Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mission Trip Homily - Mary Truslow

Recover, Rebuild, Rebirth

New Orleans is arguably one of the most culturally important cities in America, but because of history, tradition and lack of foresight it had fallen far behind most other American cities in terms of economic opportunity and basic services and infrastructure, even before Katrina.

During our visit we learned that New Orleans and Louisiana has embarked upon a new beginning to build a solid foundation upon which the residents of not only the Lower Ninth Ward (the area most directly affected by the levee breaks and flood waters), but all of the other affected neighborhood as well, can stand as they recover from the storm and remake their communities stronger than before.

This new beginning is best encapsulated in the blue and yellow banners displayed throughout the city – Louisiana Recover, Rebuild, Rebirth


Here are the “facts”, as best we could gather as to what New Orleans is recovering from:

Three days after Hurricane Katrina, 80% of New Orleans was flooded. Whether a house was flooded with 1 foot of water or 10 feet, the damage was the same – total ruin. The number of housing units damaged, destroyed, or inaccessible in New Orleans because of Katrina: 250,000. To date 30% of these units have been restored.

Since Katrina there has been: a 45% drop in the population and a 32% drop in employment opportunities

In 2008, 86 of the 130 public schools were in full operation and student enrollment is about 60% of what it was pre-Katrina.

Only 1 of the 7 hospitals that serve New Orleans is operational again.


Here’s where things start to get better with the rebuilding process. We interacted and worked with many groups. Bill, John and Will are going to share with you some of our experiences.

We learned that every one of the ministries and organizations we worked with has shifted. No longer are they just addressing post Katrina recovery but rather a larger vision of community rebuild and improvement.

All of these organizations need our help. With this shift away from just post Katrina recovery comes a new phase of funding. We witnessed funding cuts first hand, when Jesse, one of the young men staying in the house with us lost his job with the Episcopal Community Services.

We will have a full list of these groups and their contact information on the blog and in the newsletter. We encourage you to learn more about them and support them.


We were in New Orleans at a time of rebirth. We were there for The Saints and the Super Bowl, Marti Gras and a newly elected mayor. He received 60% of the votes and ran on a slate with 10 other candidates.

In closing, I want to share with you two stories.

You may have seen on the parish blog pictures of Beverly and her dog, Sweetie. Last Sunday, on Valentine’s Day, Will and I sent her an e-mail along with some photos of Beverly, Sweetie and Will.

She responded by saying, ”Thanks so much for the wonderful pictures! The parades and all the hoopla about the New Orleans Saints and Super Bowl have really transformed the city with a whole new outlook for 2010 and beyond. Well, after waiting for 43 years you can just about imagine how the fans are celebrating to the max. And of course, add in Mardi Gras madness and things are at a fever pitch!! The energy has rally provided us with the feeling of a new beginning for New Orleans!”

One night Will & I wanted BBQ. We got a ride from a cab driver who had been driving for 30 years. We took her to a part of town where she questioned whether we were misinformed as to the recommended restaurant was located. When we got there and Will verified that we were at the correct place, she touched my arm and looked into my eyes and said, “I want to thank you, your group and your church for being here, for helping and for not forgetting us. We need you. Thank you and bless you all.”

Thank you everyone for supporting the Mission Group and the people of New Orleans.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Good Morning. I was on the Rebuild project with George Thomas, Lorraine Dee, and Jim Sasso. The rebuild program began as a volunteer house gutting operation by the Episcopal diocese of LA. In 2007, the rebuild phase was launched and so far 60 homes for families have been rebuilt. All work except electrical and plumbing is done by volunteers. Work includes insulation, sheet rocking, painting, flooring, and installing trim and cabinets.

We were assigned a house in the Gentilly section of New Orleans. It was owned by a family of 6 who were displaced to Little Rock Arkansas. The father died from cancer while in Little Rock so 5 will be returning to the house. From the stories we heard, health care costs made it impossible for them to return to their home. Eventually, a social worker brought their case to the rebuild program. We also heard there may have been some contractor fraud with this house which was (and is) quite common.

I didn’t know what to expect arriving at our site. Water was at the 10 ft. mark in this neighborhood and the yellow mark above the door and windows still remains on the house. I would say that about 50% of the homes in the area have been rebuilt. This particular house was nearing completion. George and Jim were assigned the light carpentry work while Lorraine and I were the painters. Building closets were the priority for the week.

