Sunday, March 6, 2022
Grounded in Maine, Connected to…
Jeff Munson: After two years away from the mission field due to COVID-19, the team has arrived in Louisiana. I drove in this morning after a 1700-mile road trip (very relaxing) and the rest of the group is landing in various stages in New Orleans and will be driving to the Epworth Center over the course of the afternoon. We will meet up tonight for the first time as a complete team and reflect on why we are here as well as go over the routine for the week and discuss our expected jobs. Time to get busy.
Many have heard the story about how we got here. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 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 we could to help perform home repairs for myriad reasons. It is awesome to be back here this year and I feel like we are starting all over again. Still, this is the 15th trip and that has to count for something.
As I was driving down, I kept asking myself, “why?” This is about as far from Maine as we could be in the U.S. and still be east of the Mississippi River. And yes, there are organizations much closer to home who could use our assistance, and financially it is a stretch (although we have never turned anyone down for inability to pay for the trip). But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this place is exactly where we need to be. I’ll start with the obvious reason: we are needed. Epworth depends on volunteers to aid their battle against endemic poverty and without the volunteers, the organization fails. KHS/RUMC has been invested since the beginning and it feels right to return. As a training ground for future mission workers, there are fewer places better equipped as a facility to sustain groups and there is plenty of work on a wide variety of tasks; it’s the perfect place to teach skills. And selfishly, it is 80 degrees and sunny here right now and that’s hard to find in March! So, yeah. Slidell.
I know this is going to be an awesome week and it will be done before we know it. I look forward to hearing from other voices as the week progresses and I’ll be sure to keep the updates coming. Time to get to work!
I’ll finish this post 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 one, please visit our website and select Community Engagement Fund! Thank you in advance.
Monday, March 7, 2022
Jeff Munson: The first workday is always a little weird. It takes a couple of days to get into the routine, and Monday has start-up pains. Everyone was up bright and early and excited to see what we were going to be up to. We met with our construction manager, tom, and went over the tool lists and job descriptions for the two jobs. We have split the group into two teams of seven. Group one is working on replacing ceiling damage from a leaking roof and ran into problems when the drywall was installed in a rather unorthodox fashion. Group two is working on an exterior wall and floors in a home with severe termite damage that has left no good points for attaching new wood. These two jobs will be finished in a day or two and then we will move on to more tasks. The best part of the first day is the orientation from Epworth Director, Jim Fatic. We were bought up to speed on Epworth’s statistics and then we received an amazing talk about poverty. His talk this morning gave us a lot to think about during the day and we used it as the basis for our evening reflection. I’ve asked two of the students on the team, Charlotte P. '22 and Aidan B. '23 to write a little about their experiences.
Charlotte P. '22: For the first time since sophomore year, I woke up before 7 a.m., and yet, I was wide awake. I couldn’t wait to have the opportunity to help change someone’s life. This morning, Jim talked to all of us about the importance of what we are doing—and that we are accomplishing far more than fixing a ceiling. Poverty for many isn’t defined by a lack of money, it’s defined by the consequences of such: sadness, anger, shame, and hopelessness. We all have the chance to give someone their hope back and reassure them that they matter.
Today, we experienced some interesting engineering, a few shared crowbars, many jokes, and stories. Our homeowner opened up about her life, from her newborn great great-grandchild to her escape from Katrina—she trusted we would listen, so she shared. I never thought I would be able to connect with someone seemingly so different, but I was so wrong. We all have so much more in common than I ever imagined.
I am so glad I came—I have already learned so much about myself, and been able to give back in a major way (despite the setback when we discovered that the ceiling was glued to the roof). I can’t wait until tomorrow!
Aidan B. '23: Personally, I’m not new to honest hard work. I’ve always found something satisfying about taking down something old and replacing it with something new; it just feels right. This mission trip, however, felt different in the sense that the point of this trip is not simply to fix walls or build flooring, but rather to give hope. You see, one thing that is often overlooked about poverty, even by me until recently, is the sheer hopelessness of it all, the crushing, cyclical nature of never having enough to get by. This hopelessness is the reason so many people don’t speak up more or aren’t more willing to ask for help; they’re ashamed to be in this situation. However, the mission seeks to break this cycle by showing these people that all is not lost and that there are still people in the world who care about them. I have heard plenty of stories of this effect, and the fact that I finally have the chance to help those less fortunate is such a gift to me. I am proud to be here, and I am so glad that I finally have the chance to spread hope to those who need it most.
