Tuscaloosa- Disaster Relief

B Boy Baby Bryan's Blog
Bryan Jochems

This has not been my first service trip experience, and it is very unlikely to be my last, but there are several components of this Alternative Spring Break trip to Tuscaloosa, AL that have made it extremely memorable. First of all, the eleven other Mizzou students that have joined me on this experience have been nothing short of amazing. From an eleven hour car ride filled with one spectacular Game of Things, to some amazing games of sand volleyball, to realizing through our work experience that each and everyone here is one ridiculously hard and efficient worker, I have been lucky to form eleven friendships that continue to strengthen as the week goes along. The nights of reflection we have as a group are always very enlightening and interesting! We begin with questions meant to build are group dynamic, such as last nights question of "what was your dream job as a young child and what is your current dream job?" Yet, the reflections soon delve into topics such as racism in current day America, American education, or cycles of inequality in America, discussions which I believe really unite us as a group. Yet, all twelve of us are brought together for a trip meant to help a town recover from a devastating tornado that occurred almost one whole year ago.

And that brings me to the second memorable component of this trip, my experience of helping the town of Tuscaloosa. This has not been my first experience helping with tornado recovery, as I spent several days in Joplin, MO over this previous Thanksgiving break. However, there is something about the town of Tuscaloosa and the work I have been contributing the past three days that have raised my spirits and ignited within me a passion that I have very rarely felt before. I usually begin each morning with a short jog, averaging right around 6 miles, and as I traverse the streets of Northport, AL, a suburb of Tuscaloosa, the southern hospitality and friendliness of the people here is so present and so invigorating. This spirit of helpfulness and welcoming is felt at our service sites as Mizzou students work alongside community members doing their part in rebuilding the city. It was so nice to see that on our first day of work, a fraternity from the University of Alabama was also volunteering their time to help the city recover, and seemed very excited to see students from the University of Missouri chip in as well. The work experiences I have had thus far have been unique, from cleaning up debris from the site of what used to be a house, finding remnants of the belongings of the people that used to call the now bare space home, to literally nailing shingles on the side of the roof of a house, with just a small two by four standing between me and a 12 foot drop off the roof, to painting the side of a house while standing 12 feet up on a ladder. I must admit, my lack of a fear of heights has come in handy on this trip! I can see the progress being made and the difference I have on the services sites I have worked on thus far, and that is so rewarding for me.

The final component of this trip that has made it something special is the retreat site. Nestled away in a nature camp beside a lake, Camp Tuscoba has been the perfect place for this Alternative Spring Break Trip. With activities abounding, reflection spaces all around, and a nostalgic campy feeling, I have enjoyed and appreciated my time spent at this site. The chance to interact with Alternative Spring Break members from Sonoma State University in California has also been some spice added to our trip. With our trip just passing the half-way point, part of me wants to stay here in this city, doing this work for months. However, as each day goes by, and as each experience develops me as a person, and I can't help but take each moment in, take each memory in, and be grateful that amongst eleven of my newest friends, I can have one amazing Spring Break experience spending my time helping a city rebuild.

Carpentry Extraordinaire
Kia Farhang

When I was very little, my family moved into an old, beat-up house in Minneapolis. At best it was a dump, at worst it was a disaster zone. There are tons of home videos of my dad and his friends fixing the place up, and, while it was small, after a few months our cozy little home was…actually cozy.

I've always had a lot of respect for people who take care of themselves. It saddens me that there are members of my generation who cannot change a tire or cook a meal. So I will admit that half of the reason I signed up for Alternative Spring Break was to get some good, old-fashioned carpentry experience.

On Tuesday I got what I signed up for. I spent the day working for Deborah, a spunky little lady who made us ice cream on our breaks. My group was assigned to everything from pulling up floorboards, mowing the lawn, and boarding up windows.

At the risk of sounding like an old man, nothing feels better than a solid day's work. Though we didn't make as much visual progress as we would have liked on Deborah's house, the difference was in the details. I can attest to picking up several little tricks that I plan on using around the house – because now, of course, I feel completely qualified to renovate mine.

