Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Those nuns did a great job...

Seniors from Marquette Catholic High School in Alton, IL

Sunday evening I was sitting here in my room contemplating heading to bed when my phone rang. I looked at the caller ID and could not figure out why Rev. Elijah would be calling me so late. I answered and he made one statement, "Jimmy, I need your help." With that one statement my week was changed. Cory Roberts had a family emergency and had to leave town Sunday afternoon, Rev. Elijah had 61 students from Marquette Catholic High School in Alton, IL. Rev. Eijah asked me if I had tools, my reply was simple, "Where is the tool trailer?" Rev. Elijah explained that the trailer was with Cory and we would have to go with what I had. Well, for this trip I brought what I could in the truck, a power saw, sawz-all, gas nail gun, a drop cord and basic hand tools. They are fine for me working by myself, but not nearly enough to do rough framing much less to keep 61 students busy for a day. Having worked on the site some weeks ago with the kids from Boston I felt sure there would be plenty of work, I knew there would not be enough for 61 students.

Monday broke clear and cool as the wind was up. I drove into New Orleans Parish and went by Pauger St. The Mennonites had not arrived so I moved on to Law St. to alert Mrs. Phillip that a new work order had been let from the offices for plumbing repairs. I wanted her to know that if the team arrived, I wanted them to call me to discuss the details of the repairs needed. After a hug from Mrs. Phillip I drove back toward the Lower 9th Ward and N. Galvez. As I arrived I saw what the wind of the weekend had done to the framed walls for the house. The western side wall of the house had shifted six inches at the top from the heavy wind gusts of the weekend. I sat there and pondered the problem as the first van of students arrived and then another and another and another and another until I had 60+ students standing in front of me ready to help rebuild the house, the neighborhood and the city if time permitted.

I quickly stepped up on the house deck five feet above where they were standing and called them to order. I told the them the story of the Vincent family. A couple in their seventies who had lived in a house on this spot for over 50 years. The house was engulfed in the flood and had to be torn down. They received monies for rebuild, but all but $10k of that was stolen by thieving "contractors". They Vincents are not well and would love to be in their home. They also care for their twin grandsons who are in their early twenties and severely learning disabled.
Even girls swing hammers when they work with me...

With the story told, I pointed out the high water marks on the dilapidated house next door. They marveled as I did at the thought of the place where we stood under 10ft+ of water. With that done Rev Elijah showed up and I asked him if he would find work for about forty of the students.
With 15+ students we set to work straightening the wind blown walls. Simply, one student held the level, two students were ready with wooden braces and nails and the rest grabbed a piece of wall and pulled. With this system, I let the students work around each exterior and most of the interior walls while I read the plans to clarify the window size and spacing for the main front wall of the house. About the time I was ready to layout the wall one dozen wooden handled hammers and framing nails showed up on the site. Now, you must realize that I only had one 25' measuring tape on the truck so the one tape was in demand by all who were helping.
Many hands can do much work...

With blue prints carefully read and the students ready to go i showed them how to layout a stud wall on the top and bottom wall plate. I then had students gather studs and we started assembling the front wall. With twenty students working, driving nails, moving materials and generally helping we were able to nail the entire 35' wall together quickly. With so many hands to lift, I decided we would nail the exterior sheathing on before we lifted the wall into place. Very quickly, nine or ten sheets of 1/2 inch OSB were in place and nailed down. We than lifted the wall into place and set braces and secured the bottom plate. By the time all this was done in was moving toward 4pm. I had the students gather the tools, clean the site and we called it a day.

Tuesday morning broke sunny and warmer as I headed toward the lumber yard. The students were not going to be at N. Galvez until close to 10am so I had time to gather more lumber and spend time in the house site planning the day. I stepped on to the house deck and rolled out the plans seeing where the rest of the interior partition walls were to be placed. As the students arrived I had them unload the truck, set up the generator and gather the tools. Still only armed with one measuring tape, I knew we could accomplish my set tasks for the day. Two young men had really helped on Monday, Gary and Cody returned so I gave them instructions and we set off to complete the wall framing. Lumber was cut, nails were driven, walls were stood, laughs echoed and we left at 3:30 having finished the walls for the Vincent house.

I love working with students. They have boundless energy, a desire to work and hearts wanting to help those in need. Over the past few weeks I have worked with high school students from MA and IL. I would glady host any and all of them again as we work together to rebuild NOLA.
The students from Marquette were on their senior trip. Instead of spending time on the beaches of Florida, these students gave their lives to the people of NOLA. The school administration and the parents of these kids should be very proud of them, I know I am.
A beautiful day rebuilding NOLA.
Front wall standing...students admiring.

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