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Grounded in Maine, Connected to Slidell 2024

Grounded in Maine, Connected to Slidell 2024

Grounded in Maine – Connected to the World. Or, at least to Slidell, Louisiana where a group of students and adults from both Kents Hill School and the Readfield United Methodist Church communities are participating in the March break Mission Trip – a service learning trip that began in 2005 and has been running almost non-stop ever since. This is the 17th year that the group has been in the Gulf Coast and, once again, they are partnering with the Epworth Project, a faith-based organization originally founded with the assistance of the United Methodist Church, to continue recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina. Each day we’ll share thoughts from trip leaders and student participants right here. Stay tuned for more!

Day 1: February 25, 2024 - Arrival

Jeff Munson (Retired KHS Faculty) reporting.
It is 81º and partly sunny as I pull into the parking lot of the Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Slidell, Louisiana. This morning it was 29º when I left Chattanooga, TN for the last leg of my annual road trip from Maine to the Epworth Project building which resides on the campus at Aldersgate and I have definitely traded my jeans and winter jacket for shorts and a t-shirt. The trip down was always cathartic after Winter Carnival and a long January/February stretch at KHS, and I found it no less so even though I am retired now. I am arriving one week earlier than the rest of the team, and tomorrow I will pick up long-time team member and former KHS faculty member Chuck Baker who is flying in from Portland. It has always been my wish to spend a little extra time here, and Chuck and I will work this next week on some house projects that don’t need a large group but do need skilled carpenters, and we will also work on identifying the 2-3 projects that the full team will work on when they arrive next weekend.

Why are we still coming down here, you ask? Here is the short and oft-repeated version of how we got here (my annual boiler plate): When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on August 29th, 2005 the devastation was unprecedented and the Readfield United Methodist Church and KHS put together a joint team to come aid the disaster recovery effort. Slidell was where we were assigned to by the folks coordinating disaster relief services down here.  We arrived the following March and were part of a huge initial group that formed what became in future years The Epworth Project. With the exception of three years in Mississippi, we have returned every year (except '20 and '21 because of …you know…COVID) to help perform home repairs for myriad reasons. This is year 17 for the trip.

This year, we have a decent-sized team. There are 19 members and you will get a chance to meet most of them through these posts over the course of the journey. We have some new volunteers this year, but also a few who have been with us before and I hope to have as many of those voices participate in the blog as we send pictures and tell stories about this trip. More to follow when the team arrives!

The Real Day 1: March 3, 2024 - The Team Arrives!

Jeff Munson Still Reporting
This is a brief addendum to the first report. Many members of the team have been picked up at the airport and brought to Slidell, and we are already making the first Walmart run for things forgotten. Dinner looks like pizza, followed by a very short team orientation and bed!

Last week, Chuck Baker and I had a productive week performing repairs on a home for a client who needed some upgrades for accessibility. We replaced ceramic tiles on a bathroom floor, built and installed a wide door in the bathroom, widened the door to the bedroom, and rebuilt the ramp into the house. On another job, we went to a gentlemen’s house to do a site survey for future work and found that he had not had running water in his house for a few weeks. We were able to work on his well pump and fix that problem. In both cases, the homeowners were extremely grateful and Chuck and I really enjoyed getting to know the clients.

Speaking of gratitude, I want to pass a little out. Many thanks to Chuck for being my wingman this last week as we paved the way for the upcoming week’s work. Susan Baker continues her streak of 16 years performing miracles in organizing (and frankly leading) this trip.  As I write, she is waiting patiently at the airport for the last arrivals and they will get to Epworth later this evening. Back at KHS, Beta Eaton has kept communications flowing between us, the school, parents and students. Couldn’t have made this happen without her. And I want to give a special shout out to Lucy McDonald (KHS ’24) and Grace Orr (KHS ‘25) as well as RJ Jenkins for the work on this year’s team shirt designs. Lucy designed our front pocket (up at the top of the posts) and Grace designed the back (pictured below.) We always appreciate all of the effort that goes into this and it was a difficult decision to choose the designs from the 24 submissions. Thank you all! Real work starts tomorrow! 

