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Baltimore Summer

I’m feeling incredibly rested after a nice, twelve day vacation. Spending the first half of it at home on the couch for a few days with food poisoning wasn’t as relaxing, but quality time with my friends and family was. Spending the other half camping in New Hampshire with Chris was a perfect end to my break.

He continuously impressed me with how prepared he was for our whole camping experience. We had a gorgeous, secluded campsite where I spent half the time looking around in terror for bears, however we never say any. sumitting Mt. Washington at 6,800 feet was a great accomplishment we celebrated with a steak dinner in the parking lot. 

I am officially in Baltimore for the summer and the weather is fabulous. The humidity is encirling and the heat is high.

We are working with the Samaritan Women and living on their 23 acres property now. It feels great to have some space this round compared to suffocating living quarters in the past.

We have already had a exhilarating variety of work. We have spent several mornings working on the 2 acre farm harvesting, planting, weeding and teaching young children the organic produce lifestyle. I spent last Tuesday biking to my first farmers market with Farmer Roy where we sold nearly everything we brought. His motto is having a low impact on the earth. That is why we grow all organic produce using only compost and bike everywhere.

We spent the week building a monsterous patio, doubling as a dance floor for a wedding happening out on the property tonight for long-time volunteers. It was a tough, exhausting job working with the cement pavers, especially in the torrential downpour on Thursday.

We are living in an early 20th century mansion on the property with a great kitchen, sun room and three chandeliers! I can’t get enough of the hammock and gorgeous backyard.

The Samaritan Women do outreach for women around Baltimore whose lives have been taken from them by drugs, prostitution or human trafficking. We are renovating a 1893 Victorian mansion on the property for several women to live in where they will get an education, and get clean.

We live right in the city but our property is up on a hill; therefore it is peaceful and relaxing. After work I have been focusing on cooking, writing and thinking about my future. I have decided graduate school is not the best path for me right now, so I am beginning to look for a Public Relations or Marketing position anywhere and everywhere. Wish me luck!

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I just experienced a whirl-wind of an adventure volunteering in New Orleans. That is why I haven’t written for so long. New Orleans is a place I have been dying to go for longer than I can remember and I couldn’t be happier with my volunteer, cultural, and French Quarter experience. I had a check list ready before I arrived down there and amazingly I checked everything off of that list before I left the Bayou.

Probably my favorite thing overall about being in New Orleans, or NOLA as everyone else calls it, was the humidity. Everyday and night I could feel the density in the air and the heat circulating around me. It made me feel alive and like I was on vacation all the time.

Our work week lasted Tuesday through Saturday where we would arrive on location at 7:45 a.m. to begin work building houses with Habitat for Humanity. I had the chance to experience nearly every step of building a house from beginning the foundation, to roofing a house, to caulking windows, to instaling insulation underneath a home.

At the end of every work day I was covered in sweat, sand and some sort of foreign material like paint or cement. By the end of the six weeks my body was feeling the strenuous work and sunlight I had been putting it through. This round made me more confident in my physical strength, and how hard I can push myself in extreme conditions.

We were lucky to have a three-bedroom, one bathroom home only one mile from the French Quarter in the eighth ward. The night we dropped in there I was nervous about our safety, especially after hearing that the team before us was rushed out one evening after a drive-by-shooting happened on the corner.

As days went by we found all of our neighbors were incredibly friendly and interested in where we were from and why we were there. The St. Roch park was a block away, so we had easy access to PT whenever we wanted. Occasionally when we were at the park doing PT neighborhood kids would approach us and ask to join our relay races, push-ups and sit-ups. We were happy to include them and learn more about the neighborhood through their eyes.

We skipped into the quarter on a regular basis to hear live jazz music, eat beignets and creole delights and watch the chaos of Bourbon street. The swamp tour and levee tour we arranged were two absolutely amazing experiences. On the levee tour we learned so much about how Katrina affected the surrounding communities and many locals believe Katrina was a man-made disaster because of how poorly and ineffectively the levees held up. It is nice to be back in a bed here in Perryville, but I miss NOLA!

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The time has come to move out of New England and into the Bayou. We are leaving Rhode Island on Wednesday and heading back to Maryland to unpack and unwind; in other words do a bunch of presentations and PT.

I have been dying to go to New Orleans for years so this is my dream location. We are getting thrown into the Cajun culture by living in the Upper Ninth Ward, walking distance from the French Quarter.

Tuesday will be our last day at 211 and honestly I’m not too upset about it. I will miss the incredible ladies we worked with, but the work became monotonous at the end. A person can only do so much filling, calling and note taking.

Right now I am ecstatic to head down to New Orleans and work in the sunny, humidity with Habitat for Humanity. It will be a fantastic change after working in an office for the entire month of April.  I am ready to be outdoors and get my hands dirty; no more going from cubicle to cubicle, cross your fingers!