Two supervisors were at our site. They were just out of college and they had been there for about a year. The program is currently working on 15 houses and has 20 supervisors. At the end of the program, we met with Liz who is one of the managers of the program. She told us how funding has been cut back for this year and there are great concerns about funding going forward. They did receive a grant from the state which will allow them to finish the homes started (about 15) and do a few additional homes. The name of the organization has actually changed from “disaster response” to Episcopal Community Services”. As she said…“How long can a disaster response be?” I look at the neighborhoods and I wonder if the remaining people will ever come back to their homes? How many people want to come back but can’t due to financial issues? What will happen to these gutted out homes? Will the govt. eventually take them over?

All these questions went thru my mind as I was painting but now I think a lot about what Liz talked about….FUTURE FUNDING. She’s worried because she just knows there are more families that want to come back but can’t due to financial constraints. Although it has been 5 years, there is just so much more work that needs to be done. I also hope and pray that the funding continues….. ECS is really doing some good work!!

For myself, I got to know Lorraine, George, and Jim at a much deeper level and I’m grateful for that. We were together every day! I’ve never met such a meticulous person with the paint brush as Lorraine. I’m also grateful for the chance to help restore one house for one family so that they may finally come home. Thank you St. Michael’s for your support to make this happen.

John Ahonen

Mission Trip Homilies - 2/21/10

Today’s Gospel lesson from Luke tells us that “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness”. The Mission Trip to New Orleans was also full of and led by the Holy Spirit in so many ways, from the moment we received the parish blessing from Sam and the passing on of the Superman T shirt from Sheila to our trip home as we flew safely above the storm accompanied by Bishop Harris.
Each member of the group offered their own unique gifts, not only to the people of New Orleans but also to the group itself. I think of Anne who after lugging all our sleeping bags and pillows and driving 13 hours straight to miss the snow storm went right to the grocery store so everyone else would have food for breakfast the next day. I think of the Rebuild Group of Lorraine, George, John, and Jim who arose early every morning to spend the day building and painting a homeowner’s closet and returned to do dishes after dinner every evening. I think of the Beacon of Hope group including Lana, Cece, and Fred who painted all week both inside and out and entertained us with their humor and stories.
I think of homeowner Bev and her dog Sweetie who graciously welcomed us into her home and her life and were so thrilled that Will was able to put 3 bookcases together for them. I think of Barb and Marilyn who spent countless trips going back and forth to the paint stores with Bev to decide on the color of her house and who also spear headed our delicious and creative dinners. I think of Mary who each evening took it upon herself to get both pictures and write-ups on the blog so that all our supporters could be involved in what was going on while we were there.
I think of Bill who organized the Bayou Rebirth project of repotting trees and got us all interested in how important the issue of restoring the Bayou is. I think of Patti’s cousin Nick who not only welcomed us with his red dress and cookies but also brought a few of us out on a trip to actually see the Bayou. I think of going out with Patti, Mary, and Will to feed other volunteer groups rebuilding homes throughout the city as well as a community of people living with HIV/AIDS, the working poor, and the homeless and the privilege of listening to the stories of all who we met.
But most of all I think of the people of New Orleans – how despite all their struggles of the past 5 years and before are able to maintain an incredible spirit of hope and love. Despite the poverty, violence, little progress in rebuilding, and lack of resources they continue on, believing in the spirit of their community. We were fortunate to have been there at a time when not only Mardi Gras but also the Superbowl was coming up. The excitement was everywhere and the love of the people of New Orleans for their city was overwhelming. I was struck by how happy they were just to have made it to the Superbowl and how if the Saints won it would only be “icing on the cake”. That sense of appreciation was extended to us as well by every single person we met, who thanked us not only for coming down but for most importantly, continuing to remember them. Thank you St. Michael’s for making that possible once again.

Judy Rice

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mission Trip Group

A fellow parishioner suggested that we put the names of those who went on the Mission Trip on the blog since he didn't know who had actually gone (and I'm sure he isn't the only one!) - good suggestion. Stay tuned for the group homily (don't worry, not all of us will be speaking!) on Feb 21st.

Lana Agnew
John Ahonen
Anne Aylward
Fred Carter
Marilyn Cheney
Lorraine Dee
Cece Lindequist
Bill Mullen
Barb Phinney
Judy Rice
Jim Sasso (friend of the Thomases)
Patti Thomas
George Thomas
Mary Truslow
Will Truslow

Friday, February 5, 2010

Today's Loaves and Fishes lunch delivery went to two places. One was to Project Lazarus, a supportive housing community for 24 men and women with HIV/AIDS. The home is located in the 7 ward and was severely damaged by Katrina. The house has been restored and is surrounded by beautiful gardens ands and water fountains.

