A group of SCNA Lay Mission Volunteers have traveled to New Orleans, La, with Marie Celine Osbourn, SCN, to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Luke Boiarski, SCN joined the group that consists of SCNAs Martha Borders, Cindy Carroll, Karen Frank, Lisa Harrison, Jackie Jackson, Betsy Kammerdiener, Pam Lawson, Jerry McCrary, SCNA candidate Deb Moore and lay mission volunteer, Steve Newton.
Below is a message about their experiences thus far.
It’s been a hot tiring day, but we don’t even notice. The blessings we have experienced since coming to the House of Charity with the Federation of the Sisters of Charity are unending. The hospitality provided to us by the Sisters has been awesome. We are staying in Orleans Parish in a restored house that was flooded in Hurricane Katrina. There is a chapel in the house where we had a most reverent blessing for our week. We are sleeping on air mattresses, this home is used to house volunteer workers who come to New Orleans to help the hurricane victims. Our mission challenge is to go out into the world and see the face of God and to be God to those we encounter. This is the spirit of St. Vincent dePaul.
Day One – We packed our brown bag lunches and we have received our direction for work from Mr. Earl, a retired contractor who organizes volunteer efforts to assist hurricane victims in his Parish. Today we worked in the home of Mr. Frank, a retired 90 year old man who served in the Navy in the seventh ward. He is proud of his service and showed us his service picture in his sailor uniform; he and his wife have been married 66 years. He also told us stories of his experience with the hurricane. He sings and plays an electric guitar – “This Little Light of Mine” is his favorite. He serenaded us while we worked. He has had 2 contractors come to repair hurricane damage and they were scams; taking his money and ruining his home. His 2 story home needed a drop ceiling in his kitchen – we accomplished this with the help of Mr. Earl – we learned new skills with this work! Steve Newton and Pam Lawson are now the experts. The second side of his 2 story home contained a lot of assorted debris; we cleaned out the 2nd side, two stories. We found a young girl’s jewlery, clothes and shoes – reminders to us that folks had to leave what they had behind to save their lives. We bagged up the items, covering the sidewalk with garbage from the house and filling the trash can – it happened to be trash pick up day for Mr. Frank; we all stood outside and applauded when we saw the garbage truck come by. The trash collectors immediately got big ear to ear smiles on their faces and were waving to us as we cheered for them. We tried to help them put the mound of trash in the truck and they insisted to do it themselves. These young men were happy doing what they do; no matter what they had to pick up. During the morning, Mr. Earl asked us where were are from; we said Chattanooga and he said “oh, my Parish is collecting supplies and money to send to Chattanooga.” What a humbling vision – people still struggling from devastation from Hurricane Katrina, and now they are helping others. Wow.
Several neighbors came by and thanked us for helping Mr. Frank. A pastor stopped by and asked us if we could also help him.
Sister Luke and Mr. Earl met with Pastor Dylan the pastor who saw us working and stopped; Sister Luke and Sister Monica went to his building site, this one in the ninth ward, the area most devastated by the floods. Water had been over the roof of his home, where he raised his six daughters. This home was stripped to the outside walls and new studs were up. We were asked to install insulation, clean the site and review putting up drywall. Again, skills we learned just at this time – and we now have many skilled insulation hangers! The building and site were cleaned up by us and we’ll see tomorrow about putting up the drywall and doing some other work. This pastor lost several family members in Katrina; his father-in-law was found dead in his floating home; three family members drowned when the water overtook their vehicle as they were attempting to evacuate. Stories of stress and sorrow abound here.
We stopped by a friend’s home that Sister Luke has helped rebuild her home; there we were graciously treated with delicious authentic red beans and rice. She invited all of us into her home for this meal. It’s surreal to see so many homes in disrepair, yet the people here are so happy and welcoming. We are relearning perspective and priority in life. They are teaching us a lot.
As a group we are learning the importance of ‘being in the moment’ and letting life happen. We’re a group of organizers, delegators and busy people. Slowing down to listen and learn and let God be God is a lesson for us.