Roughly halfway through spring break, I'm having no regrets. I worried that, around this time, I would be sick of the work and ready to party. But so far that's simply not the case. I'm excited to keep helping tomorrow; I'm excited to keep learning. It's easy to say that ASB is a great way to help people. Call me selfish, but it's also a great way to better yourself.

Tuesday, March 27: Shingle girl's dreams come true

Once upon a time, way back in September, a little college freshman girl was asked why she wanted to build houses for her first Alternative Spring Break at Mizzou. She wrote:

Shingle Girl--that was my alter ego this past summer when my friend asked me to help his family do some roofing. When I initially arrived, I was thrilled and wanted to pick up a hammer and start roofing away at the first thing I saw. What sorts of things 'roofing' actually entailed, I had no idea…

And so, hammer, hard hat, and some sort of scraper thingy in hand, I'd been all set to go and tackle this roof…but then (probably in reaction to how excitedly I was waving that scraper-thingy around), someone very quietly suggested that perhaps, just perhaps, I should be in charge of picking up the shingles that the real roofers knocked onto the ground. All seven zillion pieces. And so Shingle Girl reluctantly came to be.

This spring, my top choice for ASB is to work with Habitat for Humanity. While being Shingle Girl was fulfilling its own way (I mean, those shingles weren't going to pick themselves up, up you know) I would love to learn a few tips and tricks in construction as part of serving, too…In the end, sure, it's nice to make a check out to the United Way or drop a few coins in the red Salvation Army bucket come Christmas time, but how much more meaningful would it be to give back by literally putting a roof over someone's head?

Only six months later, Shingle Girl found herself wielding a nail gun in one hand and a stack of tar shingles in the other as she balanced on a scaffolding (if you could call a piece of metal strapped to two ladders "scaffolding") that rested at the edge of a 100-ft-long roof.

Folks, it was the time of her life.

Forget about blazing Alabama sun and early wake-up time ("So this is what 7 a.m. looks like…). The Tuesday of the 2012 Tuscaloosa Alternative Spring Break trip had Chelsea, Ashley, Brian, Heather, Patrick and Shingle Girl back on the roof at Bull Slough Road, working to finish the previous day's work.

It wasn't all just shingling (especially if "shingling" isn't an actual, uh, word), though. We learned to use, load, and try not to drop the nail guns. We learned to have wasp spray (and back-up wasp spray) on hand in case The Great Alabama Waspicide of 2012 had to take place. We learned to scale roofs and place our trust in little 2 x 4 board supports that our own hands had nailed together.

We learned to put up drip edge, staple on a starter sheet, and ignore the fact that at the slightest shake of the ladder, however "unintentional" (cough, Patrick, cough), we could easily fall off the scaffolding and plummet to our deaths. Or at least to a very messy heap on the shingle pile on the ground.

But even that fate wasn't all that scary—not when the our fellow volunteers and ground crew, United Methodist relief volunteers from North Carolina, were ready to catch us, stuff pecan rolls and cake down our throats, and smother us with their Jamaican/Southern accented love at a moment's notice.

In the end, we weren't able to finish the entire roof. It was just too hot to work with the tar shingles any longer, so we had to bid the United Methodist group and Bill, the roof's owner/electrician/grandfather-extraordinaire) good-bye at around 1:30 p.m. We wouldn't get to see Bill's roof to completion, but judging from the chalk-line streaks and semi-smug smiles all six of us had as we discussed "roof talk" on the celebratory ride to Sonic, it wouldn't be long before we'd find the next chance to bust out our new roofing skillz. Yes,

Trust me. Shingle Girl herself can't - freaking - wait to get her hands on a nail gun again.

I Love Being Tired!
Thursday March 29th, 2012

Tired. There are so many different ways one can become tired. Usually, whenever I wake up in the morning, I think to myself, if I could just get like 15 more minutes of sleep, I won't be so tired. Sometimes, whenever I get done with a really good work out, my body has such a full and all-encompassing feeling of fatigue that it literally just shuts off on me the first chance it gets. My brain becomes exhausted at just the simple thought of a long night of studying for a Monday morning filled with three mid-terms followed by six hours of work.