I will miss our little neighborhood in Cumberland that grew to feel like home. As we drive off on Wednesday morning I will happily wave goodbye to our one-bedroom apartment, but not the cute building with the handy laundromat right underneath us.

It is amazing to look back at everything that has developed, relationship wise, and happened since we arrived in Cumberland on wet and dreary March 13. Starting with the Valley Falls Heritage Park was the perfect introduction to work and Cumberland. Within a whirlwind of two days we were thrown into the disaster work with United Way/211 and attached our roots for good.

The day we were called on disaster is one I will never forget. That week began with an o’dark thirty grocery store run in a downpour that didn’t stop for three days. After a day of work and volunteering at the soup kitchen we went to bed clueless to how drastically things would change. 

I remember working with that city workers back at the garage filling sandbags with everyone and watching the rain come down in sheets of water. As the morning rolled on people slowly began showing up requesting sandbags for their backyards and basements. Around noon we were called on disaster and that’s when the real work begun. I headed out to make house calls with sandbags for people around the city. After a ten-hour day Christian and I headed to 211 to do a graveyard shift answering the phones. Walking into the National Guard building, the temporary set-up for 211 because their building was flooded out, was spooky and stressful. All I can remember is phone ringing, people buzzing around in brightly colored vests and maps everywhere constantly changing with updates on people and places affected.

Thursday we were surprised by the 211 and United Way staff with a thank you party outside. As we were walking out the back door not knowing what was going on, a roar of applause and cheering echoed off the patio where Ice Cream and smiley faces were waiting.

Friday the Governor came to 211 to give out awards to all the organizations involved in the flooding recognizing them for all the hard work and support they provided to Rhode Islanders. We were recognized then walked him through our call back center and procedures.

Today we volunteered at the first annual Cherry Blossom run in Central Falls. The sun was glowing and I had a wonderful time, aside for the hour and a half of sleep I found last night. We had to stand guard at the cross streets and stop cars from flying out onto Broad street and crashing into the runners. Some local kids came out and I played soccer with them, then was swooped up by a cop car and rode in the back seat back to the start.

This is the last blog I will do from Rhode Island. The next time you hear from me I will be writing from Maryland. Ciao Rhode Island, hello deep South!!!!!!!!!!

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Iris and VOAD

We have been on disaster for 26 days. Looking back it has flown by, but day by day sitting in the office it creeps by slower than molasses.

I haven’t written in a while because we have been doing basically the same work the entire time. Since I last wrote I’ve only had 2 days off.

The work is either data base entry by city, Iris program entering for the call center, or calling flood victims back about their damage.

Luckily, I got assigned to a new job about week and a half ago so I had the chance to change up the routine a bit. Therefore, I haven’t made a call in well over a week.

I a personal assistant now. I sit in on several meetings a week taking notes, typing them up and distributing them to a large email list. I am also the communication link between several organizations, which puts me in charge of sending out press releases and situation reports.

It’s been a great job for me because I really feel like I am in the know about the behind the scenes work with this disaster. Also, I get to do my own thing sometimes instead doing what the team is doing all the time.

Wednesday morning started with a PT test that went much better for me than expected. I dreading it because I didn’t want to get up early and I hadn’t been feeling too strong lately; however I ended up maxing out and get a perfect score. Running a 7:43 mile was a pretty big accomplishment for me because running isn’t my thing. It was difficult but when I was done I was proud.

Wednesday afternoon I went to the first long term recovery meeting in Warwick with all the big shots of several different organizations involved in the recovery. Due to me being the official note taker for the meeting I sat at the head table with the Deputy Director of FEMA, the Director of RIEMA and a few other important people from the state. They were all fascinated in AmeriCorps NCCC and baffled by our living situation.

We have the entire weekend off, which is a first in quite a while and I am heading to Boston to relax, sleep in a bed, take a bath and enjoy great company!

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For the past week all Badger one has done is breath, eat, sleep and work disaster. It has been an incredible experience in hundreds of ways!

I feel like I am on a never ending roller coaster ride. Some days I am so mentally exhausted it is a real struggle to listen to everyone’s individual problems and issues and help them with the information and resources they need. Other days I’m like superwoman and feel like I’m making a big difference to individual people around Rhode Island. When I get off the phone and a person is throughly appreciative and thankful that I have given them locations where they can get food, clothing, shelter; or just take their information so someone can come help them clean up the monstrous mess waiting for them in their basement, I know what I’m doing is important.

Working at the United Way 211 center in Providence has been a great experience. The various women we are working with are sweet and fascinating ladies. They are always thanks us for our work and bring us pastries and wraps!

The few chances I ‘ve had to take calls in the call center are always entertaining. It’s amazing some of the questions people call about. Right now for the most part all the calls are in regards to FEMA, shelter or the flood.

