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Birthplace: Seoul, Korea
Time in New Orleans at time of interview: N/A
New Orleans Post-Katrina Work: Americorps volunteer
New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) Oral History Project
Interviewee: Daniel Maiuri
Interview date: November, 8, 2009
Interviewers and transcribers:
Daniel Maiuri arrived in New Orleans in September 2009 to begin work as a volunteer for Rebuilding Together. Prior to his arrival, Maiuri worked for an art gallery in New York City, but the onset of the recession and the subsequent loss of his job provided the impetus for his application to the AmeriCorps program. Soon after, Maiuri began to work in New Orleans. At the time of this interview, Maiuri had been living and working in the city for about two months. The content of his interview offers a sense of the various ways in which Maiuri conceptualized the nature of his experiences in New Orleans.
For instance, Maiuri places his work in New Orleans within the broader context of his previous voluntarism. He cites early volunteer activities, his later work with gay and lesbian organizations, and a year spent volunteering for a child advocacy organization in South Africa as particularly important experiences. Furthermore, Maiuri discusses the manner in which his past volunteer work provided valuable lessons in terms of maintaining a sense of perspective and recognizing the limitations involved in relief work.
In his current capacity as a marketing and information officer for Rebuilding Together New Orleans, Maiuri offers valuable insight into the work conducted by the organization. He speaks at length about the particular demographic (the disabled, elderly, and single-guardian households) with whom Rebuilding Together focuses its efforts. Maiuri describes the relationships that form between the organization’s workers and their clients, and he also explains the types of relationships that exist between Rebuilding Together and other local, state, and federal government programs. Ultimately, Maiuri expresses optimism regarding the abilities of Rebuilding Together and other organizations to successfully meet the challenges involved in reconstructing New Orleans.
Interview Editing Rationale
In an effort to both preserve the individualized nature of the participants’ speech, the transcribers retained a significant amount of verbal tics (for instance, “um,” “uh,” “kinda,” “sorta,” and “ya know”). However, the transcribers also remained aware of the importance of readability and occasionally chose not to transcribe extended instances of stuttering, swallowed words, and verbal tics. Pauses in conversation are noted by the use of dashes (—) and/or three consecutive periods (…). Dashes are also employed in place of periods at points in the interview when the interviewer utters brief words of encouragement and/or agreement in the midst of an interviewee monologue. Stuttering is occasionally rendered in the transcript, and these words appear separated by single dashes (for example, “to-to-to”), and incidents of unintelligible remarks are explicitly noted in brackets.
Interview Time Log
0-5 minutes: Introduction, brief overview of project, college life at the University of California-Irvine around August-September 2005, impressions of immediate aftermath of Katrina
5-10 minutes: Impressions of immediate aftermath of Katrina, volunteer experience in South Africa, decision to move from New York to work in New Orleans, the reaction of family and friends to decision to move/work in New Orleans, early volunteer work, work in gay and lesbian organizations, broadening of worldview after volunteering in South Africa, expectations of New Orleans prior to moving there
10-15 minutes: Expectations of New Orleans prior to moving there, first impressions upon arriving in the city, gradual realization of extent of damage, Rebuilding Together training program, comparison between previous volunteer experience and current volunteer work in New Orleans, typical day on the job
15-20 minutes: Typical day on the job, interaction with Rebuilding Together clients, marketing for the organization, the process of closing a house, gathering feedback from clients, typical clients with whom Rebuilding Together works, the ways in which Rebuilding Together works with local/state/federal government organizations
20-25 minutes: Relationships between Rebuilding Together and other organizations, efforts at architectural preservation in rebuilt houses, the types of people who generally volunteer in New Orleans
25-30 minutes: Volunteer activities in the field, donation and reuse of building materials, media reception of work accomplished, difficulties in raising awareness of the continued need for volunteers, strategies for bringing in new volunteers
