Thursday, May 21, 2009
By Curshanda Cusseaux Woods - Community Relations Specialist
Northern California Health Plan - Regional Offices
It's Thurday. Day Four. My bunk mate's cell phone alarms are ringing in unison. It must be 6:30 a.m. It can't be. It feels like I just went to bed an hour ago. My body hurts and my skin is on fire from the previous day's work of a horrific backyard landscape/cleanup in the New Orleans sun . I slowly accept the fact that it's morning because I smell something good in the kitchen. I rise feeling so tired but so exhilarated at the same time.
It is my second trip with Kaiser Permanente to volunteer in the Gulf Coast but this time as a project leader and this time in New Orleans. While we had great volunteers in Biloxi, the New Orleans cooking crew is just as amazing. This morning my two new Hawaiian BFFs are in the kitchen whipping up a tasty Hawaiian breakfast…SPAM and eggs, but not like any SPAM you've ever had before because this is actually delicious.
After filling my tummy, Shawn, my co-project leader and I head out to chauffer our ten volunteers to New Orleans East about 20 miles away from our bunkhouse. While driving to the project site, I reflect on the first two days and how I was so nervous about being a project leader simply because it would require that I drive people around in an unfamiliar city. I have gotten my passengers lost at least twice every single day, gone down a one-way street and even had a minor fender â€¦ oh, never mind that! I am surprised to see a couple of the volunteers who have been victims of my lack of directional sense still voluntarily choosing to ride with me this morning. I know that these girls will be my friends for life. But today, we arrive to the sight without incident. It's going to be a good morning. The forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of rain but it is absolutely beautiful outside.
As we get out the car, it is clear why we are there. There is some official looking flyer posted on a boarded-up window. In short, Charmaine Smith's home was damaged during Hurricane Katrina. She evacuated to Baton Rouge where she stayed to care for her ill father. Her house was further damaged by Hurricane Gustav and was in no shape for her to return and she didn't have the funding to fix it up. The note that we were viewing was the City threatening to impose fines of up to $100 per day if she did not get the house up to code. Enter, Team KP. Our job for the day is to paint the exterior of the damaged home. Easy enough except the hornets who had been happily living there did not know we were coming. For some reason hornets are deeply attracted to my bright orange KP Thrive shirt, but I am no fan of hornets, so I go to the nearest Dollar General to buy a non hornet -magnet shirt. It worked. Now I can join the rest of my team.
We all listen to music and further bond while painting. For most of us, this is the second day in a row we are all working together so we are all getting quite chummy. We have such a diverse group from all ages and cultural backgrounds but we feel like one big family. Although we did not meet the homeowner, many express that they are so happy to help Ms. Smith avoid fines and hopefully get her one step closer to being able to come back home. After a brief lunch pick up of Chinese food and boiled crawfish, we are still ahead of schedule and finish up around 2:30 p.m. We will finish the second half of our painting project tomorrow.
Since we have some time we discuss one carload of volunteers going to the HandsOn warehouse to load easels (a project for an art school we did a couple of days before) onto a truck for tomorrow's delivery. That would mean the other carload would get to head back to the bunkhouse and be first on the shower list (and if you have ever shared two bathrooms with 30 people, then you know what a treat that would be). But instead we all agree to go to the warehouse to load the easels because of course, if we all work together, we would all get done faster. If only everyone could share that spirit.
I go to bed tonight feeling sad that the trip is nearing an end and that I would miss these incredible people with whom I have laughed, cried and have even gotten lost.
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