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Growing Habitat, AmeriCorps, etc. for today and tomorrows' New Orleans

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Dwayne Hunn       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment, 2 series

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When proposing legislation that would benefit already good organizations, it's good to spend time working with them. That's one reason I volunteered for some Habitat New Orleans work in October 2010.

A second reason is it becomes frustrating pushing People's Lobby's American World Service Corps Congressional Proposals and it's Fair Tax Bracket Reinstitution Congressional Proposals. Years tumble by trying to involve enough citizens in pushing Congress to enact legislation that would field 21 million Americans over 27 years doing service in their choice of such organizations as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, habitat, Drs. without Borders, Mercy Corps, Oxfam, International Rescue Committee, and state conservation corps, etc. Likewise, it gets frustrating trying to activate citizens to reinstitute those fair tax brackets that grew a middle-class from the 50's 70's.

So, New Orleans reinstituted the habit of using Habitat to recharge frustrating political/public policy efforts. Field working with Habitat, which the AWSC proposed legislation would make a more effective AWSC platoon, has always seemed a smart way to keep the proposed legislation well grounded.

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It's a lot more satisfying participating in molding materials into a house than it is trying to rebuild the once powerful initiative-driven People's Lobby via pushing legislation without resources and the initiative process. It's a lot more satisfying -- sweating with a team in the field creating homes, repairing devastations, caring for the sick, and teaching than it is trying to engage citizens in creating sensible public policy.

Here's a smidgen of impressions from some New Orleans Habitat work from a guy who has worked on more than four Habitat Builds, been a former Peace Corps volunteer, Rubelian Castle builder, and member of the start-up team of Jerry Brown's California Conservation Corps during his Moonbeaming Linda Ronstadt era.

At 2830 Royal St., you'll find a 22,000 ft. warehouse. Habitat owns the building. To it, people donate unused used goods, or stuff many would consider junk. Even with its Cypress beams arcing high above an unused second floor and massive loading dock doors aerating the building, dust, and dirt often fills one's nostrils at the Habitat Restore Store.

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Why was purchasing this aged warehouse a smart Habitat business opportunity?

As many people decided to leave New Orleans, they chose to leave behind -- framing lumber, lighting fixtures, sinks, bathtubs, tools, etc. Some of the abandoned homes had those huge, gracious southern doors and windows that were prevalent in the South's craftsman-dominated past. Tossing the ornate columns, doors, and windows into a dumpster and bulldozing them into landfill makes the heaven-based craftsman of yore rain their tears from heaven upon at least New Orleans.

So, to avoid heavenly tear impregnated thunderstorms, the Habitat Restore Store (HRS) gives every part of an old or damaged house and still useable tools another chance to inhale humid Louisiana air. Those huge historic southern fa├žades are unloaded on the warehouse's dock. Then a couple of AmeriCorps volunteers and guest volunteers bring hammers, crowbars, claws, etc., to make yesteryear's artistry ready for display again today.

So, at New Orleans's HRS today's builders can purchase recycled framing materials, bathtubs, lighting fixtures, doors, windows, tables, desks, nails, carpeting, and anything else that Bob Kuhn and his staff feel might be usable to New Orleanians trying to rebuild his/her life and home on a shoestring budget.

After a couple days of HRS reliving one of my teenage summers as a warehouse man at Broadhead Garret in Ohio, I was ready for some out in the air house building.

Around 7:45 a.m., about 10-15 AmeriCorps workers were buzzing around a Habitat truck at 1734 Frenchman Street. There, within minutes of Charley and me introducing ourselves, a young AmeriCorps woman inquired if we had done some building. With our answers, she quickly said, "Would you guys be on my team?"

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The diverse neighborhood's handful of newly constructed Habitat's houses were built on piers 4+' off the ground. The houses were fully enclosed, stair case stringers were being added to the small side porch, and finish work was underway inside and out.

New Orleans 's post-Katrina building code now required air conditioning units to be separated from the house and raised. Our mission, should Charlie and I choose to accept it, was to dig postholes and implant a couple 7+' towers made of 4x4's whose feet were filled with concrete adhering nails and 2x6 top plates measuring about 32" on each side into those holes. Then we were to fill the holes with concrete, so that hurricanes and floods would not topple the cool air maker from its tower.

While making polite small talk with our young AmeriCorps team leader, whose name I've forgotten (let's call her Elizabeth), Charlie and I didn't want to waste much time. We were fresh, ready to go, knew pretty much what needed doing, and, most importantly, we were working in the shade. Unfortunately, our team leader remained in the shade on several different levels. She had trouble finding us a tape measure, gloves, square shovels, wheelbarrow, or bags of concrete. By our second tower planting in the afternoon sun, our early morning small talk about where she lived, how she wanted to go to law school, etc., had dissipated and she pretty much disappeared.

Charlie and I got both jobs done, and we didn't follow the team leader's initial instructions about how to fill the eight postholes.

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Dwayne served in the Peace Corps in the slums of Mumbai, India, worked several Habitat Projects, and was on the start-up team of the California Conservation Corps. He has a Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University, has been a builder, teacher, (more...)

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