Day 2: March 4, 2024 - First Day on the Jobs

Jeff Munson Still Reporting
Mondays. Am I right? Morning came pretty early for some, and the daily routine has begun. Our crew starts in at 6 am with a team helping our chef, Ms. Andrea (a lifetime resident of Slidell, master storyteller, and amazing provider of Cajun Cuisine) preparing breakfast along with a small group from the team. Following breakfast, we had an inspiring talk by Jim Fatic, the Executive Director of the Epworth Project/Northshore Disaster Recovery, INC, and we all learned a lot about the mission of the organization and about living in poverty. We have known Jim since he started here and it is always a blessing to listen to his insights.  

Our team is split into three groups this year. One team is in Slidell working to replace a severely termite-damaged floor and support system in a house and it is a job with some technical challenges. Floor joist will be replaced, and new sub-floors and flooring will be installed in both the living room and the kitchen. A second team is working drywall repairs and painting with some door repairs on two different houses in Slidell and they will bounce back and forth between the two as weather permits since there is a mix of work being done inside and outside. The third team is a little further away in Lacombe and is repairing ceiling structures and repairing drywall in a house that had two trees drop on it during Hurricane Ida two years ago. Certainly a full week’s worth of work.  

Tonight, I add two other voices to the blog. Hannah Burke '23 is an alum of the mission trip and is back this year on the leadership team. Amelia Q. '25 is a first-time team member and is providing first impressions.

Hannah Burke: I went on the KHS mission trip last year in 2023, it was one of the most influential weeks of my life. From fixing a house’s foundation - to experiencing a different culture, the Epworth project in Louisiana changed my life. After choosing to once again return to Slidell and continue the ongoing hurricane cleanup, I have no regrets. This trip has been a true blessing in my life, and really opened my eyes to what poverty really looks like and what I can do to help. There are so many wonderful souls down here in Louisiana, and I am so thankful to get the chance to make their lives a little better. 

Amelia Q: It feels like summer camp, or at least that’s how I described it to my mom. Each student claimed their respective bunks, whose creaky wooden melodies were soon replaced by late night giggles and early morning groans, all waking slowly like a sleepy carousel of heavy eyelids and dragging feet, with the smells of fresh biscuits pulling at any eyes left unopened. We tossed our towels over bathroom stalls and unpacked our bags, all raving over each dramatic detail of our journeys to Slidell. In a word, I was excited. I was excited to be surrounded by people who were just as excited as me. I was excited to have the chance to be a part of something bigger than myself. I was excited to be somewhere warm and try new foods. It felt like a plethora of opportunity resting in the palm of my hand…And I couldn’t wait to get started. 

Day 3: March 5, 2024 - The Sun is Shining (or not)!

Jeff Munson Still Reporting
“Tuesday is my favorite day!”, said no one ever. Yet in spite of a lagging start to the day, our three teams all made good progress on their respective jobs, and the rain stopped briefly to allow the one team that needs to paint a house an opportunity to do some exterior prep. I’ll have more updates on the progress of all of the teams tomorrow.  

The team has thought a lot about our talk with Jim Fatic yesterday, and I thought I would share the numbers to put what we are doing in perspective. Since Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005, Northshore Disaster Recovery Inc (which Jim is Executive Director of and includes Epworth Project), there have been 63,000 volunteers from all 50 states and 47 different countries. These volunteers have performed 2.7 million hours of work. And even though we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the storm, NDRI is still getting 1-2 Katrina-related calls monthly. Unbelievable. We are humbled to have been a part of this effort all of these years.

Tonight, we hear from three students: Brie L.'24, Alex S. '26, and Samantha H. '26.