In addition, the group delivered 75 lunches to volunteers who were doing rebuild work through Rhino and Habitat for Humanity.
These houses have been built since last year's St. Michael's group delivered lunch to volunteers on this street. Patty and Judy were thrilled to see the progress!
The last two Habitat for Humanity houses that will complete the street of 10+ houses.
Will, Mary, Marilyn, Judy and Patty - today's Loaves and Fishes crew!
Some of the Rhino volunteers (from upstate New York) getting specific instructions on using a circular saw!
During the afternoon, Patty's cousin, Nick, took some of us 45 minutes south to the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.
At the preserve we walked a raised boardwalk and saw exhibits about the vanishing bayou habitats and a wonderful movie about the unique bayou culture.

Plants included palmetto, cypress and spanish moss.
We heard more brids than we saw - including flickers, flycathers, blujays, chicadees, egrets, crows, and turkey buzzards.
No snakes or alligators at this time of year!
Near the end of the boardwalk thru the bayou.
Cypress Knees
We got into the moss!

All kinds of moss!
And more moss!
Moss and ferns!
On the way back from the Bayou, there was a caravan of Mardi Gras floats! We're off to a Mardi Gras parade tonight!

Photos posted by MARY

It's been a wonderful wonderful week

Judy here -
My first blog from New Orleans (although it looks like I have been writing a lot it really has mostly been Mary!) It's Friday and I can't believe our time here is almost over - it has gone so quickly! We would love to stay much more to do, so much more to see. It has been a wonderful week with great group dynamics and everyone has worked really well together. It is so interesting to see everyone's unique gifts contributing to our time here.
Loaves and Fishes has been my favorite thing to do - I have had a chance to hear so many different stories, to meet so many different people, and to see so many different parts of the city. We have fed so many people from the homeless congregating outside the New Orleans Mission, to the different volunteers rebuilding homes, to a community for people with HIV/AIDS.
It is so sad to see that so much of the city has not changed at all in the year since we were last here. I can't describe the feeling of seeing so much devastation and hopelessness. Lot after lot is either empty or with an abandoned falling down house. Today I did see one area where I had brought sandwiches to last year where great improvement was seen. Last year there were only a few houses built - this year the street is full of small beautifully colored homes with only a couple more left to complete.
But despite all the sadness and frustration the spirit of the city is incredibly strong (helped along by the Saints and Mardi Gras) - everyone is so excited and so proud to be from New Orleans - Go Saints, Who Dat, and Mardi Gras decorations are everywhere. And everyone without exception that we have met thanks us for coming and helping. As the priest from St. Anna's said, showing up is the most important part. All of the work we have done is helpful and appreciated but most important is that we came (thanks to all of you) and that we have not forgotten them. Your prayers and financial support have been so important every step of the way from the inital planning of this trip way back last summer to our days here this week. I can't wait to come back again next year!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fred with Jaime, the proud home owner of today's painting project in Gentilly. The team did mostly ceiling painting.

Bayou Rebirth team, including Amanda the project coordinator. Repotted mulberry trees are to the right of the group.

The Loaves and Fishes volunteers bumped into Reverend Dr. Michael C. Kuhn, Headmaster of Trinity Episcopal School, dressed as the Zero Hero for the preschool. Today was the 100th Day of school and the Zero Hero, an anti-bullying character, visits the students to celebrate this important day. Gentle, Generous, Truthful, Kind, and Brave are the core values of the school.
Cambre Eagan, from Trinity Episcopal Church's Mobile Loaves and Fishes ( and Thom Pepper, Operations Manager, Common Ground Relief ( . Two very worthy groups who are actively providing New Orleans important services and resources.

Cambre is native to New Orleans and Thom moved to New Orleans from Miami two years ago. They are truely dedicated to making a difference.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wednesday, February 3rd

Good evening all -

tonight it really is Anne blogging. All previous postings from "Anne" have really been from Mary Truslow - your excellently chosen new warden and my 3rd cousin once removed (that's a factoid I bet few of you knew!)

The weather in New Orleans today reverted to gray - with a raw chilly wind. This weather means we could not have continued to paint at Beverly's house , so we felt less guilty about moving on to spend the day with Bayou Restoration - a group that is committed to trying to restore and revegetate the swamps and bayous that buffer New Orleans from the Gulf. The ecological story is fascinating and way too much for a blog. We transferred 300 mulberry trees from small test tubes into pots for transfer to the bayou. We worked so fast that we had completed the day's assignment by lunchtime and moved on to other tasks! But it was cold!

