures and the surprise successes. Huh, I guess that's life anywhere.... good one....

So please click here to see my day, August 29th, two years post-Katrina:

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Thursday, August 23, 2007


After weeks of goodbyes, two closing retreats, two moves, five states, a weekend full of precautionary evacuation preparations, one new office, and a whole new but still the same life back and starting, I thought it was about time that I throw something up on the ole blog. Bear with me though, because my head is still spinning and I am typing around boxes to procrastinate unpacking.

As the three people who read this blog know, I have completed my year as a volunteer with the Presbyterian Church on the Gulf Coast and I have started a year working with the Presbyterian Church on the Gulf Coast.

It's a change. It's not a change.

It's a transition. It is hard and lovely and confusing and exciting and terrifying and fun.

Just as there is no way to sum up an entire year's worth of feelings, memories, learnings, relationships, etc., there is no way I can properly describe how this transition is going for me, so I've avoided it. And I've re-written it fifteen times in my head. I so want to share every bit of this experience with you who love me, but I can't come close to finding the words to explain it. I have had no free time to sort out my feelings, but I have had too much time talking with friends to sort out my feelings. I've processed and avoided and run those laps around several times over.

Here's what I can figure, what I can admit, what I can offer and what I can share:

Leaving the apartment sucked. I miss my roommates terribly. I miss our random chats and eating meals together. But I am loving some quiet and alone time in the trailer. I love having my own space! And on my first day at Orange Grove I received a package of artwork and well wishes from the kids back at DMPC (my home church) that made me feel so loved, right off the bat. I'm not used to the bugs yet, though. Seriously, the cockroaches?!

Leaving the Presbytery was complicated. I'd struggled so much working there, but I loved the I homeowners I worked with dearly, I believe in what is getting done, and I'd put my heart and soul into that place for almost a year. It wasn't a pleasant goodbye and that still breaks my heart. My spirits were wiped when I arrived at my new post. Completely drained. But coming to PDA has been incredible. They have been so supportive and excited to have me on board. I'm just getting my feet wet and there is so much to learn, but they trust that I will learn and figure it out and that support is remarkable.

Leaving Handsboro Church/St. Peter's By The Sea isn't happening, but it is. I'm only living a few minutes away, but I'm not there every day and already I feel like a stranger when I drive by the church. Edward and Sarah, the priests at St. Peter's and my two great rocks of spiritual support this past year have both moved in the past two months. I was so blessed to have their love, support, advice, friendship and example in my life this year and I really don't know how to live on the coast without them. They are my models of God's Love down here, and while I know there are a million other angels working on the coast, many of whom I already know and love, transitioning out of the Edward and Sarah days has brought me to tears quite a few times already.

With my volunteer program ending, many of my friends have moved away. Brenna and Linda have been gone for weeks and I miss them all the time. Sarah Ann's departure had me crying in the McDonald's parking lot last weekend. It's been more than a week since I spoke to George and I no longer have funny morning conversations with Kerry before we go to work. I have no idea when I will see some of my dear friends (Linger, Sue, Jaymie) again. On the other hand, I've already gotten to know Becca and Melodie better, Lauren is about to move to within 30 miles of me, and the three of them welcomed me to trailer life with a rockin' girl's night party that I really believe will set the tone for the next few months! And, I am ready to be done with some of the drama and to receive a real pay check again. Soon the new volunteer batch will be here and I will transition into be a has-been. Yay, my crow's feet are thrilled!

This transition is full of little changes and big changes and no changes and I'm still in the middle of it. The beauty is that there is beauty on both sides. I have lovely memories to smile about and plenty of opportunity to look forward to. Thanks to God, indeed.

If I could just force myself to unpack those last few boxes......

Photos above:
1. Hiking at our YAV closing retreat in New Mexico with my roommates.
2. PDA party.
3. and 4. Girl's night in my new trailer.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


much more to come....

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Some photos from our closing retreat in Pensacola

Thanks to Linger and Laur for sharing these pics!