Alex - Today is my second day on my first mission trip. It has been a pleasure so far listening to our homeowner’s story and helping out with caulking a house. Today I learned something new, something I have never thought of, and probably would never think of if I hadn’t come on this trip. Yesterday, the Epworth Director, Mr. Jim Fatic asked us, “What is poverty?” The answers that came to my mind are lack of resources, lack of happiness, lack of things both physical and emotional. After my experience working on the worksite, and listening to the homeowner’s story, I started thinking that poverty doesn’t always mean that somebody doesn’t have something.  It may be that somebody doesn’t have anyone who can share something with them; there is a lack of community in that person’s life. On the worksite today, we were trying to caulk the walls so the water won’t get inside of the house, and we noticed that there are a lot of old caulks from before that didn’t fit very well with the walls, so we had to take it out before we put new caulk in there. The people that tried to caulk before really wanted to fix the walls, but they didn’t know how to do it, so they weren’t able to fix any problems. I think that the feeling of needing help, but having no one to go to for help is poverty. We came to fix people’s houses, but we are fixing people’s lives and changing mine at the same time.

Sam - Today is my second work day in Slidell, and I’m decidedly gratified with all the experiences I’ve had so far. I feel extremely appreciative of the opportunity to travel to Louisiana and help others, and to say this trip has had an impact on my life is definitely an understatement. Even though it’s only day two of this mission trip, I’ve been met with a newfound community of people that have an amazing work ethic and a willingness to help those who cannot help themselves. Before coming on this trip, I thought a lot about how hard the work would be, and how the day would be set up, and constantly wondered if I would be good enough to help fix something broken. What I didn’t realize, is that with every screw I screw in, and every piece of wood I fit in to sister along with another joist, I’m making a small difference in someone’s life. While being in the worksite means doing an abundance of work, it also means stopping to enjoy the little things that surround you. Our home owner has many little animals that lie around the house, and many friends that help her in a variety of ways. Getting to know a whole other community within the one I’m building, helping in the way I know how, and helping in the way I can, is an eye-opening experience that I hope everyone can have. Helping our homeowner to have a brand-new living room floor while being surrounded by a fantastic group of individuals, meeting new people, and all working for the same goal, is more than I could ever ask for.

Brie - Being completely new to the mission trip and never having visited Louisiana, I wasn’t really sure what this trip would have in store other than what past volunteers had told me. After the first few days though, I can say that it is pretty much everything that mission trip veterans have described, and more. The experience of helping people in what is really such an intimate way, going into their homes and fixing them piece by piece, nail by nail, is eye opening. Something that has really resonated with me is what Jim, the executive director of the Epworth Project, said to our group before sending us out to work on the first day. He told us that sometimes when people are in extreme poverty, their financial situation begins to affect their self-respect and self-worth.
The most important part of doing the work that we are doing, Jim noted, is not simply fixing up people’s houses, but showing them that they are worthy of that home, worthy of respect, worthy of people who care. This has resonated with me through the work we have been doing, through the interactions I have had with the homeowners who are clearly incredibly grateful for the help we are able to provide, and is something that I will carry with me. 

Day 4: March 6, 2024 - Hump Day!

Jeff Munson Still Reporting
The week always flows with a rhythm that has become predictable over the years. Wednesdays bring the midpoint of our experience, and it’s hard to stay in the groove that may have been established earlier in the week. This is the day when we either see a path to completion, or we feel panic that we may not finish our assigned task which could mean we are leaving a home in worse condition that when we arrived. Never a good plan. The jobs seem to be taking forever with unexpected obstacles and folks are legitimately tired. It seems like we have been here forever. Our three teams are off doing very different things. Chuck Baker’s team is working about 45 minutes from Slidell on a home that was significantly damaged in several places when a large tree fell on the house during Hurricane Ida. Numerous rooms needed wall and ceiling repairs, a porch needed to be replaced, and there were various other issues that have to be addressed. Susan Baker’s team is in Slidell and was tasked with repairing walls and ceilings in a home, and with prepping and painting the entire exterior. Today was the first day weather would allow work outside. My team (also in Slidell) has been working to repair and replace a living room floor with significant termite damage, and then address a kitchen floor with similar issues. Additionally, replacing one rotten board on the front porch turned into a full replacement of the porch. For all of these jobs, we were able to put today in the win column with progress being made in larger leaps than are apparent at face value. And if we are true to the idea that people are more important than things, then all of the teams made significant progress connecting with homeowners and hearing stories both joyful and gut wrenching.

