Thursday, August 6, 2009

The End is the Beginning

It has taken me so long to get to this final posting because I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wanted to say and also I wanted to give myself some time at home and a chance to reflect. I’ve been home for ten days now and I still feel a bit out of sorts. My last couple of weeks in New Orleans was a lot of fun and saying goodbye was harder than I expected.

My last two weeks in New Orleans were pretty action packed. On the day of my birthday (July 15th) was 20 of my coworkers’ last day at work. We spent most of the day not actually working but hanging out at our jobsites talking about the things we remember about each other and the experience as a whole. The end crept up on us pretty quickly because we all worked pretty hard throughout the summer (and a hot one it was). I still had to work for a week and a half after everyone left. It was strange coming to the warehouse every morning and having it so quiet. Usually, there were people running around all over the place getting ready for their day. I did have a good last week and a half on the job. I tried my best to take advantage of the fact that I wouldn’t be working on houses again for awhile and really tried to take in and enjoy my last days. I’ll never have access to that many awesome power tools and supplies again in my life. My construction skills have come a very long way over the course of the year. When I started, I had none and barely knew what any of the tools were. Now, there are a lot of things I think that I can do. If anybody ever needs help with anything in their homes, I’d be happy to check it out. I’m going to need to get my rebuilding/repairing from somewhere.

My last full weekend in New Orleans was a good one. On my birthday, a bunch of us went to happy hour at a bar (Mimi’s) right near work for a few drinks. We stayed there for awhile sharing stories and reminiscing about the year. It hadn’t really hit me yet that the end was upon us because I still had another week and a half of work to go. After Mimi’s, Pat and I went to this great pizza place and had a few slices there and a few more drinks. I didn’t feel like staying out so I went home after that. When I got home, I noticed that my roommates baked me a big chocolate cake (I have no idea how they knew it was my birthday since I barely talked to either one of them). I really wasn’t into my birthday this year but that didn’t stop Sean and Sean from having a little get together at their house on Friday night. It ended up a very fun night and we definitely busted out some old school games, such as Circle of Death and Catch-Phrase. It was nice to see how many people showed up for my birthday and I had a lot of fun.

Saturday, I took it easy all day because I registered for a three mile trail run that was to take place on Sunday morning at 8 a.m. The run was about 30 minutes north of New Orleans and me and a friend from work and one of his friends were running it. It was the 3 of us and another 1,700 people in the race. I had never run a race like this. Over the past couple of months, I have been running a lot more and trying to get myself in better shape. I had run 4 miles on the soft turf at the gym the previous Sunday, so I was pretty confident that I could get through this trail run. I woke up early on Sunday morning and got to the race about a half an hour before it started. I was pretty nervous because I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to walk, not that anybody but me would have cared. The first mile and a quarter were on gravel and I kind of struggled through it which made me nervous about the rest of the race. I felt a lot better once I got on the trail, which was very narrow. At the very beginning of the trail, there was this huge mud-pit that people kept diving into. It was pretty funny but I was interested in finishing the race. I had a good pace going on the trail but it kept backing up. There were so many people and the trail was so narrow that whenever there were any obstacles on the trail (trees, big ditches, unsteady bridges, etc.) it would slow down and people would start walking. When I reached the end, I still had a decent amount left in the tank, so I sprinted the last quarter of a mile through these huge puddles and reached the finish line. They didn’t keep track of your time for you and I didn’t have a watch so I don’t know what my time was but I was proud of myself for finishing the race. It was a great feeling crossing the finish line because three months earlier, I was lucky to run a mile and a half. Now that I’m home, I’m definitely planning on keeping up with the running and doing a 5k sometime in the near future. After the race, we enjoyed some food and beer (even though it was 9 in the morning). When we got back to New Orleans, we went swimming for awhile at my friend’s pool to cool down. It was definitely a great Sunday and I’m looking forward to keeping up with the running.

