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Vacations are great. Vacations are awesome. Vacations bring me joy, expand my life experience, save my sanity.

But, for me, no matter how much fun I’m having, no matter how delightful the company, no matter how awesome the weather, somewhere around the end of a week away, I feel it. It’s a niggle in the neck, a breath in the chest, a softening of the laugh lines—it’s the desire to be home. Not just to sleep in my own bed, use my own shower, and root through a closet instead of a suitcase but also to be in the city I love, to feel grounded among familiar surroundings, to return to family and friends.

I recently considered this sweet hankering for home in a whole new light.

Last week, I was on vacation in New Orleans. During the day, I was working with the St. Bernard Project.

No, it has nothing to do with large, cask-bearing dogs.

St. Bernard Project is a 501(c)(3) organization working to rebuild homes and lives of Katrina survivors. I can attest, from first-person experience, that these are good people doing things the right way for the right reasons. Using volunteer labor, they are able to rebuild an average-size home for just $15,000. (Which, in case you’re really bad at Math, is freakin’ incredible.)

St. Bernard Project’s namesake is St. Bernard Parish, which was devastated during Katrina. St. Bernard Parish was one of those close-knit communities, with families who had lived in the area for generations. Proud Americans. Good blue-collar folk who cut their own grass, throw a good potluck party, help out their neighbors, know how to stretch a paycheck, and love a football team that wears black and gold.

Yeah. Pretty hard, as a Pittsburgher, not to feel the affinity.

In August 2005, the hurricane had passed and they were mostly okay. Then, the levees broke. And the water rose—fast. And every home in St. Bernard Parish was flooded. Every single home. Population-wise, imagine flooding every home in Etna—as well as every home in Aspinwall and Allison Park and Glenshaw.

Mother Nature certainly had her hand in this, but despite the personafication, weather has no capacity for intent nor intelligent thought. On the other hand. The government left citizens stranded, first on rooftops, then in noxious FEMA trailers. Contractors took the last of people’s savings, did no work, and disappeared. Insurance companies were, at best, ridiculously inefficient or, at worst, despicable, horrible, rotten, oh-you-better-believe-there’s-a-special-place-in-hell bastards.

Note:  Local officials had re-zoned St. Bernard as NOT being in the flood plane—only a couple of years before the levees broke and flooded the entire area. Insurance reps told homeowners they didn’t need flood insurance, and people who had paid premiums for years dropped flood coverage. They still had hurricane insurance. But the insurance companies said, no, this is all flood damage, not hurricane damage. (Tomato-tomahto—either way, I’m pretty sure it’s a rotten one.)

I am no expert on all that went on in New Orleans. But I do know that there are far too many layers (and not enough cuss words) to tell the complete tale here.

But here’s my point:  When I’m away, I miss home after 6 days.

In St. Bernard Parish, it’s been nearly 6 years. And there are still people waiting to get home.

Not preaching. Not arm-twisting. Just sharing.
I know you good-hearted peeps have other charities and other commitments. But, should you be interested, I will tell you this. The St. Bernard Project volunteer experience is sweaty and dirty and grueling . . . and absolutely fantastic. It may sound crazy but last week was, truly, one of the best vacations I have ever been on. Heck yeah, the ability to enjoy New Orleans’ sunshine, beignets, barbecue, booze, jazz, art, and unique ambience in the evenings is an awesome post-work perk, but, still. To escape the cube. To use the body and the brain. To feel, at middle age, like maybe something you did actually mattered. To work really hard—without any stress. Damn. It was freedom. It was soul defibrillation. It was cool, y’all.
 
If you or anyone you know is looking for a volunteer or fundraising opportunity or would like to make a donation, go to http://www.stbernardproject.org/.
 
Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/stbernardproject

May 16, 2011 at 10:56 am 4 comments


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