We have voices tonight from each of the three construction teams: Tanner C. '24, Josie C. '25, and G.G. M. '26.

Tanner: Hello all, my name is Tanner, and I chose to return to Slidell, Louisiana for the second year after seeing what change my team and I had made in a week. Witnessing the devastating impact natural disasters can have on the lives of individuals and families left an unforgettable mark on me during my initial mission trip. The resilience and spirit of the community, connected with the profound sense of gratitude from those we helped, fueled my commitment to contribute further. Our mission extends beyond the physical reconstruction of homes; it is about restoring hope in the hearts of those who have endured immense loss. This journey for me, represents an ongoing dedication to making a meaningful difference in the lives of others. The empathy and compassion I’ve developed throughout these experiences have become integral to who I am today, inspiring me to play a role in helping right the burdens faced by those affected by natural disasters or other life circumstances. These last two trips have opened my eyes to the larger world around us, instilling the belief that every act of kindness contributes to the restoration of the human spirit or in our case the reconstruction of physical structures.

Josie: This is my second year as a part of the mission trip and I am continually reminded of why I decided to return. Each day, I realize how much I can learn from this experience; the stories shared by homeowners, the construction work (so much to learn), and about people I haven’t interacted with at school. In this blog post, I want to tell you about my group’s dynamic. Initially, I was intrigued to see how this group would manage. After seeing the intensity of this project and how much experience our group had, I became worried. On that first day, without the proper tools or real knowledge of construction, we simply walked around aimlessly in one of the rooms and ripped out dry wall in the ceiling. Ok, so maybe Ms. Delilah can live without a ceiling? The old dry wall coated the room’s floor as the day creeped by. The army-green room stood still as the sun dimmed. I thought to myself at this rate, we’ll have caused more destruction than construction.
As we sluggishly approached Tuesday, our group’s description as a “team” became evident; We divided and conquered between rooms. I worked alongside one of my classmates, Sarp, who I never really had gotten a chance to talk to. Well, AP Calculus isn’t really a place to make friends, if you know what I mean. Anyways, we walked into the same room, plastic-covered insulation caving down in the ceiling, and saw our next project: a section of the wall Ms. Delilah ripped out herself. We spent the whole day measuring wood, pulling out old dry wall, and, Sarp’s favorite, ripping out the old dusty nails. Despite Sarp’s initial reluctance to let me help (especially handling the screw gun), we became the Ronaldo and Messi of dry wall. I proved to myself and him that I could handle taking measurements, the screw gun, and even giving suggestions. After overcoming minor inconveniences along the way, we got to pat on the freshly installed dry wall with pride. We did that ourselves and we worked together. I hope to return to Slidell next year and make more memories like this one. 

G.G.:  My name is Gianni and this is my first year tagging along on the Louisiana mission trip. So far, this trip has been remarkable! Coming into this experience, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. Midway through, I can confidently say that I’ve learned so much. Amusingly, I have discovered that I am capable of repairing a ceiling and performing hardcore construction work. Yet, more importantly, an idea introduced to me has been significant and impactful throughout this adventure. The idea that the concept or state of poverty is multilayered and beyond a lack of material objects or things. Through this I have learned that it truly takes one person of principle to make a difference. Through engaging with my home owner and hearing stories, my peers and I are not only rebuilding homes but hope and optimism amongst communities here in Slidell.