The last week of work went by fairly uneventfully. Even though it was the end, I was still working very hard to get as much done as possible. I wanted to go out on a good note and try to leave a good last impression of my work. People often remember you a lot by the last impression that you leave, so I was trying my best to go out working hard. Every day of the last week, Dave, one of my co-workers, would come up to me and say, “This is our last Monday (Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.),” which definitely was weird. The last day kind of came and went. Driving in that last morning was strange because I knew it would be the last time. It really has felt like I’ve been in New Orleans for a long time but now that it’s over, it seems like it flew by. I can remember my first day and week of work and what I was doing and who I was working with. It’s amazing to me how much I’ve learned and how much I’ve done on these houses, as well as how much we’ve done as a group. During the course of the past year, we’ve completed almost 100 homes, which is a lot to finish in one year. I have had so much fun working on these houses and meeting some of the homeowners. It is going to take me awhile to adjust to not doing this anymore. I could not have asked for a better work experience. It was exactly what I wanted to be doing and I could not have asked for a better staff and group of AmeriCorps to work with. Everybody worked so hard all year because nobody wanted to be the weak link and feel like they were letting the group down. We all worked hard for not only ourselves, but for each other. The spirit of the 26 of us made this year go so well and let us accomplish what we did. I have memories of everyone in the program and will take those with me as I continue on in life. It was a completely unique experience that only we will fully understand. I’ve done my best through this blog to provide my insights and feelings so that you all could better understand my experience. But it’s kind of cool to know, that only the 26 of us will truly know what this experience meant, and that is something we will share and be connected to forever. Even though I got to know some people better than others, I’m grateful to have gotten the chance to have met and be impacted by everyone. I definitely want to stay connected to the AmeriCorps and Rebuilding Together New Orleans family even though my term is over. At the end of the last day, I said goodbye to everyone and walked around the warehouse one last time. I walked to my car and headed home, and that was it, I was no longer an AmeriCorps member serving with Rebuilding Together.

Earlier in the week, I sent an email to everyone in the organization about getting together at Finn McCool’s on Friday night since a lot of people, including myself, were going to be leaving New Orleans. A bunch of us went to the Seans’ house before going out. I was happy we did that because it was nice to hang out with my good friends before going to meet everyone else. I have felt ready to leave New Orleans for a few weeks now and didn’t think it would be that hard to say goodbye to everyone. But it was a lot harder than I thought. I realized that I have made some really good friends, people that I plan on keeping touch with even though we aren’t living in the same city anymore. We were all kind of in the same boat in coming to New Orleans. We all barely knew anybody (and in my case, I knew no one) and our families were elsewhere. Over the course of the year, a group of about eight of us became really close, kind of like each other’s families. As the night went on and I got to hang out with everyone, it was sad to know that we may never all be together as a group again. I know that I’ll see everyone again at some point. But, it was hard to come to the realization that it wouldn’t be with everyone together and even if it was, it wouldn’t be the same. I had a great time the last night, but it was definitely much harder for me to get through as I anticipated. I’m really happy with the friends that I have made and know that they are people I will stay friends with going forward.

I picked my Dad up at the airport on Saturday morning and I took him to VooDoo BBQ for one last good meal (Mojo burgers are so delicious). We drove around the city for a bit, looking at some of the houses I worked on. At about 3 p.m., we loaded the car up, and started heading back to Chicago. It was kind of weird to be leaving the day after the program ended because it just happened all so fast. I got to New Orleans two days before I started work and left one day after it was over. As I started driving back with my Dad, I couldn’t help but think back to our ride down to New Orleans. All I kept saying was, “What have I gotten myself into?” Well, looking back, I think I got myself into something great. Choosing to go down to New Orleans and volunteer for a year was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I took a chance and couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Prior to going, I was in such a rut and so unhappy, that this was exactly what I needed. Each day was a new experience and a chance to meet new people. I think I’ve bettered myself in numerous ways over the past year. I feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally, and am ready for whatever is next in my life. I have gained such a great perspective from spending time in New Orleans and know that I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to. I have everything in front of me, and while that makes me a bit anxious, it’s also very exciting. I’m not sure where life is going to take me (or where I’m going to take my life) in the next few months. In the past, that would have been horrifying for me. This time on the way home, I kept jokingly saying to my Dad, “What am I going to do now?” While, I don’t have a completely specific answer to that question, I have some idea. And I’m okay with that.

My Dad and I had a nice ride home. We had some good talks and father-son bonding time. We drove about 8 hours on Saturday before stopping for the night somewhere in Arkansas. On Sunday morning, just as I had crossed back into Illinois, I got pulled over for speeding. I knew I was speeding and was pissed I didn’t see the cop. As he came up to my window, he asked me why I was in such a hurry. I told him that we’d been driving for awhile and were just trying to get home. Because the car was so packed, he could see I was coming from somewhere. I mentioned that I was coming back from New Orleans, so he asked me what I was doing down there. So when I told him that I had just finished volunteering for a year rebuilding houses, he looked at me and let me off with a warning. My Dad and I were pretty amused by the whole situation (except my Dad was worried how this was cutting into the excellent time we were making).