A letter to DMPC

I sent this letter to my church this morning to be read by my sister during worship, as she does with all my updates. It got me thinking, though, that I have so many people to thank. To all of you who've been there this year, I love you! This letter is for you too...(more personal notes to come, as soon as I get done with all the airplanes!)

Dear Friends,

Good morning! I am writing to you this morning from the sunny beaches of Pensacola, Florida. I am here on my volunteer group’s closing retreat. We’ve enjoyed a weekend full of worship, fellowship, fun and sun. It is really just the first step, however, in processing the closing of our year of service. The next few days will be very busy for each of us, and me in particular. I suppose that is where I should start today: with the big news!

When my program ends on Aug. 15th I won’t be packing my car and hitting the long road back to Maryland. That trip will now be delayed as I have accepted a call to stay on the coast and serve our great church for another year. Actually, I am leaving Florida this afternoon to head out to Louisville, Kentucky to attend orientation at the PC(USA) headquarters. I will start my new position as Case Management Liaison with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance on August 16th. I am overwhelmingly thrilled about this new opportunity to continue doing work I love with people I love and be able to contribute God’s Gulf Coast recovery plan.

But before I get too far ahead, let me first back up… The only way I could even consider signing on for another year in Mississippi was because of the incredible support and love you shared with me that made my first year here so great. I’ll never be able to thank each of you properly for all that your words, thoughts, prayers, financial contributions, packages, notes, emails, and visits meant to me. I’ve always found it so easy to give. One of the many lessons that you and the great people of the Gulf Coast taught me this year is how to receive. I’ve never been comfortable receiving prayers, donations, or well wishes, but this year I really needed that care and it felt wonderful to accept your love and generosity. It is because of that love and generosity that I have the energy, heart, and strength to continue on in service here, knowing that you will lift me up so that I may lift up others, and God will carry us all. It’s amazing! Thank you for loving me. Thank you for loving the coast.

As I turn to the next steps- orientation in Louisville, one day back at the apartment to pack, a closing retreat with all of the PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteers in New Mexico, moving, saying goodbye to friends and homeowners, and starting the new job- please keep me and my fellow Gulf Coast Mission volunteers in your prayers. And look for many more updates to come from a displaced Dickeyvillian who’s missing you dearly….

All my love,

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Have you seen the new movie yet? I'm loving it. Tonight I saw it for the third time. I never do that. It is too fun. And Lauren is a doll and gifted me the soundtrack. So now, instead of speaking, I sing Hairspray. Instead of walking, I dance Hairspray. It is good stuff.

This movie has been making me smile for a few days, but that's not it. Today I realized that I've been down-right giddy lately, and not just due to the joy of the return of the screen musical....there's a lot of excitement and hope going on down here.

I've got a new job and a plan for the next year. My friends all found out where they'll be living/serving on the coast for the next several months. They are staying close! I made a great new contact at a Long Term Recovery meeting today. Then, at the same meeting, they announced two new grants available to help homeowners rebuild. I met with a homeowner who saved almost all of her FEMA money and so we'll be able to start her rebuild ASAP. Lauren's moving to Mississippi. Em and Nick are moving to Mississippi. I'm smiling. I don't remember the last time I was this excited about anything down here. It is a new feeling.

And I'm diggin' it. Almost enough to make up a catchy song and dance.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Follow this!

Girls Night Out on Frenchman St followed by great girl talk on the floor of the Jenna St. shot-gun followed by several hours of uninterrupted sleep followed by more girl talk on the floor while staying in jammies until noon followed by a tasty lunch on Magazine St followed by the incident with the door at the Walgreen's followed by the incident with the bird at the A&P followed by the incident with Kerry attacking me in public in broad daylight followed by the purchase of new sunglasses at the French Market followed by walking all over the French Quarter in the late afternoon Louisiana heat interspersed with browsing old book stores and local music stores and authentic voodoo stores followed by frozen drinks and beignets at Cafe Beignet followed by a Hurricane at Pat O'Brien's with my cousin and his friends followed by dinner at Snug Harbor laced with fammered humor and wild hysterics followed by the clown car ride to Tipitinas and hours of amazing live local free music accompanied by raucous dancing with my favorite booty-shakers and several Abita Restoration Ales and one serious crush on a man named Trombone Shorty followed by a late car ride home chatting with one dear roommate followed by a very few hours sleep followed by a worship service and then reception honoring a man who's worked in the recovery efforts on the coast for over a year and a half and is now headed to seminary followed by several chocolate covered strawberries and just as many brownies followed by a lazy afternoon at home reading the paper followed by a movie slash nap with friends followed by football and dinner on the beach with my roommates including some much needed and enjoyed reminiscing time followed by the start of the great Mississippi packing adventure of 2007 hopefully followed by some serious zzzzzzzzzs.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