More tomorrow!

Day 5: March 7, 2024 - Urgent Care Thursday!

Jeff Munson Still Reporting
Over the years, this point in the week has become known as Urgent Care Thursday. It’s not because we actually spend a lot of time at UC on these days. Rather, it is more of a reminder to us that we are at a critical juncture. Folks are tired, the end is in sight, there is still much to be done, and it is easy to get complacent with the tools and lose track of safety. We have to be careful. That said, no one needed to go to Urgent Care today and we are entering the homestretch. My team finished its house today and tomorrow we will join forces with Chuck’s team to continue to move it forward. Susan’s team is a few paint-brush strokes away from turning a beautifully painted house back over to her homeowner.

Tonight, we hear from KHS faculty member Lehlabile Davhana and Abby B. '24.

Abby – My name is Abby, and this is my first year coming on the Louisiana mission trip. At first, I was nervous about coming, as I have never done anything that involves construction. The first day was just an overview of what we were going to complete throughout the week and the tools that we were going to use. Over the next couple days, I learned so much about myself. I went out of my comfort zone and used tools I have never even picked up before. More importantly I had fun! Working with my team through the highs and lows, helping each other without complaint. Now it is Thursday and my team and I have finished our project, the feeling of seeing our home owner’s face is something that I can not express in words. As I made my way back to the Epworth Center that day, I could already feel the significance of the work that I completed this week. This trip has changed my life and has made me want to do more work to help people that in are need. 

Lehlabile - On Monday morning, our team arrived at Ms. Delilah’s home for the first time. We did not have the full details of the project; however, the shared excitement that filled the minivan as we drove to our site gave me all the confidence I needed for what lay ahead. We arrived, and moments later, Ms. Delilah met us at her home and led us into her home. She showed us around the house as she pointed to parts of the house that needed repair, including her roof, which was severely damaged when a tree fell on it during Hurricane Ida. Going into this, we knew we would be leaning heavily on Chuck Baker’s experience because this was new for most of us. We were directed to a hole on the wall in one of the bedrooms; this was to be our first lesson in repairing. As Chuck explained how to repair the wall, he explained the reasons behind every step. Hannah Burke and I grabbed our tools and got to work. This was particularly interesting to me. Growing up in South Africa, I was accustomed to houses with brick walls; drywall is commonly used for ceilings. So, this was an interesting experience for me. After receiving a satisfied nod from Chuck, we moved on to other parts of the house and started patching holes, ripping, and replacing more drywall. Ms. Delilah would check in on us, offering assistance and moving things out to make more room for us to maneuver around. She would do this a couple of times and then exit the house to work on her yard.

The following day, we made it a mission to engage with Ms. Delilah beyond the work we were doing. At some point, I stepped outside, looking for her, to ask for assistance with one of her tools, which she had so graciously let us use. As she was explaining the issue, I inquired about her children; she had mentioned them to me moments earlier. She shared her story with me. I listened to her as she told a story of resilience and perseverance. She talked about some of the struggles she was overcoming and shared about the hope she had. She pointed out how, even though she does not know what that hope will turn out to be, her being here was reason enough to believe things would change. They will change because ‘I am not about to give up.’ When we parted ways at the end of that conversation, I walked away knowing how to use that tool and with a piece of hope.

I sit here writing this entry at the end of our fourth day in Slidell, Louisiana. This incredible place has given me more than I bargained for. I learned to use unfamiliar tools, expanded my carpentry vocabulary, met some of the kindest people, and finally tried cornbread (thanks, Ms. Andrea). Yes, I wanted to wait until my southern visit for my first bite. Most importantly, I worked alongside an incredible group and heard stories that humbled me.

Final Post: March 11, 2024 - And…Scene!

