Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Closer To Home

With the flooding here in the Midwest water levels are expected to exceed the 1993 Flood levels. I was not too surprised to learn that some New Orleans residents (remember that Slidell is in the greater New Orleans area) have traveled to Missouri to lend a helping hand. Here is an excellent news article from Fox News about one small towns struggle and how people are helping out:,2933,368264,00.html

See these links for information about the Great Flood of 1993:

Here are some pictures from the U.S. Government site listed above (government pictures and documents are considered to be in the public domain - we paid for them):

Monday, June 2, 2008

Why did I do this?

I had just finished a hectic semester and by the end of spring term I am usually spent. So, why leave my family, of which I am very fond of, and drive for nearly 14 hours in a very overcrowded van?

At the start of the term there was discussion about an upcoming summer trip with a group from Columbia College traveling together to some nice exotic foreign location. Very nice, but also expensive beyond the budgets of what most of my students could afford. Yet there is no denying the value of learning experiences that take students out of their normal routine and into a new environment. Unfortunately foreign travel is increasingly expensive so we looked at domestic alternatives. There is also another issue.

These days lots of people have degrees. What can we do collectively, teachers and students, to ad value to the education our students are receiving? How can we make them stand out above the rest of the crowd? Value added. We assist them in adding experiences, knowledge, and skills over and above what is acquired in the classroom. That was what this trip was all about at first but then another dimension was added.

The students that went with us were able to make a difference - to help others. Not only did I take time off of my summer these students did the same thing. It was not all partying and sightseeing either. This was no luxury cruise. These students we took to Slidell worked hard and long hours as good as any construction crew I have ever seen. I was impressed and proud of them. They performed under hot and dirty conditions beyond my wildest expectations. More than anything they unselfishly showed courage, perseverance, and heart. That is what Human Services majors are about.

But, despite all of that, which is huge, we all encountered something else. We encountered the largeness of the human spirit which when directed in the right direction is capable of much good. We encountered people willing to open up to us, help us, guide us, and teach us. Not just one or two times while we were on the trip but every single day. We learned about the power of hope and certainly about the power of perseverance.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thanks Katrina Blog

This blog has been up for awhile and I recommend you check it out: . We just came in and stayed for a week and then left. That blog is from someone who has been dealing with the situation for years.

At this point I want to say something about the people we met in the greater New Orleans area - particularly in the Slidell area. Everyone was so nice and thanked us for coming. I think they appreciated the fact that someone remembered and still cared. I can say with all honesty, and I am sure this applies to the other seven members of our group, that we received more than we gave.

Bounce Music - Out of the 9th Ward

Earlier I talked about the 9th Ward, and specifically what is known as the Lower 9th Ward. I made a reference to what is called Bounce Music. I wanted to provide some examples here - courtesy of YouTube. Now, the first video is G rated and the second one is R rated. I almost took the second one down after I made this post but I decided it would be dishonest to do so. These videos ARE representative of Bounce Music, and Bounce Music is a part of the culture of the area you visited. So, if you are easily offended just watch the first video.

G Rated Version

R Rated Version: Can you figure out where the term bounce came from?

I wish now that I had researched more of the culture of New Orleans before making this trip. Not so much the French Quarter, which at age 51 I find a bit tiring and frankly even boring, but the "hidden" areas and things that tourist don't necessarily see. The one thing I think we can improve on if this happens again, another trip with students to help in the rebuilding effort, is the tour of New Orleans. We did not have a guide and at one point literally drove in circles. With some better planning, and I think a GPS system, we could do much better next time.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Our last day of work. This house was located in a township right at the edge of Lake Pontchartrain less than one hundred yards from the bank of the North Shore.