It's official!

I'm staying on the Gulf Coast for one more year!

I've accepted a staff position with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and will be continuing to help our church help our neighbors for another 12 months, at least. I'm super excited about the job, the work, the agency, the people, and the whole situation. While I will miss my family and my Dickey Memorial family terribly, I know that I'll be in good hands with my new Mississippi family!

And y'all can come visit anytime, y'hear?!

Many thanks to all of you who have supported, loved and prayed for me throughout this year. I love you so much!


Monday, July 23, 2007

In the past 36 hours:

I sang 5 of my favorite hymns in two great worship gatherings.
I joined in celebrating the contributions of two of the most influential people in my Mississippi experience.
I rocked Boggle with my roommies.
I cried my eyes out over the departure of two of my roommies.
I made a serious dent in Jane Eyre.
I fell asleep on the porch.
I enjoyed a beautiful, sunny walk along the beach.
I almost drown in my car in the bayou that has become of my back yard after daily torrential rains.
I slept about 4.5 hours, total.
I was locked out of my office.
Three homeowners called to thank us for helping them.
I did not hear back about any jobs.
I did not hear back about any pending grant requests for homeowners.
I sent a controversial email.
I pulled the wait list of 125 homeowners who've asked for our help.
I called 20 homeowners who still need help.
I prayed for all the people we won't get to this year. Or next. Or soon enough.
I enjoyed a meal lovingly prepared and presented by my roommate. I didn't lift a finger. It was a really good meal.
I washed four loads of laundry.
I saw one amazing movie with one amazing young friend who made my day.
I did not watch the presidential debate. We do not have cable tv and I wasn't home anyway.
I watched clips of the debate online and remembered why I loved cable.
I looked up more info on Dennis Kucinich eventhough I still feel like I'm a Hillary-girl.
My dad saved my butt and made my day.
My cousin emailed me and made my day (he's coming to visit this weekend).
My pastor/great friend listened, really listened, and made my day.
I developed some strange (clearly stress-related) allergy to Mississippi which involves my throat closing almost completely.

May this roller coaster ride continue......

Saturday, July 21, 2007


The reality of this year's rapidly approaching end is starting to hit hard now. My roommate Linda moved out yesterday. Bummed doesn't begin to cover it. Brenna's been gone for three weeks. It sucks. These two women have been my friends, roommates, confidants, inspiration, reality-check, study aids, partners in crime, and support system this year. They are my Mississippi sisters and I miss them dearly. Already. More than I imagined I would.

Before coming to Mississippi, I lived alone for several years and loved it. I swore that I'd never have roommates again. I loved leaving my bed unmade but keeping the bathroom spotless. I made popcorn and cookies for dinner and never felt guilty about how late I stayed up watching bad TV. There were rainy Saturdays when I never left the apartment and spent the entire day without speaking to a single soul.

But I am by nature a social beast. I love being around my favorite people and , with the exception of a few rainy Saturdays, rarely choose alone time if there is an option available to chat, dance, play, walk, eat with friends instead. Living alone, however, I managed my extroverted lifestyle on my own terms and my own time.

Living with five roommates was not something I looked forward to about this YAV program. These people were going to cramp my style, mess up my kitchen and generally annoy me, I was sure. I was so excited to come down here to work and take a go at actually living the church life I talked, read, prayed about and, well, it came with this communal living part that I was going to have to tolerate in order to participate in the experience. eh.

