Hands On Greater Portland posts disaster response volunteer opportunities

Hands On Greater Portland has posted disaster response volunteer opportunities on their site. The partner programs are Victim Volunteer Services (Vernonia and Columbia County) as well as the American Red Cross.

The Red Cross is looking for folks to show up tomorrow morning (12/7/2007) at 8am. See the Hands On site for details. Vernonia Victim Volunteer Services is also looking for folks to just show up at their space across the street from Vernonia City Hall.

Hands On will likely be coordinating a few projects in the weeks to come. If you have some time this weekend, however, just head out to either of the locations mentioned on the Hands On website.

gulf coast trip: halloween, new orleans, lazarus project

Street View, New Orleans

We drove to New Orleans on Halloween. That night, we walked down Bourbon Street, to the Frenchman. It was a Wednesday night, but the streets were packed. We talked with people on our way, bought some pastries at a coffee shop, and we lost half of our crew in the crowds.

Frenchman Street, New Orleans

Eventually, we found a street band and danced for a while. Much later, we got back to the Hands On building, and went to bed.

The inspirational music started blaring around 7:30am. I was up, drinking my coffee and forcing down some breakfast. Breakfast was a series of “what happened to you?” conversations. And all smiles.

We’d signed up for our projects the night before. I chose to visit the Lazarus Project, a transitional living home for people living with HIV/AIDS. Our team leader gave us a quick overview of what we’d do – she figured some games and talking.

We were introduced to the staff manager, Rosetta. I found out later that she was living in New Orleans before Katrina, and she had returned to work at the Lazarus Project. Most of her family did not return. She said her neighborhood was a ghost town.

Later in the day, she saw that the corner the volunteers and a few residents were sitting in seemed dingy, so she walked up with some brooms and bleach to clean it. Her focus was always on what would make the residents feel taken care of.

I spent most of my day talking with a shrimp fisher named D. He was tall, maybe 6’2″, and in a wheelchair from a series of strokes. I don’t know very much about the illnesses that strike people with AIDS, but strokes seemed common among the residents. Three of the people I spoke with seemed like they were under 50, and had experienced multiple, paralyzing strokes.

D took more than an hour to warm up to me. We sat with a group, chatted about the weather, Oregon and TV. When it got hotter outside, a few people left to go watch some TV in the air conditioning, or just to nap. D and I stayed outside, and ended up talking for a long time about his family, his house and in a round-about way, the last year of medical problems he’d experienced.

Somehow, we started telling jokes. He knew a ton of cajun jokes, and some generally dirty jokes. After I told him that I had chickens, he taught me a children’s rhyme:

I dropped a dollar in the dirt
I asked the dollar if it hurt
The dollar didn’t say nothing
But wah wah wah

He’d known a guy who had trained a chicken to peck out the tune to that rhyme on a piano.

I don’t have any pictures from that day. I brought my camera, and I could have taken some shots of the garden being built, or Ms. Parker grilling up chicken, or the sweet, southern patio we sat on most of the day. Mostly, I would have liked a picture of D, laughing after I told an incredibly bad joke.

back from the gulf coast


My trip to the Gulf Coast with volunteers from Hands On Portland ended on Sunday. I wrote continuously while I was there, cataloging every experience so that my leaky memory wouldn’t fail me when I wanted to reflect.

Lawrence’s House

I had a wonderful time and made some lifelong friends. Karol wrote eloquently nearly every day. While there, I worked on mold removal in a house the owner had built himself, spent a day talking and telling dirty jokes with people living with HIV at the Lazarus Project, and spent a day cleaning out cages in a no-kill animal shelter. I also toured the Upper and Lower Ninth Wards, St. Bernand Parish and drove out to a Katrina-specific landfill located in the middle of a national preserve for wetlands.

I’m working on sorting out pictures and some of the words, but I’m not quite ready to write about what things were like in Biloxi and New Orleans. Maybe I just need a few days.


There’s so much to do there, still, two years later.