Jeff Munson Still Reporting
Traditionally, we do not do a Friday night post because everyone is just plain tired. So I find myself finishing this on the weekend as I head north for Maine. On Friday, we combined two teams at one house and managed to finish the front door porch as well as continue with the wall repairs. And we leave with further work set up for a team that is coming in next week. Susan’s team finished painting their house and trim, so that one can get taken off of the Epworth Project’s To-Do list. All in all, it was a good week with much work done and no trips to urgent care. On Friday afternoon, we took a chance that the rain was going to stop and drove the team to Biloxi, Mississippi to see the white sands of the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, wade in the Gulf (just because we could), and visit one of the most delightfully tacky beach-side souvenir shops, “Sharkheads”. After a final dinner featuring Ms. Andrea’s famous New Orleans muffulettas, we had a final circle to reflect on our week. All agreed that we had met our goals for the week: Fix something, hear stories, and build community all while staying safe. As each member of the team talked about their favorite thing of the week, it was not only clear that we had fixed a lot of things, but that we really had heard a lot of our homeowner’s stories and bonded very closely with them.  In the end, everyone agreed that the relationship building was the most important thing we did all week, and it was apparent that we had brought some hope and joy into our clients’ lives. And as Jim Fatic said on Monday, it didn’t matter if we didn’t drive a single nail as long as we made someone feel a little more cared for. We definitely need to put this week in the “win” column.

Saturday morning found us up relatively early again, and on our way to Pearl River, LA to take the Honey Island Swamp Tour – a 90 minute swamp boat ride where we saw lots of native flora and fauna, including these two critters:

For the record, they were not co-located. 

In the afternoon, we went into New Orleans to tour the French Quarter where meals were had, souvenirs were purchased, and Bourbon Street was avoided. Afterwards, back to base camp to clean, pack, and in most cases, try to get a few hours of sleep before the first van to the airport departed at 3:00 a.m. As of this writing, everyone has made it home in spite of some delayed or canceled flights, except for Chuck and Susan who are spending some well-deserved relaxation time in New Orleans for a few days, and me because I love a good road trip!

One last student post – this one from Zoe C. ’24: 
Hi, my name is Zoe, I am a senior at Kents Hill School, and this is my first year on the mission trip. I am currently on the plane having just finished a long, sweaty, fun, and dare I say successful week in Slidell, Louisiana. As you may have read in the previous blog posts from throughout the week, we had been doing work on houses that suffered damage during Hurricane Katrina. This work spanned from fixing a mailbox or a broken door handle, to ripping out kitchen tiles and boards in order to completely redo the flooring. Some projects required power tools, and others a mere screwdriver and a good attitude. But whatever the work was, it was always time well spent. In reflecting on my week I came to conclude that even though I put forth my utmost effort and feel proud of what I and our community contributed, I still think I got more out of this trip than I could have given. You see, I came to Louisiana to partake in community service, learn new life skills, get out of my comfort zone, provide help to someone in need, and escape the cold of Maine for some much needed sun. Needless to say I checked off all of these goals throughout the duration of the week. However, I also got far more out of this trip than I hoped. I was in an environment that both allowed and challenged me to broaden my horizons and expand my perspective on my own life and the lives that many other people lead. And while I was doing this, so were all of my peers. Which made the time we shared together incredibly meaningful and allowed me to explore connections with both friends I already had and people I did not know very well. I got to build relationships outside of my regular circle and form bonds with people I had only previously seen in classes or in passing. For this I am incredibly grateful, and I will always remember my time on the mission trip fondly. 

So in saying goodbye, or at least, until we meet again, I want to again thank everyone who came on this adventure or helped make it possible. Thank you.

(Mic drop.)

I’ll finish this series with a shameless plug for the John Munson Community Engagement Fund which helped support the members of this trip. If you would like to help provide support for future community engagement trips, such as this, please go to, and select John Munson Community Engagement Fund on the drop-down designation menu! Thank you in advance.

 To see more photos from the trip, please visit the Kents Hill SmugMug gallery.