Somehow, through all the family dinners, roller-skating adventures, football gatherings, late-night popcorn binges, spontaneous parties on our porch, heart-to-hearts on the back staircase, open house BBQs, pillow fights, getting-ready marathons, gumbo conversations, road trips, practical jokes, Gilmore/OC dates, and random conversations I fell in love with these people and they became a new family.

I was a girl who arrived in this broken town quite broken myself. The five angels I lived with helped me to open back up again. They challenged me to consider new ideas and explore new questions. They tried to teach me how to really forgive and gave me ample opportunity to practice (he, he). They forgave me. They walked with me down the road of hope. They listened when I needed their ears and they held my hand when LOST spooked me. They gave me books. They gave their hearts. They lifted me up on hard days and cried with me on the dark days. They taught me lessons I should have learned ten years ago. Again. And again. And yes, they did still, at times, annoy the crap out of me. They let me annoy them. They loved me anyway.

I will leave here a better person for living with them and learning from them. And I know that they are all going on to do great work and spread great love. I'm just going to miss them so much. So much.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

5 minutes in my muddy mind

My bike has gone missing. We're not saying it was stolen. It is missing. It's not anywhere at the church where it has been in storage all year. I know, I haven't used the bike much since moving here. I rode my bike about 4 times back in the fall. I almost died 6 times while riding that bike 4 times back in the fall. There are no bike lanes or shoulders on which to ride here and I've learned that Mississippi drivers aren't necessarily on the look-out for bikers. But I loved that bike, Mississippi dust and all. I've had it for years. It's ridden the hills of Maryland and the mountains of Colorado. And now it is gone. I'm choosing to see it as a lesson in the karma of free stuff. I've been on the fortunate receiving end of a lot of free stuff this year (three free meals today alone!). Maybe this is my gift back to the free stuff community. Yeah, that's it.

The missing bike is just another bit to add to my long list of reasons to be stressed this week. My roommate Brenna left a couple of weeks ago. My roommate Linda leaves on Friday. I'm not ready for this experience to end. And I only have two and a half more weeks of work. There are so many homeowners that I want to catch up with and so much work to be done before I go. There's not enough time for 12 cloned Erins to get it all done. The Presbytery has a plan to hire a case manager to replace me, but there's nothing firm in the works yet. I don't know when or if some one will be here to follow up with the folks I've spent the year trying to help. After I finish work, I have to pack and move out. I don't yet know to where I am moving. That's mostly because I don't yet have a job either. I've applied for jobs, but I don't have anything finalized. Urg.

I'm trying to keep my head up through all of this. It helps to know that there are people all over the place who love me and will help me out if I get stuck. I know I can always move back to Maryland if the job thing doesn't pan out down here. I also know there is plenty of work to be done down here. And I know that as frustrated as I may get, there are thousands of homeowners who are much more frustrated than I am. Yes, let's keep this in perspective please.

And now for the good news- the sun came back out today while I was driving over Lake Pontchartrain. It was quite the sight! I was on my way down to New Orleans to meet up with a friend from college who is on the coast with her church mission team. Through the magic of the PC(USA), a random friend in common, and Facebook, I reconnected with a bit of my past. She had me speak to the group of 50, mostly high schoolers, about what I'm doing down here. Talk about a pick-me-up! It was great to see my friend and really great to see people who were interested in helping homeowners. I don't have a whole lot of contact with the volunteer teams anymore and it was nice to pull some of their excitement and drive onto my shoulders.

Ready to attack another day......

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

From a hotel room in Atlanta....

...where time is the ultimate luxury.

I'm on my way back to Gulfport after a two week vacation to the East Coast. My flights were delayed and I was left in a hotel in Atlanta overnight. I choose to see this as Delta Airlines recognition of my need for some time and space for a proper emotional transition back into life on the Gulf Coast.