30-35 minutes: Importance of bringing in volunteers, impact of the upcoming five-year anniversary of Katrina, incidents of return volunteers, the effect of the lagging economy on donations to Rebuilding Together, examples of inspiring stories about homeowners, process of personalizing stories for use in marketing
35-40 minutes: Connecting volunteers with personalized homeowner stories, volunteering in free time at Project Lazarus, aspects of living in Fourette neighborhood, encountering other AmericCorps volunteers in New Orleans
40-45 minutes: Break
45-50 minutes: Ways in which volunteering in South Africa offered good preparation for volunteering in New Orleans, describing potentially difficult situations when working with Rebuilding Together clientele, forming relationships with homeowners, organizational turnover
50-55 minutes: Reasons for high organizational turnover, sense of relative safety while living/working in New Orleans, personal reflections regarding the role of government in disaster situations, discussion of future direction of Rebuilding Together
55-60 minutes: Discussion of future direction of Rebuilding Together, instituting new programs, reasons for the organization’s success, the reaction of family/friends to decision to live and work in New Orleans, motivation for volunteering for the interview, commentary regarding unique qualities of New Orleans and its residents
60-65 minutes: Significance of long-term property ownership in New Orleans, tendency among city residents to form lasting ties to communities, ways in which volunteering at Project Lazarus impacts work at Rebuilding Together, discussion of relative optimism among volunteers regarding the efficacy of their work
65-69 minutes: Willingness of volunteers and citizens to work within institutional systems to affect change, future plans, voicing happiness in decision to move to and volunteer in New Orleans, thank-yous and goodbyes
Megan Stout: Hi Daniel, this is Megan again.
Daniel Maiuri: Hi.
MS: Um before we get started um I just wanted to uh ask if you had any questions about what we're doing or what the project is about?
DM: Um sure, yeah I mean if you just can give me like a quick overview. I-I signed up for this like a month and a half or so ago and I don't one hundred percent remember exactly all the details.
MS: Okay right, so um so Devin and I uh we're just going to take you through an interview about your experiences um volunteering in New Orleans. And this interview is part of a larger project um that Dr. Manning is doing about volunteers in New Orleans. Um. It's a project that's sort of um going to last several years um and he's interested in documenting aspects um of volunteer um volunteer- volunteer's work in New Orleans after Katrina. Um ultimately he hopes to write a book and construct a website um that catalogues all these interviews and photos and that sort of thing um that he's gathered about um post-Katrina New Orleans. So...that's just a-a broad overview of it, if you have any more specific questions, please do ask.
DM: All right, all right. Um I-I think I'm good. I-I have a general idea of what's-what's going on and I was given the interview questions, so.
Devin Hunter: Okay.
MS: Okay, great. Um. I'm gonna go ahead and turn it over to Devin, he's gonna be asking most of the questions um, so I guess--Devin (laughter).
DH: Yeah, uh can you hear me all right, Daniel?
DM: Yeah, I can hear you fine.
DH: Okay good. Um we-do you want to maybe take a break about half-hour, forty minutes in? Uh, it's — you know maybe like a five-minute break um just to regroup-
DH: If you want. If not, we can just keep going, but.
DM: Um, well we'll-we'll see how-how it's going (laughs).
DH: Okay. All right. Um All right, well I'd like to just jump into things and have you tell us where you were in back in August and September of 2005 when the hurricane hit New Orleans.
DM: Okay. Um well I'm originally from California, uh I grew up in L.A.
DM: Um and I was- I was in college at that point, I was a junior um and I was going to the University of California-Irvine, in uh Orange County, in California. Um actually, I actually I hadn't started school yet uh I think I was just working uh for the summer, um and to be completely honest I, ya know — I had an idea ya know vaguely what was going on, ya know, I saw it on the news and, and things like that, but at that point in my life I think I was really, ya know I was still in college and that was kinda the mentality I had. And I've always lived on the west coast and um, ya know I kind of grew up with earth-earthquakes and fires and things like that and, and I guess I just didn't really have a concept of what being in a hurricane is like or-or how ya know, or how damaging ya know a hurricane can be.