I can add nothing to that, so more from the Bayou tomorrow!
Tuesday, March 8, 2022
Ms. Pickett: Today was the second day on the job. Yesterday, Jeff Munson warned us that on Tuesday it would feel like we had been here working forever. Amazingly, everyone, today agreed that that was, indeed, the case. On the worksites, both groups worked with newfound knowledge and confidence that wasn’t present yesterday. Group one spent the day putting in ceiling insulation and beginning to hang the drywall. Group two installed insulation in the floor and successfully framed the outer wall, including space for a window. Both groups engaged with their homeowners and started to learn more about the people they were interacting with. Both groups returned to the Epworth Center tired but smiling. At dinner and during reflection there were so many laughs and stories to tell. It felt easy to engage in the community to its fullest extent. We continue to learn, independently and as one.
Ms. Arsenault: I’ve learned so much on this trip so far. I’ve learned how to use a drill, how to put insulation in the floor, how to use a nail gun, a slap stapler, a skill saw, a Sawzall, a miter saw, a speed square, and a T square. I learned tricks from Jeff Munson and Tom on how to get things to fit just right. Most importantly though, I’ve learned that things don’t matter, people do. Our homeowner was more curious today about the work being done. The first day she seemed a little shy and didn’t really know how to engage with us. Today she kept peeking out to see the work being done. In speaking with her I learned that she grew up in Mississippi and has lived in her house for over 50 years. Clearly, her home means more than just a house. It’s where her children grew up and where her great-grandchildren visit her. This is a place of memories. Outside, there is a rusted purple tricycle upside-down next to her house. Today it’s easy for us to see it as an unusable object to be thrown away, but at one point, it was a happy moment for someone in this home. What I’ve learned the most is that seeing someone isn’t just about seeing them today at that moment, it’s about seeing them for all of the moments that came before this.
Ava N. '23: Today was the second day on the job for Ms. Aubrey, working on her ceilings after water damage and a refusal from the insurance company to help fix it. Through the beginning of this journey, I can already say my horizons have been broadened in numerous ways, from my physical abilities to my mental comprehensions. In the physical aspects, I have left today’s efforts with increased knowledge on how to use nail guns, install insulation, and screw drywall to ceilings. In my day to day life, I’m yet to have used these skills, but I now know they’re in my back pocket for whenever I need them. With my benefitting of others, I’ve noted the benefit I’m rewarded with myself. This point, I want to elaborate on by entering what I’ve learned intellectually. I see the interest in serving others, because the good upon others reflects inward, leaving me with a general positive outlook. This positive outlook leaks into my day to day life through multiple ways, a greater one of which being gratitude. I’m beyond thankful for what God has blessed me with, and I now better comprehend how to share the wealth of my own. This good fortune has more value in my inner mind, and its importance for me is similar to that of the next person. Treat others how you want to be treated, a saying my parents would recite to me. The true nature to this is more present now than ever. I see the need, I connect with the need through conversations, and I’m doing my best to fulfill that very need. At the beginning of this trip I was told we were saving people, not houses. I’ve come to terms with how true that really is.
Josie H. '23: Only two days in and this trip has been more than I could’ve asked for. The experiences and skills I’m navigating already will last a lifetime. I am much more comfortable with the chop saw, and the nail gun which are both super fun to use. It is amazing to work for hours on end and then look back at all the progress made. I also really enjoy the aspect of collaboration required throughout this trip. I have learned how work tools alone, but also how to work with others to get something bigger done. On the site I have learned so much about the physical labor part of helping people in need, but also the emotional impact it has on everyone involved. Our homeowner is an incredibly sweet woman who is talking more and more every day. Yesterday we never saw her son, and today he came out multiple times to express his gratitude. These are the things that stick with me. I am so happy to offer my help, and it makes it all worth it when we can notice little things like this.