I’ve now been home for ten days and am still adjusting to being back in Chicago. I don’t think it has fully hit me yet that my AmeriCorps experience is over but it’s definitely starting to. The experiences that I had in New Orleans and the lessons I’ve learned are things that will stay with me. This year of my life is something that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. It has and will continue to shape who I am as a person. I’m also so happy that I created this blog. I have so much enjoyed being able to share my experiences and feelings with you throughout my time in New Orleans. I’m not the kind of person to share how I feel all of the time, but this blog really brought it out of me. I hope y’all enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to looking back on this blog later in life and being able to relive my time in New Orleans. I loved writing it. However, with that said, this is going to be the last posting. I was a little lazy with the blog towards the end and I just need a little break from it. If something I do in the future calls for another blog, I will be sure to start another one up. But for now, this is it. I’ve had a great time writing and sharing my experiences and if you ever want to know anything more about my experience, please ask. I wanted to thank everyone for their support throughout this year. Knowing I had such great family and friends to lean on really helped me get through this experience. It definitely made it easier. So thank you. I’m sure I’ll be mentioning New Orleans in everyday conversations for awhile, so I’m sorry if you get sick of it. But it is a part of who I am now and I’m proud of everything I accomplished this year. And for me, the end of my AmeriCorps year is the beginning of something else. Talk to y’all later.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Final Blog is Coming!

I just wanted to let you know that I haven't forgotten about my last post. Tonight is my last night in the NOLA and am about to go out and enjoy it. I will post sometime on Monday or Tuesday after I get back into Chicago and have had a little time to reflect. I think my last blog post may just be the best one yet so stay tuned!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Paint Project, Exit Frenchman

Well, it’s kind of crazy, but my time in New Orleans is starting to wind down. I have another 9 days of work and 12 days total here in New Orleans before I head back to Chicago. I’m definitely ready to come home and relax a little bit but it just feels weird that this experience is almost over. On one hand, it does feel like I have been in New Orleans for awhile. But on the other, it feels like I just got here and things that happened toward the beginning of the year don’t seem that long ago. I’ve definitely had some random déjà vu moments over the past couple of weeks from when I first got here. I don’t think that it has really hit me yet that I only have two weeks left here and what this whole experience has meant to me. I’ll probably have another posting or two for the last couple of weeks that really reflects on my time here.

The 4th of July weekend was pretty uneventful for me because I was sick. The Wednesday before, I was at work and was just feeling awful and decided to go home. When I got back, I took my temperature and saw that I had a pretty bad fever. I laid around the house for a couple days but was starting to feel better by Friday. I decided that I needed to get out of the house for a little while so I went down to the French Quarter and on the river to walk around. It was so hot it was unbelievable. I was sweating 20 minutes into walking around. And after a couple of hours, I was dying and came back home. It’s not a good idea to be walking around town when the heat index is 108 degrees. I guess I learned that lesson the hard way (although you would think I would have already known that). On the 4th, I was feeling a little bit better and went to a friend’s apartment Saturday night to watch fireworks. New Orleans launches their fireworks from different barges on the Mississippi River. My friend’s apartment was pretty close to the river, so we had a good view of the fireworks. They weren’t great, but better than I expected. I feel like you have to watch fireworks on the 4th. Everyone was in a pretty festive mood which was fun. It took me a few more days to completely shake my flu but I was back to normal by Monday and Tuesday.

As part of my term of service with AmeriCorps, I have to put together my own service project which is separate from my normal work duties. Myself and four other AmeriCorps have been working together to put together our project for the past few months. And it finally took place this past Saturday. Back in March, I found a school to partner up with for our project, the Andrew Wilson Charter School. The Andrew Wilson Charter School, currently located in Uptown, will soon be moving back to Broadmoor where it was located before Hurricane Katrina. Over the course of the past four years the interior hallways and classrooms of McDonough 7, the temporary home of Andrew Wilson, have weathered the usual wear and tear of hundreds of elementary students using the facility everyday. Our project was to serve Andrew Wilson by bringing the interior of the old Uptown location back to the condition it was in before the storm. We recruited over 100 volunteers to come help us out and paint the hallways and stairwells of the school. I couldn’t believe how many people we ended up getting. We also had to turn down two other groups of 30 because it would have been just too many people. The day was supposed to last from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Because there were so many people, we finished and left the school by 1:30. It was great to see all of our hard work and planning be successful and see the volunteers enjoying themselves. I definitely think that some of them will volunteer with Rebuilding Together again because of their experience in helping with our project. As part of this project, we had to raise all of the money for supplies on our own, which came out to be about $1,500. When we started looking for supplies, I called one of the Sherwin-Williams paint stores here and got them to donate almost $300 worth of materials. After that, we were still pretty short on money. So I got in touch with one of the partners I worked with at Ernst and Young to see if he’d be interested in helping me out. The partner got in touch with the office in New Orleans (I didn’t even know they had an office here) and they ended up donating $1,000 to us. I knew working for E&Y would pay off eventually (ha). We ended up raising all of the money we needed and had some left over to buy pizza for our volunteers. Overall, I think the project was a big success and am pretty proud with my effort and the outcome. I was dreading doing this project all year but it turned out well. I’m definitely happy that it is over though.