DM: So, um yeah at that point uh I knew it was going on um but ya know I wasn't really doing anything too involved. I just, I remember I got an email um from my university that said, ya know, we'd be taking on some students uh who were displaced by the hurricane, things like that, but for the most part I — ya know, it wasn't really on my radar. Uh, ya know as something like hey, ya know, I want to really get involved with this and um and this is ya know, um something that — that I want to be a part of.
DH: Okay. Um, do you remember anything about the coverage of-of the hurricane or the ya know the subsequent flooding, and-and uh ya know relief efforts, do you remember ya know, watching the news or anything that really stuck out uh or anything-?
DM: Yeah. I uh-I mean, it was it was just definitely really shocking. I think uh, ya know at that point just to to see that this was something that was happening in in the U.S I think it's not something that um, ya know, especially like I said before, ya know having been on the west coast and not really understanding that idea of, ya know of of flooding or, ya know, that this a city that's below sea level and that ya know there's all these problems.
DM: And I think the the big thing that I got out of it, maybe not so much the uh the hurricane and and all that, was just this kind of like the social aspect of it I guess I-I think that the hurricane really highlighted the um inequalities and uh and uh...um like-like the poverty and things like that.
DM: That obviously I'm aware of but it-it wasn't fully ya know-we saw on the screen how much-how much it really affected these people's lives, um.
DH: Okay. When did you decide to-to volunteer? What-take us through that that process of realizing um when-what you wanted to do, um, again was there something specific that made you say ‘I need to get down there and help’?
DM: Yeah, uh well it-it kind of all started um about two years ago I uh- ya know and this is after I graduated from college um I went and spent a year in South Africa, um, and I was volunteering in South Africa uh and I spent a year there as far as kinda doing research uh for a non-profit that was representing children in court. And um just kinda meeting some of the young people who where working there as well, it really got my mind starting to think about ya know, there's so many problems in the world, there's so many things wrong I want to help, and I want to do all these things. And um after I came back I was kinda thinking to myself um, ya know what, there's so many things within the U.S uh that I can do I know it's kinda like uh, just kinda, I don't know the right word, but it's kinda like sexy to say hey, ya know I went over-
DM: Africa to help these people or I went to ya know some other country. I have a lot of friends who've gone to South America to help and I think that's all good but um I think sometimes we lose sight of the problems that we have here at home. Um and so I was living in New York and um, it was partly that ya know the recession hit and I was kinda looking for things to do.
DM: And uh I think it was uh I just saw something on-on CNN about um like Anderson Cooper was talking about ya know revisiting Katrina and not forgetting about what was going on and um I had a couple of friends who had gone to Tulane, so ya know I-I kinda - it kinda came to mind that ya know maybe this is something that the public has, has just kind of left their-their-their um—I don’t know—left their train of thought or kinda-
DM: Left kinda, their radar. Um and they still need people down there, so I figured ya know it's a neat place, I had never been to New Orleans before.
DM: Um, and I thought ya know I can use my ya know, my talents and to come down here and-and hopefully help out a little bit.
DH: Okay. Um what did your-your family and friends think of your decision to-to go down to New Orleans?
DM: Um [laughs] well my friends all want to come and visit.
DH: I bet [laughs].
DM: Since I moved down here. Um and my-my family's been very supportive, uh I think um ya know, I-I've always kind of had ya know a side passion for service ya know I like to volunteer and um I don't think too many people were surprised that I decided, ya know what, I'm going to make this kind of a cause or possibly a career um so it's kind of what it's become. I mean, I don't know how much you know about my background, but um-
DH: Not much.
DM: --I'm in the AmeriCorps program right now.
DM: So I'm pretty much this year is just a, ya know a year of service. This is kinda my full-time-
DM: Um job.
DH: Where do you think that your um, your personal interest and service and volunteering, where do you think that comes from? From your-your parents or...?
