As soon as the team arrived in Texas we were ready to get to work and eager to see what the Fuller Center had prepared for us. It was understood that organization might be chaotic for some time as some of the staff at Fuller Center recently shuffled around, but we were ready for whatever was thrown at us. Our first day of work we were split into two teams, half staying at our accommodation, a home that was recently renovated by the Fuller Center Volunteers, and half were sent a few blocks away to "Palm House" now more commonly "Leo's House".
I was part of the team at Palm house and was glad for it, when we arrived it took me some time to determine who exactly was in charge and what we were meant to be doing for the day. Our main supervisor, Peter, had stayed at Faith house to organize things there, but there was a lack of instruction as to what was going on at the other home. Another crew of volunteers from Indiana were already knee deep in drywall and mud, and the rest of us were quickly shuffled into the mix. Also floating around the chaos was the homeowner who was instructing the group of different projects to be done.
Other teams in Texas spent their first day in orientation or training, but not us, we were thrown straight in. From power saws to shovels, we were ready to go and haven't paused much since. When we got home at the end of that first day half of us already had grey hairs, a day of drywall sanding will do that to you, while those at home were covered head to toe in dirt, digging a drainage trench all day. The third day of work is when the real fun began and my first time under Palm house. The house was lifted, thus protecting it from future storms, but there was still more work to be done in securing it. Step one for us was digging trenches in the back where support walls would go, with step two taking place completely under the house, nailing in hurricane braces to every single floor board. I somehow found myself on that team, crawling through wet, sticky, cold mud, but on the bright side those of us under the house were protected from the sudden cold temperatures, icy rain and bits of hail that fell that day.
As the weeks went by our tasks varied, many of us put in a bulk of hours working on drywall, installing, mudding, sanding and eventually painting, oh so much painting. But that first time was not my last time under the house. On the last day of our second week Haley and I were recruited to smooth out a dip under the house, filling in the hole to prevent the opportunity for water to pool and mosquitoes to breed. I started on the edge of the house, shoveling dirt in, but was soon knee deep, crawling with Haley, 5 gallon bucket in tow. It was hard work, the dirt here is compact and heavy, more like clay really, but we loaded and hauled those buckets, from one end of the house to the other, Jerrod joining in on the fun halfway through. It wasn't easy, but the work was rewarding, I also learned a new appreciation and understanding for the word tired.
A highlight of my second week was learning to cut and install tile flooring, followed the next day with grouting. It's too bad I'm about 6 months too late, after my parents paid to have our kitchen floor done, but my dad assured me I could come back for the bathrooms. Some days have been long, but the weeks are flying by, and will soon come to an end just as we're getting comfortable here. Hands down the best part of this project thus far is having the opportunity to work with the homeowner at Palm house. The smile you see on his face when our van pulls up in the morning is priceless, and a simple reminder of why we're here, doing the work we do.
I was unsure if I would enjoy being on disaster response, but knew that it would push we a bit outside of my comfort zone. It's helpful that this project is not immediate disaster response, we're not mucking and gutting homes, although that would have been interesting too. The work we're doing is purposeful though, and we haven't ended a day yet where we feel that we haven't made a difference. Being able to see results, while sometimes slower than we'd like, allows us to see our impact here immediately.
It's been strange driving through the community, some home seem to have never been touched by the storm, while others, like the ones we're working on are still in sore need of repairs. The region in general is considered a bit of a forgotten ground, between the wealthy neighborhoods on the coast of Galveston and the metro region of Houston, it's stuck in the in-between. The Fuller center has done a good job of picking up the slack in this region, but it relies almost entirely on volunteers to get the job done, which is what we're here for.
A Year of Service
My life, being anything but predictable, has taken another turn. Rather than moving to Jeju, South Korea - my original plan for Fall '18, I'm going to test drive Denver, CO and its surroundings, an area people just keep telling me "I'd love".