Our four "Rebuilders" returned to the house where they have labored all week and continued to move it back to habitability. I heard stories of more closet painting and someone was smart enough to draw on George Thomas's skills as a mason to get some brick repair done. They will return for more tomorrow.

Judy Rice and Mary and Will Truslow dedicated their day to food ministries - returning to the Dragon Cafe and Loaves and Fishes where Judy worked last year.

At the end of the day most of the group went to the evening service and dinner at St. Anna's and ended the evening with beignets at the Cafe du Monde.

For me, the most striking difference from last year is that organizations and indivudals seem to be moving on. Don't misundertand, the work still to be done is overwhelming, but as several have observed to us, anyone who is still not back in their home after 4 1/2 years is clearly dealing with other issues. So the church and others are realizing that the issues now are the underlying issues that have been laid bare by the Katrina crisis. On a more positive note, I am struck, as we were last year, by the young adults who have chosen to come to NewOrleans to help and by how many of them are choosing to stay - as one said to us " We are becoming a seriously blue city in a very red state - we have the chance to re-invent this place" (not an exact quote, but close enough...). Interestingly, getting a correct census count is a very big deal, as is the mayoral election next Saturday.

But the BIG, dominating news is the Saints and their bid in the Superbowl. You all would be reminded of the first Patriots and Red Sox wins - car flags, banners, tshirts, sweatshirts, slogans. A former sports reporter (now deceased) apparently vowed that if the Saints ever made it to the Superbowl he would walk through downtown in a dress - on our Sunday tour we witnessed many men in dresses - reminded us of the St. Michael's auction!

We hope Ranjit and Johanna are having a safe trip. We miss them and all of you who were here last year - we are grateful for the emails from the parish and look forward to sharing this experience when we come home.

Sorry to go on so long! Anne (hopefully others will add pictures from today, tomorrow!)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Beverly and Sweetie! We are blessed to have shared these past two days with you!

Entry by Mary

After many tries and paint swatches, Barb and Marilyn helped Beverly determine the third color for the entrance section of her house.

Our Final Day with Beverly and Sweetie

Entry by Mary

Today we had a beautiful, sunny day to continuing working at Beverly's house. Will assembled three bookshelves.

Sunday's Tour

Lana reporting:

After the 10 AM service at the Cathedral, around the corner from where we're staying, we went on a 3 hour tour by Dixie Tours, the same outfit who took us around last year. We were driven around the various neighborhoods, starting with the Garden District, which was damaged mostly by winds during Katrina. We "vets" noted that in a year's time, not too many homes had been rehabbed in the Lower Ninth. Progress seems excruciatingly slow. As our tour guide said...'we need people!' Many schools remain closed because the families have not moved back. NOLA can use more people in different professions, & of course, volunteers are really needed & appreciated. We feel so blessed to be here, helping in any way we can. Thank you SO much for making this all possible. I sincerely hope that St.Michael's continues to remember & support

Monday, February 1, 2010

high on ladders, helping Beverly get her house back!

All of us were either on the ground or...

Our job assignment, through the Beacon of Hope, is to put the final coats of exterior paint to Beverly's House.

Our work begins at Beverly's house. She has six grown children and is a retired social worker. She and her dog, Sweetie, have been rebuilding their Gentilly home for years.

Angel of New Orleans

It didn't matter whether houses were flooded with two feet of water or ten feet, everything had to be taken down to the studs.

So many houses empty and boarded up.

One of many abandoned houses in the 9th Ward.
The sign "Flood" says it all.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day 1 - Gumbo Ya Ya & MIR NOLA

Day 1 - Gumbo - a little bit of everything blended together to make something wonderfully new and unique. Known as a yummy stew and a blend of cultures.

Gumbo is so New Orleans - both past and present. And it is a great way to describe the state of mind for this absolutely unique and beautiful city which is rich in both culture and complexity.

Today we had a true orientation to New Orleans. Most of us started the day by walking around the corner to the Christ Church Cathedral to be warmly greeted curbside by both the priest and vestry greeter! The service included amazing music that was preformed by a multi-generational choir and a brief but stirring sermon by the cathedral dean. We were all impressed by the many outreach programs the cathedral is actively involved the Haitian Relief effort, Heifer International and local food pantries. During announcements the priest spoke eloquently and sympathetically about Haiti. We were all moved by his compassion and understanding of the Haitian people. We were warmly greeted during announcements and coffee hour. Many parishioners made sure to thank us and everyone who is supporting our being here for the ongoing support we are providing to New Orleans.

