Rebuilding More Than Houses

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Many people think of a home as a necessity, yet not everyone considers exactly how much is lost when a home is lost. A house takes months to build, but when a disaster hits, it can be destroyed in minutes. When a home is destroyed families are torn apart, the simple comforts in people’s lives vanish, and life is put on hold. To help a person find her way back home after a tragedy is one of the best ways to make a positive change in another’s life.

While I was volunteering in New Orleans, Louisiana last summer, I was able to rebuild the destroyed home of an elderly woman named Ms. Pat, and through this process I was able to give her the opportunity to rebuild her entire life. Based on my experiences rebuilding Ms. Pat’s home, I came to the realization that there is no community service more extraordinary than that which ultimately helps to rebuild a person’s life.

Before I began my work, which included tasks such as painting the roof, putting up dry wall, and placing doors in their frames, I was briefly told about Ms. Pat’s experiences. She was a beloved pasta chef who had worked for thirty years at an upscale hotel in the heart of New Orleans. In love with the city, she had lived with her mother and her granddaughter in a small house not far from the levees. Suddenly, a natural disaster hit and their lives were forever changed.

In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina passed over New Orleans; floods broke the antiquated levees, which were meant to protect the city from disaster. Houses, stores, and the streets were flooded and the city was in a state of disarray. When the storm hit, Ms. Pat was at work while her mother and grand daughter stood on the roof of their flooded home, crying for help. Though the two were rescued by passing helicopters, their house was ruined and they were forced to move away from New Orleans. Ms. Pat, who needed her job as a source of income, continued to work at the hotel and lived alone in a cramped apartment. She had hired two contractors to help repair the damage, both of whom did nothing to fix her home, scammed her, and ran away with a total of $100,000. When we were told we were going to meet this woman we had learned so much about, whose story had inspired our hard work, my friends and I could not wait.

I can clearly remember the day that I met Ms. Pat. A large woman wearing a white uniform walked into the dining room of the fancy hotel where I waited in anticipation. When she saw the thirty wide-eyed teenagers waiting for her, she laughed and introduced herself by pointing to her name tag which read “Patty Cakes.” She looked at me and my peers, eyes bulging with excitement, and with a simple smile said, “Thank you my babies, you are my angels.” We gathered around Ms. Pat, asked her questions about her life, and told her how much fun we were having working on her house.

After the encounter, I was overwhelmed. Having the chance to understand the direct effect I had upon this one woman’s life was rewarding because to me, the ultimate purpose of participating in service is to improve another person’s life. If I had just traveled to New Orleans, contributed to the rebuilding a house, and returned home without gaining an understanding of the person I was helping, I would have felt good about the service I completed. Yet, the fact that I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Ms. Pat made me feel even more passionate and positive about what I was able to contribute to her family.

Those still living in New Orleans miss their city. After the disaster that was a direct result of the wrath of Hurricane Katrina, the people deserve the chance to move forward in their lives. Recently, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been another road block when it comes to the success of such growth. All I can hope is that through future effort, such disaster can be halted, the subsequent devastation eventually healed. When I return to New Orleans this summer to do more service, I will continue to listen to the stories of those that I am helping and those who are in need of help. It was and will continue to be rewarding for me to not only rebuild a person’s home, and maybe even shoreline, but to see and understand how doing so helps to rebuild a person’s life.





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writingchick This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 21, 2010 at 6:52 pm
Well written (: good work
 
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