Today, as I write this blog posting at 9:03p.m. after a day full of painting, hammering, playing, running, chowing, and laughing, however cheesy and sixteen-year-old emo girl this sound, my heart and soul are both unmistakably worn out. Not only did I get a chance to relish in the great feeling it was to finish a lot of work on a house we have dedicated 200+ hours to as a group over this past week; not only did I get to relive my childhood by playing and teaching 2nd/3rd graders and having a blast do it; not only did I get to play ultimate Frisbee and eat lasagna and ice cream with 11 other awesome new friends I have made IN ALABAMA; but I got to do it all on my spring break.

How many other kids at my age can say that they accomplished all of that during their spring break, let alone in one day like I did? Although my body is drained from working outside all day, running around with kids with more energy than the Energizer bunny himself, and playing sports for a few hours after we got back, there is nothing more than I want to do right now than spend time with the people who I have gotten to know better than I would have ever thought over the past week (even though I only have 34 more pages to go in book one of The Hunger Games!).

But the thing that really excites me so much about experiencing this class of tired is that I absolutely love the feeling that it brings me at the end of the day. Partying it up for five days in PCB could not even hold a candle to raking glass and rubble out of a field, climbing wobbly ladders with buckets of paint, conquering the art of roofing with no prior experience, helping worthy local citizens with their troubles, playing with neighborhood school children, and getting to know humbling and awesome new people and friends.

So, as we go into our free day, I look forward to relaxing a bit for a few days, knowing full well that I know how much I loved that feeling of tired that I experienced through ASB, and how much I know it will make me want it even more in the future. As I go back to Mizzou, back to my exhausting and disgustingly busy schedule full of work, back to my boring lecture halls and tedious homework assignments and papers, back to trying to find some whim of a social life, and back to getting by day by day with that feeling of exhaustion that you get at the end of any long day, I will know at the end of those days that I really packed it in this week and earned that tired feeling over my Alternative Spring Break.

Thursday March 29th, 2012

I have been hearing about spring break plans since we arrived to school in August. Living in a sorority house on campus lends itself to hearing of spring break on a pretty regular basis. Invitations flood from sisters everywhere wanting to caravan down to a tropical, beachy destination such as PCB or Cancun. That really isn't my scene, so when I the Alternative Spring Break applications opened up, I knew that is how I wanted to spend my break. I come from a very fix-it-yourself household, so I am no stranger to putting up drywall, painting walls and putting in wood floors. I was excited to get to go to Alabama to help with tornado relief and put my skills to use. After cleaning up debris on our first day, our group split up. One group would conquer roofing a house and the other group would fix up a low-income home.

I found myself that day scraping paint off of a wood floor for hours and painting the back porch of a house that previously had no railings and rotting wood. I am not going to lie, I was a little disappointed that I would not get to do the hard grunt work that the other group would get to experience on the roof of a building (what I had been training for my whole life as I held ladders for my dad). I had a major reality check coming my way.

My favorite part of this trip so far has been spending time with the 11 other wonderful people who I have been able to share this experience with. Every evening we spend time reflecting on our day and talking about everything from culture to education to frisbee to politics and everything in between. It was during one of these talks that my reality check hit me. We were discussing the importance of the work we were doing, and I remained quiet as the other members of my trip were vocal about how important the little things are. We talked about how the little things are the building blocks for bigger things; we discussed how doing the little things now meant that someone would not have to do them later. This was nothing new to me. I realized I was making a difference, but what I didn't realize is how big of a difference.

By painting that porch, not only were we giving that house a more attractive exterior, but I was providing that family with so much more. People in Alabama seem to live on their porch. They welcome people on their porch, they drink tea on their porch, and their children play on their porch. By making this deck safe and sturdy, we were providing a clean and welcoming entrance to this house. We were giving the little girl in the family an open safe place to do her homework or play with friends. This has a bigger impact than I think I realized. We discussed in our reflections about how awful the low-income cycle is, and I think that we did our part this week to help and break that cycle, even if it was just a drop in the bucket. I can happily say that I have never been more satisfied doing that work now, and I am going to be terribly sad to see the end of this trip.

