Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Blown Away

One of the themes President George W. Bush’s State of the Union message Tuesday night was the need to act in a “spirit of goodwill towards one another.” Did you notice how that phrase resurfaced again and again?

President Bush said, “We are measured by who we are, how we treat one another,” and he called for a “Revolution of Conscience” in which a life lived with personal responsibility is a life lived with fulfillment.

That was in part his acknowledgment of how the government had mis-served the storm victims on the Gulf Coast…But even in America's darkest moments can be found postitive stories that should provoke and inspire us. I found one of those this week--a wonderful perspective I want to share with you here.

Dennis Germenis has been a friend of mine since Junior High, and recently e-mailed to me a series of photos taken of a group of Texas A&M Students (whoop!) who decided to put their “winter break” time to good use, helping out in New Orleans.

This shatters the mold of the typical college student on break, and these photos are going to blow away the typical image of the rowdy and rebellious undergrad on break in sunny, southern climes.

Dennis is an independent insurance agent in College Station, Texas, but is also quite an accomplished musician. Through his service as Associate Music Minister at the First Baptist Church of College Station, he accompanied a group to New Orleans to lend a helping hand. The Expressions College Ministry has a website chronicling their trip.

Dennis’ first e-mail to me simply said, “I walked around this neighborhood in New Orleans recently…” and a subsequent e-mail described the trip as doing “some volunteer hurricane clean up work,” which may be as understated as calling Katrina a “heavy rain and high tide.” The photo he sent was just dumbfounding.

Dennis joined me on the show today, and shared a few anecdotes about the week and the accomplishments of his group. Since he does not have a blog, I told him I wanted to share his story with you on mine…to which he agreed…and I’ll let his words provide the narrative from this point.

We saw thousands of homes that looked like this. The house was 1/2 way underwater, it's empty, without power, and unoccupied. There usually weren't even working traffic lights in the neighborhoods. At night, the entire neighborhood was dark, with an occasional street light. And, there weren't any people!

Most of the week was spent gutting houses. We would take everything out of the flooded house, and put it at the curb. Then we removed the floor (usually carpet or linoleum), the baseboards, door frames, doors, sheet rock, insulation and ceiling. The only thing we would leave is the studs and the exterior wall. At the end of the day, we would have a pile at the street almost as big as the house. Then the city would come by and pick it up with bulldozers and dump trucks.

This was the most dangerous job we did all week. The wind had blown over 2, 35 year old pine trees onto a garage. The garage was leaning. I really thought we were going to have trouble finishing this job. We saved the homeowner about $5,000.00 doing this job by removing the 2 trees.

I accused Dennis of not actually having gone on this adventure, since he is in none of the far. You'll see him in a minute.

Remember the phrase President Bush repeated over and over in his Union Address about "acting in a spirit of goodwill toward one another?" That spirit is alive and well in the people that went to New Orleans to help...and in the hearts of the people being helped. As Dennis describes this scene...

"The best dinner during the week was not at a restaurant. It was at James and Linda Mason's (couple in front row) house in New Orleans. We met the Mason's at church. They were visiting First Baptist New Orleans just as we were. They weren't even members of the church. They invited all of us over to their home for dinner - we were complete strangers! James cooked a huge pot of Jambalaya and salad. It was so good! James and I had fun listening to his record collection. He even gave me an album. Coincidentally, they lived next door to the house where we removed the 2 pine trees!

And here is proof positive how Dennis Germenis spent his "winter break," 2006. He wrote, "At one point, I had about a tablespoon of sweat in my googles. It would slosh from side to side when I walked."

There is a final, haunting photo from Dennis' travels to New Orleans that really expressed the scale of destruction, and demonstrated the awesome nature of Nature that was unleashed at New Orleans. It wasn't the shot of thousands of blue tarps marking the roofs of damaged houses, dotting the landscape for as far as his camera could see, nor even an image of an upended car resting between two ruined houses. The image that says "Katrina Hits New Orleans" is that of a large, flat barge dwarfing structures near the levee it breached during the storm. Dennis described it simply as the "barge [that] was responsible for breaking one of the levee's."

There are thousands of ways to pupt into practice the principles in the President's address. Thousands of people just like Dennis Germenis and the participants in this trip are but one example. It really shouldn't take a Category Five Storm to motivate us...hopefully these photos help. And if you'd like to help, they could use you. Here's the contact in New Orleans Dennis passed along to me...and I promised I'd pass along to you:

First Baptist Church, New Orleans Contact person: Travis Scruggs @ (504)994-9208

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