A funny thing happens down there. You get so used to the Katrina mess being an all consuming presence that you don't understand how the rest of the world can function without talking about flood lines, mandatory evacuation zones, smart codes, drywall, plumbing, HVAC, grants, pods, volunteers, FEMA, phase one, phase two, cottages, etc. I forget that there are millions of Americans walking around their daily lives without the constant pressing panic of disaster recovery on their hearts, minds and shoulders.

Then you go to the beach, or M Street in Georgetown, or Harvard Square in Cambridge or the Atlanta Airport. Life goes on like "normal". Families play, people spend way too much money on shoes, cars, clothes, and toys. Dinner out means talk about friends, pop-culture and some politics, sure, but not the homelessness of the thousands on the Gulf Coast- or elsewhere for that matter.

My first instinct is to be angry. I can't tolerate the ignorance and apathy. What are they doing with their time/money/lives?????

But as the two weeks of my vacation went by I am slowly reminded that many of these people are just as absorbed in their own worlds as I am in mine on the Gulf Coast. They are making local schools better and fighting for the environment. They are helping patients at a Baltimore hospital and serving the Rotary in MA. They are promoting eco-tourism in Guatemala and volunteering at church in SC. They are involved in local politics and report the news for the local paper. They are loving, compassionate mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends.

Sure, not everyone in every cute New England boutique is doing everything they can to help out, but....oh hey wait, those are cute shoes. No! How does that happen after only two weeks? The draw of a more comfortable (?) life has sucked me in again. Two freaking weeks. It would be so easy to walk away from the coast right now and find a less-stressful job and a cute downtown apartment in any one of the great places still on my "to live" list.

All of this had me spinning yesterday while enjoying lunch with my cousin on a busy street in Cambridge. I was in no shape to jump on the plane back to Gulfport, to the life I wasn't totally prepared to re-join. Stressed doesn't begin to cover what I was feeling.

But then I heard a little southern in my voice when I spoke with strangers on the T. And I heard myself tell a recent college grad about the work we're doing on the coast and she asked me to email her more information about how to get involved. When I checked in at Logan, they asked if I was going on vacation and I realized after the words had left my mouth that I'd said, "No. I'm going home."

When the flight out of Boston was delayed for an hour and I learned that I'd miss my connection out of Atlanta, I didn't freak out, like so many others flying Delta in or out of ATL yesterday. I was calm the whole time. This is not like me. I had an interview at 8:30 the next morning. I have a full voicemail box. There is so much work to be done and not enough time to do it. But the idea of spending a few hours alone in a hotel room to repair and prepare sounded like an incredible opportunity.

So after some reflection, prayer, and time I am ready to return. There is much work to be done. In Mississippi, but also in Baltimore, DC, Boston, and around the world. God's led me to the Gulf Coast this time. She knows there is a place there for me, because she created it. She gave me great roommates and friends, a loving support system of pastors and volunteers, and plenty of people to help and work to do.

Now I just need to catch one more flight and get to it!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

On Vacation!

The last few weeks have been quite hectic on the Gulf Coast. The Presbytery of Mississippi Disaster Recovery's leadership is processing through a major transition. In my GCM program, Jaymie left, Brenna's packing to leave this weekend, and Linda decided to move home early. Homeowners are stressing out because it's hurricane season again and their homes are in various stages of mess/repair. And my awesome team from home (Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church) came down and I got to spend much of the week working with them/not doing my job! It was time for some much needed R & R.

Right now I am sitting on the porch of our rented beach house in the Outer Banks, NC. I'm here for a week relaxing and playing with my sisters and their families. Today I enjoyed one of the more perfect vacation days I've had in a while, which included sleeping in until 8:30, waking up to bacon and eggs ready on a plate, kayaking with the girls all morning, drinking a daiquiri with lunch at the pier, reading a book with my niece, finding the perfect comfy dress on sale for my summer weddings while shopping with my sisters, hitting the beach for a few hours with the whole gang, playing a couple rounds of pool in the basement, swinging on the hammock with my nephew, enjoying steaks off the grill for the family dinner, and finishing the night watching our neighbors set off fireworks while we set up the board games.

And it's only Wednesday......