Tag Archives: volunteerism

AmeriCorps NCCC: Cowpies in Cameron Parish

AmeriCorps NCCC

It was hard to imagine a home once stood on the empty concrete slab I stared at. The crumble of bricks, the remnants of tiles were the only reminders that lives once unfolded on this patch of earth surrounded by oak trees and knee-high grass. But I’d become immune to this scene; I’d seen enough destruction in the last few months that I wasn’t fazed anymore. I’d seen homes sagging like wet cardboard, entire houses tossed into swamps, houses where people had drowned in their attics in floods.

Fresh off two months of building homes in Katrina-damaged New Orleans, my eleven AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) team mates and I were well-equipped to handle the destruction of Cameron Parish. Hurricane Rita, which came ashore just a month after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, flattened this place as if it were all made out of Legos. Since then, groups of church volunteers and college spring breakers and AmeriCorps teams have come to rebuild.

Read the rest of the story on The Voluntary Traveler website.

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Up to my elbows

Here are some photos I took while working out in the marshes around Barataria Bay, Louisiana. I had no idea we were actually going to get IN the water, as one of the volunteer coordinators demonstrates below. Read more about this experience on the Matador Change blog here.

An old fishing boat at the dock we left from.

These “terraces” were dredged to make levees on which to plant tufts of marsh grass.

The small clumps of grass will grow quickly into large bunches and replace the marsh that has eroded and died off.

Shrimp boats siting idle–not sure if that’s due to the spill or not.

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Rebuilding the marshes five years after Katrina

The boat sped through the marshes, past a BP staging area of trailers and mobile homes set up on the water’s edge near a busy dock. Fishing boats with outstretched arms of nets sit idle, though I can’t tell if this is due to the spill. In the distance, column of thunderheads gathers, dark as crude.

Up until today, most of my hurricane-related volunteer work in Louisiana has centered on houses. I’ve gutted, restored, and rebuilt, but what good is that if those rebuilt neighborhoods are left exposed to future storms?

Louisiana loses a football field of wetland every 38 minutes, thanks in part to channels cut for oil drilling. These natural barriers have historically helped slow down the wave action churned by big storms that move through in late summer, but they’re disappearing fast.

Read the rest of this story online at Matador Network’s Change blog

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Sample chapter

I think Chapter 1 is ready to make an appearance.

Click here to read it, and feel free to offer your comments and (constructive) criticism.

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Does your travel writing matter?

There’s a great post today on The Traveler’s Notebook at Matador by Joshywashington that questions what purpose–if any–travel writing serves, especially if you’re simply writing a destination piece without any sort of larger meaning behind it.

I had a revelatory moment once, about two years ago, when I volunteered with KaBOOM!, a non profit that gathers hundreds of volunteers to build a playground in one day. We were building this playground in New Orleans East just two years after Katrina had rendered that part of the city a ghost town. I wondered if spending a whole day building a playground was really a good use of my time when I could be building a house instead.

Playgrounds don’t meet the same basic needs for a person (or a family) that a home does. But playing is so central, so critical to one’s childhood that facilitating that takes on a larger importance, and in that devastated neighborhood, a brightly colored playground takes on a greater meaning.

That’s a long answer to a short question, but building that playground helped me understand the importance of recreation, of play time, for the good life.

Providing entertainment or escape for readers makes a writer relevant, although maybe not the more obvious sense that a more hard-hitting, eye-opening piece does. Travel writers crafting stories about their vacations are certainly not going to crumble anyone’s worldview, but we all need a venue for stepping out of our minds and our daily lives, and art–in its many forms–helps us do that. In that sense, travel writing contributes to an essential service.

I don’t harbor any grand illusions about the redemptive power of my writing. I’m not sure that writing about desserts in New Orleans is going to take away the stresses of someone’s work day, for example. But sometimes I have to write for myself, for my own sanity, because it’s what I love and I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. We all know how draining it can be to be around someone who’s unhappy, so in some tangential way my happiness serves or contributes to the greater good. Right?

When I was reading this post I noticed one of my articles found its way to the four featured posts at the top of every page on Matador’s website. I don’t think that’s happened before, so I was excited:

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Book excerpt posted on Matador

I worked an excerpt from my book into a piece for Matador’s travel writing blog The Traveler’s Notebook. You can read it here.

Gold 5 in front of a building we gutted in Cameron, LA.

Gold 5 in front of a building we gutted in Cameron, LA.

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