Saturday night, after the project, I went with some friends down to Frenchman Street, where there was a lot of live music being played at the different bars there. Frenchman Street was one of the first places that I went out to when I first got here. I remember that right before Hurricane Gustav, when some people had already evacuated, going to see some blues music at the Blue Nile. As I was leaving Frenchman Street, I realized it was probably going to be the last time I went out there. I had a lot of fun on that street and it will definitely be a big part of my memories of my time in New Orleans. It definitely is a unique street and I recommend checking it out if anyone ever comes down here. I guess I’ll be saying goodbye to a lot of things over the next couple weeks.

I decided to take today (Monday) to relax a little bit and take care of a few things that I need to do before I leave New Orleans. I don’t have much time during the week and next weekend I’m running a 3 mile trail run called the Spillway Classic. You can check out more details about the race if you’d like at Other than that, I’m just trying to end on a high note and finish up strong. I’ll try and post next weekend after the race. I’m hoping for two more postings before the end of the month. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with the blog once I get home, but I guess I have some time to think about it. Well, that’s it for now, talk to y’all later.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

...Milk Was a Bad Choice

Since coming back from my mini-vacation in Mississippi, life has been pretty calm. It has recently gotten so insanely hot down here that it feels like I’m living in an oven. Everybody at work sweats through their shirts by 10 in the morning because of the heat. The heat index definitely gets into the triple digits by the early afternoon. The heat makes the days and week at work go by slowly because it consumes me. There’s never a minute I’m not drenched in sweat. It’s kind of insane and I don’t know how I’m going to survive another month and a half in this heat. On the weekends, I’ve been trying to stay inside because I’m outside all week and don’t feel like dealing with the heat. If you don’t believe me in how hot it is, I implore you to come check it out for yourself. It’s miserable.

At work, I am done with my Construction Manager Assistant rotation and am back working on houses. This past Monday, I had one of the most physically intense days of work up to this point. We just hired a new handyman named Bart. He and I worked in this room in which the sub-flooring had been ripped up and just the framed walls and floor joists remained. Our job was to use to jacks to lift up part of the house and replace the floor sills that were sitting on the foundation, as well as to replace piers that were not sturdy. We were digging, moving heavy pieces of lumber, mixing concrete and mortar, and jumping over the floor joists in order to move around the room. Between the heat and all of the physical labor, I was hurting by the end of the day. But we accomplished a lot and I learned a great deal working with Bart (whose voice sounds eerily similar to Tim McCarver the baseball announcer). Other than that, work has been pretty same old, same old. I’m at the point with work where I’m kind of winding down with it. I’ve enjoyed all of the construction and everything that I’ve learned, but am definitely ready to take a break from doing the work. I haven’t had a real vacation in a long time (since before I joined AmeriCorps) and I’m very burnt out on working right now. I haven’t had a week off to just relax in a long time. So I’m trying to take everything in these last few weeks but I am looking forward to getting a break.

Last Thursday, Pat and I went to see The Hangover which was absolutely hilarious. I wasn’t sure if I would like it or not but it turned out to be pretty hilarious. I definitely recommend it, despite the reviews from our favorite reviewer at Metromix. On Friday, I worked a fundraiser for the Preservation Resource Center (which Rebuilding Together is a program of) called “Ladies in Red.” It was a pretty formal event in which people paid a lot of money to get in. I had to work the food for the last hour of the party and was able to eat and drink for free before that. This event was similar to the Julia Jump which I wrote about in a posting in April. The event was a lot of fun and just something different to do. This past Friday night, I went to an amateur boxing event at my friend’s gym. There were three fights and kegs of beer for $15. The fights were just okay but the whole thing was very entertaining and I’m glad I went. However, there weren’t any knockdowns which kind of sucked. I think I’m ready to go an MMA event whenever I can. Other than that, I’ve gone to a few parties at friends’ houses over the past couple of weeks.

Summer is pretty relaxed here and there isn’t that much going on because of the heat. Being outside all week really takes its toll on me and I’ve been pretty tired on the weekend. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to be doing once I leave New Orleans which has been a little bit frustrating and stressing me out. So I’m trying to take a step back and not think about it as much because I’m sure everything will work.

Hope everything is going well with everyone. Sorry this is a short post but I really don’t have much to report. The last two weeks have been pretty uneventful. So this is all I’ve got. Talk to y’all later.

P.S. Happy Father’s Day Dad. I love you Dad (in Will Ferrell’s Old School voice).