So far the main tasks we have been working on are taking damage assessment forms from people, then calling them back to ask if they are safe, if they need food, clothing, shelter or city information. Then we figure out if they will need volunteer help with clean up so we take more information about what and where the damage is, the people who live there and other items. We are also in charge of filing all of this and keeping it organized because we have to enter everything into the data base.

Yesterday I was asked to sit in on a meeting between FEMA, United Way, Serve Rhode Island, Hands On Disaster Relief, the Red Cross and other volunteer organizations to take the minutes. I felt like I was in college again and it was wonderful to be involved in what was going on and hear about the next steps in the recovery process.

Last weekend we were asked to work on Easter, which I was a little surprised about, but if a disaster doesn’t rest then neither do we. However, we did get done around 2 and had the chance to head up to Marshfield for some Easter dinner with Chris’ family and then enjoy the warm weather on the beach. If felt great to get out of Cumberland and away from all the disaster madness.

Hands on Disaster relief showed up a few days ago and they are getting things rolling on the clean up side. Volunteers are now out and about going to peoples homes and seeing what they need help with and what kinds of tools or skills are required.

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Pinpoint Disaster

Monday started with buckets and buckets of water dumping from the sky. I went on a 3 hour grocery trip, came back changed and hurried up to Pawtucket to work at the visitors center.

The work was different from what we thought it would be and a bit mundane, but necessary. We redecorated and hung more pictures up in the Blackstone Valley tourism office and we organized the pamphlet closet. We finished early and had lunch in the van silently staring out the window at the rain waiting to head to the Pawtucket Soup kitchen. Once we got there work and the overall mood quickly picked up.

I was struggling this particular night with the close proximity of the team and living quarters so I enjoyed some quiet time in the hallway listening to the rain pound the sky light. As the night went on I was able to enjoy the company of others.

Tuesday morning came with grey sky’s and lots more rain. We showed up bright and early at the highway department to fill sandbags for people to pick up and for delivery. By lunch time Rhode Island had gone into a state-wide disaster due to all the flooding and road closers. In the afternoon I had the opportunity to go out on deliveries with Tony and Marco and actually see the impact we were attempting on making in the community. We were out in the pouring rain dragging 50 pound sand bags off the truck and around peoples homes trying to stop the water from running into their basements and first floors. It was shocking to see how terrible the water levels had gotten. One house we delivered at had basically a pond in their backyard and no basement so the water was flooding into their first floor. Another elderly couple lost power and had about five inches of water in their basement. We tramped down there in the dark and placed sand bags around the doors to stop the water from coming in the basement.

Shortly after the work day ended Christian and I were called on disaster relief and had to prepare to head to Cranston to take over for Jamie and Chris at 11 p.m. We spent the entire night at an Emergency center answering phone calls for people who needed help. Unfortunately it was a bit disappointing because it was slow, everyone was asleep. About an hour before our shift ended we began to receive dozens of calls. It was heartbreaking listening to all the flood and sewage damage to people’s homes but I am glad I could be there to try to help and make a difference.

Overall it was a great night so bring on the disaster relief, I’m ready!!!

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I know it has been over a week since I have blogged, which is because we have been tremendously busy something everyone is happy about.

I went into the weekend exhausted after a week of work at the park and at the Blackstone River theater. Starting Friday out cranky because I was up early doing a one on one I knew it could only go up from there, I started dreading the weekend because it was packed with volunteering and ISP; however it turned out to be wonderful.

Friday afternoon Badger one headed to the Blackstone River Theater for painting and pizza. Immediately after work we took off for Providence College to work a Relay for Life event. I have never worked an event like this before and normally it would have been wonderful but because of my tired state it was long. The separate events on the track were nice to watch. We handed out beads for people who were tracking their laps and I finished off my night selling pizza to students, which made the last few hours entertaining and go by quickly.

Saturday morning Chris, Bob and I woke up feeling refreshed and ready for serving at the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen. Arriving at 9 a.m. we met the kitchen cooks and staff and soon knew this was the place for us. They were funny, skilled and laid back about the work. Flipping pancakes, shoveling potatoes and turning sausages were my main jobs, then the boys and I jumped in the line and had the opportunity to serve the people in need. I had no idea how wonderful it would feel serving people food. I felt like I was directly helping a cause in need by handing food to a hungry person.

After a few hours of chores and napping a few of us headed to the Blackstone Theater to work a show. Matt and Shannon Heaton were the headliners along with another duo. Tonight was much more eventful than the first time we worked a show. First of all it was a completely packed house; people were standing in the back. We worked concessions, did set-up and cleaned the hall. Listening to the performers I had goosebumps from Shannon’s voice. She sounded similar to Alisson Krauss but with the tiniest Irish accent. The entire day was wonderful including our relaxation time after work at the theater.

Sunday evening we spent three hours at the Gamm theater in Pawtucket painting and taking down bleachers. By the time I got home bed had never sounded so amazing!

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