During the afternoon we took a 3+ hour van tour of the city historical sites as well as the surrounding areas. We saw a little bit of everything - dress clad men celebrating the Saints' entry in the Super Bowl to the direct impact of Katrina upon the neighborhoods of New Orleans.

Gumbo ya ya - everyone talking and no one listening. To me it is empty house lots where people want to rebuild and move back home but can't because of existing laws and regulations that keep them from being able to do so.

We got to see the wonderful work that Habitat for Humanity is doing. They have committed to building 2,500 homes in New Orleans. Also, we got to see the wonderful work that Brad Pitt is doing through Making It Right for New Orleans. Through his foundation, he is building "green" homes in the 9th Ward.

Our tour guides lost their homes to the Katrina floods along with all of their belongings. They shared with us their stories and told of those who not as lucky. The impact of these stories, make us want to get started in helping even more.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Changes Changes and we haven't even left yet!

Well it's the Wednesday before we are leaving and believe it or not many things have changed since I last wrote 2 weeks ago! We are not staying at Chalstrom House (St. Andrew's parish hall) which we just found out about yesterday. Instead we will be staying at the Urban Ministry Center which is a former bed and breakfast on the edge of the Garden District. Our church plans may be changing too since we won't be right next door to St. Andrew's but there are many Episcopal churches in the area to choose from (Christ Cathedral, Trinity, St. George's to name a few).

Our plans to go to St. Anna's for worship, dinner, some jazz, and to make a donation to the food pantry are also in flux! Apparently jazz is on a hiatus until after Easter and the food pantry is inactive for some unknown reason. We are still planning on going for worship and dinner as it stands now. We may have to find somewhere else for music and also to make our donation to those in need - the two feeding ministries that we will be working at rely on donations to keep going so those are possibilites - stay tuned!

The group is now comprised of more new members than those who went last year. Nine of the fifteen are going for the first time, including one youth. The additional feeding ministries that we had hoped for fell through so now most of us will be working at the Beacon of Hope doing painting, yard work,etc. We have four members now working at Rebuild which just moved their warehouse we found out today! A number of people will also be working at a nursery (the plant kind).

It has been somewhat challenging as the trip leader (alias Elisha or Superman) but everyone in the group has been very patient dealing with all the changes. Many thanks to everyone in the parish and to all our supporters for all your support both spiritually and financially. You will truly be with us every step of the way. I hope you got to hear the terrific Mission Moments the past 3 Sundays from Barb Phinney, Anne Aylward, and Mary Truslow. Special thanks to Sam, Sheila, Heather, Vicki, and the Outreach Commission for always being there for advise, support, and assistance. Please keep us in your prayers as we journey off into the unknown (more so every day it seems!) and stay tuned to the blog!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

NOLA 2010 - It's getting close!


It's hard to believe that the mission trip for 2010 is almost here - we have been thinking about it since we returned last Feb and now it is almost a reality. There have been some ups and downs but things are coming together and it should be another great trip. Fourteen of us will be boarding the plane on Saturday January 30 and returning on Saturday February 6 (one will be driving - thanks Anne for bringing our sleeping bags down again!) About half of us went last year and half are going for the first time. The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana is setting us up with our work assignments as well as our housing. Most of the group is interested in working with the St. Paul Homecoming Center which does landscaping, yard work and painting, helping residents finish up the work around their homes. The next biggest group will be working in the feeding ministries (similar to the Monday lunch program and the food pantry) since the need for food is always great and there are a few hardy souls who will be doing construction, rebuilding homes for the residents who 4 1/2 years later are still displaced.

In addition to working hard for the 5 weekdays we are there, we are also planning on attending church Sunday morning at St. Andrew's Episcopal church in whose parish hall we will be staying. That afternoon we will be taking a tour of the city to see what has changed since we were there last. We also plan to attend church Wed night at St. Anna's, have a simple dinner there to listen to some local jazz musicians, and make our donation to their food pantry which was closed last year due to no food.

Although only 15 of us are boarding the plane the entire parish of St. Michael's as well as our family and friends are coming too - without your support both spiritually and financially this trip would not be possible. Thank you so much, please keep us in your prayers, and check the blog daily to find out what we are up to! (You can access it through the St. Michael's website).

Judy Rice