Thursday March 29th, 2012
Ashley Massow

We've spent the whole semester focusing on Spring Break - the wonderful one-week hiatus from our hellish daily grind - and bamalah-wamalah-jamalah it's over. This always happens, doesn't it? You spend a massive amount of time planning for something that is over in the blink of an eye...but it is again true that I have completely lost myself in this week. Maybe it's because I turned off my phone this week, but it was wonderful to have nothing on my mind but the task at hand. I felt so present. Though the week has blown by, there's something that is lasting about the moments that have defined my week.

Day 1: After the long car ride we were eager to get out and make a difference. We went to the Volunteer Resource Center (VRC) located about a block of 15th street – the heart of tornado damage. A few frat boys, signed waivers, and porta-potty stops, and we were on our way to clear debris.

I cleared debris the week prior in Joplin, but this was so much different. We took on the task whole-heartedly and accomplished it efficiently. It was an amazing feeling to be among people who wanted to be there and cared about getting the job done right. I was excited for the week.

But that's something rare in a volunteer. Passion like that is lost. Volunteers are notorious for showing up late and leaving early, being lazy, and working at a slow pace…not us.

Day 2: B-squared! A good dog is a good omen. Looking back on the week this was my least favorite day of work, but one I will cherish because I met a dog who was 'da best. I spent most of my day cleaning paint off of a wooden floor, but I wasn't at all upset about it. In fact, I threw myself into the task used the time to reflect while scraping white paint off the wood grain with my thumbnail.

Again, I really think it's rare to find people who are as willing and excited to clean paint off of a floor as we were.

Day 3: Deborah. Deborah was our first southern belle. She was wonderful and made us homemade ice cream. She owns a few homes in low-income areas that she rents out. I believe that renting homes is her sole means of income besides collecting disability. The house needs a lot of work and she only has 3 weeks to do it before her insurance runs out.

Working on Deborah's home is sometimes frustrating, but very fulfilling. She is so thankful for everything we have done. I use ideas to drive myself through the frustration. In this case I thought about the fact that frustration is temporary for us, but this is a reality for Deborah and other residents of Tuscaloosa…this is their frustrating every day.

Day 4: Dungeon deck. On Wednesday we worked with Project Blessings on a house that is going to be donated to a family who lost their home in the April 2011 tornado. This house is amazing! I hope I have the means to live in an old house with that much character when I am older.

Anyways, I was on the dungeon crew and we worked on building a 12-inch high platform in the 5-foot crawl space that the future residents can use for storage. Who knew I could handle carpentry. Carpentry is simple math, but frustrating nonetheless. It was awesome to work as a team to figure out our little puzzle, and this was probably the most enjoyable day of work.

Day 5: More dungeon and more Deborah. On the fifth day we continued the platform farther into the crawl space. We had to build the base ourselves, which was quite a task. We did it! We were all so confident and worked together. I was so proud of the final project and it was an amazing feeling. Let's just say, I can now say I'm good with a hammer and nail.

At 2:00 we left the Project Blessing house and went to work for Deborah again. She had come across a Habitat for Humanity house that was willing to give her all of its left over lumber. She was so excited about this amazing find, and we were too. But it was frustrating because she needed so much more help that just moving lumber. I was glad to help though because I know she would have been out until midnight transporting lumber and organizing it if we weren't there to help.

What was exceptional about our group is the desire to finish what we start. No one ever complained, and we stayed late every day.

Though we didn't build a house from the ground up this week, I think we did something much greater. The people of Tuscaloosa don't necessarily need another new house on the block…they need people who care, and a helping hand. In that respect, I feel that our service here surpassed my expectations. And though we were just 12 people serving 5 days, we had an impact.

I will continue to argue that the small drops in the bucket makes a difference, and this week we left 12 fat and juicy drops in the bucket of Tuscaloosa.

See you during football season, 'bama!

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