This was an interesting community and we got to speak with a gentleman who's wife was born in the house pictured below that we worked on. This was another house that had been mostly empty since Katrina. We cleaned the house out and gutted the interior. By the end of the day we were down to the bare walls, had removed the cabinets and stove in the kitchen, and created a pile of debris that will at least fill one of the large remodeling dumpsters like the one from our first day. Mold was particular bad and as usual we wore face masks. However, as the day progressed and the house aired out, and as we removed the moldy dry wall that situation improved considerably.

Around two in the afternoon Traci uncovered a rather large Cotton Mouth snake that had hidden itself in the wall just inside the door. Traci survived the encounter - the snake did not. Remember to click on the pictures for the full size image.

This is a picture of the house during the morning about an hour after we had started work.

The pile of debris pictured below became much larger as the day progressed. We spent the first hour or two cleaning the structure out and then started taking down the drywall. "Drywall is the principal wall material used in the United States for interior purposes. It is made of a sheet of gypsum covered on both sides with a paper facing and a paperboard backing ("

Drywall is a huge recycling problem with construction and remodeling efforts creating enormous amounts of waste sheet rock. Sheetrock is actually a brand name but is used generically to refer to the same building material.

The stove and the cabinets were removed. This was our second structure to gut and our second structure to have fire damage in the kitchen area around the stove.

A hole in the roof. Damage from Katrina was a one-two punch that included water from the storm surge and roof damage from tree limbs ripped off the trees.

Black mold. It was everywhere. If you click on the image below and look carefully you can still see the waterline. This was the wall behind the kitchen stove which had just been taken out. What is not visible in any of these pictures is the fire damage. I think that many people came back and attempted to live in their homes before restoration or at least spent some time there before making other living arrangements. For whatever reason that seams to have have been the cause of kitchen fires. As mentioned elsewhere both residents we worked in had fire damage around the stove area.

The family has been in and removed some items. We did find some personal belongs and put them aside. Latter that afternoon one of the relatives came by and claimed the pictures and other miscellaneous items you see in the image below.

Here we are after cleaning out most of the debris starting to take off the door trim in preparation for removing the drywall.

We start taking the drywall off.

We are in the bayou here. Note the Spanish Moss hanging from the trees. Spanish Moss has historically been used as fillers for mattresses, pillows, and even G.I. sleeping bags.

We never got an explanation for the marker shown below. It commemorates the creation of a cemetery but there was no cemetery in sight.

You can see the name for the Rev. Francis Balay. He is somewhat of a famous character in the area and I found several web sites with some information about him:
History of the Saints Peter and Paul Church in Pearl River Louisiana (1901-1944)

St Genevieve Church

Wednesday continued: New Orleans

After our driving tour of New Orleans to view the residual damage and ongoing recovery effort we visited the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. This was our "vacation" day on the trip but as you have seen it was spent mostly on educational and cultural related activities.

My pocket Nikon broke during the bayou tour when we bumped into a log and I dropped it. The message "Lens Error" is NOT a good thing to see on a digital camera. The pictures here, and actually starting with the pictures of the 9th Ward and the surrounding area, were taken with a new camera so I was not able to get the quality, or quantity, of pictures I would normally have taken.

If you look closely you will see the top of a bottle of Tabasco sauce on the bottom edge. One of my trademarks. My use of Tabasco dates to my time with the Marines as a Navy Corpsman. They got me started using it. I wonder what percentage of Marines walk around with a bottle of Tabasco in their rucksack?

I ruined a very good picture and ended up with a mediocre one by poor framing. I should have had the bottom of that first street lamp visible rather than cut off like it is.

This band, that played for tips, was excellent. We listened to them while we ate. Being Jewish I did not "enjoy" such delicacies as alligator and crayfish like many of my companions! But, the food I did have was pretty good.

What was Katrina like?

What was it like to live through Katrina? These videos shows the wind, rain, and the effect of the storm rush. Notice how the water rises, with the storm rush, and how people literally fight for their life on the roof of a house across from where the video is being shot.

Here is a video of the 9th Ward taken shortly after the storm: