Tuesday May 20, 2009
By Nic Versteeg
Assistant Medical Group Administrator
Kaiser Riverside Medical Center
Today was our second day of work with Hands On New Orleans (HONO). We split up into three groups. One group went back to the New Orleans Faith Health Alliance Community Clinic to finish cleaning up and dismantle the trash chute that we built yesterday. One group went to the HONO warehouse to build art easels for Fredrick Douglass High School that had recently suffered a fire in the art department. The wood used to build the easels was salvaged from yesterday's project at the clinic. Yesterday's hard work to remove all the nails and screws from the wood paid off immediately. The third group, of which I was a part, went to Miss Evelyn's house to continue work by Hands On.
Miss Evelyn is a widow whose home is approximately 140 years old. The roof was blown off by the storm, which caused tremendous water damage during the ensuing torrential rain. After the storm, Miss Evelyn hired several contractors to repair her home who, unfortunately, took off with her money and never did any work. She has now been out of her home for 4 years.
Hands On has been working on the home for approximately 2 years. Over 500 volunteers have worked on her home, and now it's about 2 weeks away from being finished and allowing Miss Evelyn to move back home.
Fortunately, we had an opportunity to meet Miss Evelyn. As you can imagine, she is thrilled with the progress on her home and very excited about the prospect of finally moving back in. The Kaiser group worked very hard and made great progress. We're really coming together as a Team. We finished the work day a little early to be able to tour some of the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. We drove down to the Lower Ninth Ward, which had been completely wiped out. Most of the original homes have been demolished because they were so badly damaged. Many properties that use to have a home now sit empty, except for a concrete slab. However, some progress is evident since our trip last year. Unfortunately, only less than 20% of the residents have returned.
We then drove to the levy that broke and caused the flooding of the Lower Ninth Ward. It was an emotional time for several of the Kaiser Volunteers as they surveyed the area, imagining what it must have been like for the residents who had to flee for their lives and scramble to higher ground.
More than anything, the spirit of giving is everywhere in the City. I've met a lot of people who are from "somewhere else" and are only here to help with the rebuild effort. Last night, several of us who had previously volunteered in New Orleans were able to connect with someone we worked with last year. Dave and Ann have been volunteering in New Orleans since Katrina, working with several organizations for months at a time, trying to get people back into their homes.
I am so thankful to work for an organization which has a similar spirit of giving. How many organizations would pay to send 60 volunteers to a part of the country in which they have no vested interest? Kaiser has now done this 3 year in a row! Unbelievable, particularly in today's economic environment. We should all feel blessed to work for an organization with such a fantastic sense of mission and purpose.