Wednesday, March 9, 2022
Jeff Munson: Wednesday is, I think, the hardest day. It is the time of the week when everyone starts to realize how tired they are and so an early-to-bed night is in order. It is also the day when all of our jobs should have been completed by our initial timelines, but all of the unknown problems, the delays waiting for supplies, the slow pace while teaching happens, and myriad other factors have caused both teams to fall behind. It’s not a horrible thing, and in the grand scheme of things, the teams are doing well and are definitely having a positive impact on the homeowners, which is, of course, the whole point. In our orientation, Jim Fatic told us it didn’t matter if we finished our jobs or even drove a single nail. The mission of Epworth is people – the home repair is actually secondary. Tomorrow is Thursday, or what we have come to know as Urgent Care day. I can’t believe how quickly this week is coming to an end.
Scott T. ’23: So far, my experience in Slidell has been one to remember. Although I’ve had lots of fun experiences, I’ve also been faced with lots of challenges in learning new skills and working under the pressure caused by limited time. However, whenever I get down on myself I remind myself that even if I am not moving quickly enough or I am too much of a perfectionist, I am still helping someone in need and I am still making a difference. I have learned many new skills including mudding, using a jack, installing drywall, and being safe on ladders but something that always crosses my mind is what Jim Fatic said to all of us on the first day which is that we are not simply here for drywall – we are here for people. That is another thing that has really resonated with me and has been something I have thought about whenever I get down or my productivity rate decreases. Although I haven’t heard too many stories from homeowners yet, I am really going to try to connect with my homeowner tomorrow before it is time to say goodbye. So, to conclude my blog, I am really happy with the progress we’ve made as a community, and I am so glad to have been given the opportunity to help others in need because I realize that I would like to do more volunteer work to give back for all that I have been given in life.
Rose J. ’23: Three days in on this trip, and to be honest, this adventure was nothing like I expected. I’m currently working at Miss Audrey’s house, who is the absolute sweetest lady, who is so generous and friendly to everyone! I have learned so many new skills while also becoming more confident in myself, and I am not afraid to ask questions, as well as jump into any new project without fear! Today, we finished putting the drywall on a ceiling: a slanted ceiling for that matter, which made it a lot more challenging but fun! We also took on a new task, putting mud over the screws and seams on the drywall with tools that look like palette knives that one would use for painting. Being someone who loves painting, I was so excited to harness my artistic skills and wasn’t afraid to get muddy while learning a new skill. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to spend time collaborating with my classmates, while most importantly, making a difference in the life of an absolutely wonderful woman. The thing that will resonate with me the most on this trip is right after we met Miss Audrey, we stood in a circle holding hands while she prayed over us, and at that moment, I felt the feeling of the purest form of peace and love. I knew God was working through every one of us that very minute, building community, fostering generosity, and most importantly, sharing His unconditional love, which is something I will always cherish.
Thursday, March 10, 2022
Chuck and Susan Baker: It is workday 4 in Slidell and as the team trickles out of the bunk rooms it’s pretty evident that most or all are feeling the effects of the previous days' hard work. For team Baker, our workday begins back at Miss Audrey’s house. We arrive cautiously optimistic that we will be able to master the technique of spraying a mixture of paint and popcorn on the ceiling. We are also very excited at the thought of the Louisiana-style chili dogs that Miss Audrey has promised to make for us today. (They turned out to be as awesome as expected.) Painting the ceiling turned out to be one of the easiest and quickest projects of the week!
Miss Audrey is an amazing person, deeply religious, caring of family, and pure joy to talk to. She is exactly the kind of person that makes these trips so very rewarding. She is obviously grateful for our help and does as much as she can to give back. Hence the chili dogs. Did I mention they were awesome? Yes, I love Louisiana food especially home-cooked and authentic and Miss Audrey’s food has both qualities.
Our work this week resulted in Miss Audrey having a bedroom with a new ceiling, insulation, and fresh paint. We worked hard to make it safe and beautiful because she deserves to have it that way. After we complete the work and prepare to say goodbye everyone becomes emotional and Miss Audrey tears up as we present her flowers to thank her for her kindness. Some of us tear up as well.
Danielle Eid ’21: Thursday, supposedly one of the hardest days of the trip, turned into the most wholesome, for me at least. Not only did I learn how to use an electric saw, position and use a nail gun, assemble railings for stairs, and how to properly mud drywall, I heard a phenomenal story. We had completed our first home a little after noon and Ms. Betty, the homeowner, was nothing short of pleased. She had continuously expressed her gratitude throughout the week and had such a sweet attitude, so I knew I had to hear her story. Ms. Betty is a breast cancer survivor… I had learned that she also had lost both her daughter and sister to cancer, one had lung, and one also had breast. Now, going back to what Jim had said on Monday, he had told us that once we had heard some of these homeowners’ stories, we should come to learn that we had so much more in common with them than some of us may assume. I had already known that, since we are all human, but in this particular way, I was able to have the most engaging, thoughtful conversation with Ms. Betty about both of our journey’s/impacts with cancer.
Around seven months ago, I had lost my mom to lung cancer. When I had learned from the grapevine that Ms. Betty had survived her cancer story, I knew I had to have a chat with her. She has the same amounts of tenacity and perseverance that my mother had… they had both refused for their lives to be put on a timer, and accepted every single type of treatment that was proposed to them. They knew that not only it could have helped themselves in their journeys, but they considered the lives of others that were to follow behind them. What had really kept the both of them going, however, was their positive attitudes. Ms. Betty had a sentence painted on her wall to the right of her front door, saying, “To Get To The Rainbow, You Have To Deal With The Rain,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Friday, Mar 11, 2022
Jeff Munson: A mission trip has a strange effect on time and we’ve alluded to this phenomenon in other posts. On Tuesday, Alecia wrote, “Today was the second day on the job. Yesterday, Jeff Munson warned us that on Tuesday it would feel like we had been here working forever. Amazingly, everyone, today agreed that that was, indeed, the case.” Today is Friday, and at reflection tonight, the team agreed that it seemed like we just got here. We had an amazing week and got a great deal of work done. We worked on three different homes, completing two assignments and making significant progress on the third during the final day. There were no trips to urgent care, everyone learned new skills, we listened to stories and built community with our hosts and with each other, and, most importantly, we let three homeowners know that they were cared for and not forgotten. We wish we could stay another week!
Epworth by the numbers: Since 2005, Epworth Project/North Shore Disaster Recovery Inc. has had about 64,000 volunteers from all 50 states and 43 countries work on approximately 3500 homes. They are the only standing disaster recovery center still operating in the area, and they currently have approximately 745 homes on the waiting list (the most since Hurricane Katrina), and are expecting another 3-400 applications as relief money from Hurricane Ida claims becomes available soon. All of the work is done by volunteers, and without them, they would shut down. The center has struggled the past two years to get volunteers to come, but the pipeline is beginning to open back up and we certainly plan to return in 2023!
In our reflection last night, I asked everyone to take some experience from the week (a project, something that was learned, something that happened, anything, really) and write a Haiku about it (a short 5-7-5 syllable verse) – a moment of Mission Zen, if you will. So, to close out this mission trip and our blog series, here is the 2022 version of Haiku from the Bayou, written by Ava N. ’23, Ms. Arseneault, Charlotte P. ’22, Scott T. ’23, Daniel G. ’23, Ms. Pickett, Aidan B. ’23, Susan Baker, Chuck Baker, Jeff Munson, Ian Halberstadt, Danielle Eid ’21, Josie H. ’23 and Rose J. ’23.)
Came back to the South
Seeing, fixing the damage
That so changed my life.
Caring and generous
Told some amazing stories
I love Ms. Audrey
We work for others
To help ease the suffering
And see their smiles grow
Time with Ms. Audrey
Taking down insulation
And chili dogs, too!
A sunny voyage
As people constantly pray
Homes in need repaired
Drywall, mud, sand, paint,
Ceiling, mud, popcorn, paint
Light fixture rewired
A place I have learned to give
And pass on Christ’s gift
We stand in sunlight
Looking at a gaping hole
And the bedroom there
Regular work day
Then Ian went through the floor.
Ouch! That really hurt.
We all work as one
To finish the job given.
Every person wins!
Ms. Betty is brave.
She beat the impossible,
Cancer didn’t win.
Fixing homes is good.
Bringing hope is rewarding.
Twenty Twenty Two!
And that's a wrap on Slidell 2022!
I’ll finish this series with one more 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 one, please go to https://www.kentshill.org/engagement/give and select Community Engagement Fund! Thank you in advance.