DM: Um yeah, I-I I guess part of it would-would come from my parents. Um I was raised uh ya know, very religious uh, I'm not too much anymore but I-I definitely think that instilled a lot in me about um ya know, giving back to the community and-and kind of being um, having a service part and um helping other people. And I think it originally started by like kinda the ways that I volunteered and served before were-were very personal things for me, they were things that I felt like directly affected my life.
DM: So I definitely, so ya know the volunteer work that I originally started doing was a lot with like um gay and lesbian organizations and organizations that were working with AIDS, because I felt like that-
DM: --Ya know, directly influenced me. Um, and then I kind of got this- a broader world view, um partly ya know from living abroad just the idea that um ya know the human condition is-is-is just kinda everybody, so um the things that I don't think really affect me, do affect me and I think I've learned a lot about that just being down here. About how um the-the conditions that we're all in and the things that we can do um, are things that affect ya know, me and other people they're all connected, um and you can't really segregate the-the different aspects of it.
DH: Yeah. What did you expect to-to see um in New Orleans before-before you got down there? What were your expectations?
DM: Um...ya know I didn't have a lot of expectations, like I said before, I-I'd never actually been here before.
DM: Um and I had- I had a couple friends who ya know, who'd been down here, and a couple friends who went to school here. But um ya know I kinda came down here ya know, a lot for the experience too ya know, I wanted to try something new, and um-
DM: Yeah, so I-I didn't have a lot of expectations um coming down here. I mean I, ya know from what I'd seen on the news ya know, I expected to see ya know, houses that were still, still needed to be repaired.
DM: And um things like that. But um, for the most part, ya know I didn't come down here thinking that ya know, the-there's going to be a lot of progress or there wasn't going to be a lot of progress or anything like that.
DH: Right. Okay so when did you uh, when did you get down there, you said about two years ago, so..?
DM: Oh, well I got-I got to New Orleans actually only about two months ago.
DH: Oh, two months ago, sorry. Okay.
DM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Two months ago.
DH: Okay. So what were your, your first impressions once you got down there?
DM: Um well it was actually kind of interesting, because there were little kind of gradual realizations for me.
DM: Uh, when I first got down here I was staying in a hostel like right near the French Quarter um and it ya know, as a lot of people know the French Quarter wasn't hit-
DM: --all that hard and and ya know obviously it's about four years out. So um, I kinda thought to myself, like ok ya know, I can kinda see that there's ya know there's some damage here and there and that there's some fixing up. But ya know kinda in my head I didn't really think- like maybe it's not as bad or maybe or it's maybe it's come a really long way, um--
DM: --um, since the hurricane um and I think my real first realization that things are kind of a mix was uh ya know, just kinda driving around, uh I kept getting lost because I realized that um so many of the street signs haven't been put back up--
DM: --since the hurricane. Um and it's-it's just a little thing like that that kinda made me realize um that's not something that I would ever think about but it's something that's so um ya know ingrained in us, we think like ya know when I'm looking for directions I look for this street, but they still haven't gotten to putting up street signs. And that's-that's ya know, city-wide, that's Orleans Parish um--
DM: --ya know, it's not just the Ninth Ward or the areas that were hit the hardest, I mean like I live in Uptown near Tulane and there's still signs that haven't been put back up yet.
DM: Um, and then when I actually started working for the organization that I'm working for, um which is Rebuilding Together New Orleans, um that's when I got a went- ya know when I went down and saw the different neighborhoods ya know, and-and Saint [unintelligible ]and Gentilly, and ya know, and the Ninth Ward and Holy Cross um or I'd ya know, just see whole city blocks were still vacant ya know the houses were just sitting there and there was nobody living in them um, and things like that. So, that's sort of like a kind of a gradual progression for realizing that, ya know what there is a lot of um still that needs to be done--
DM: --and ya just kinda have to be around a little bit to see it.
DH: Mmkay. So with Rebuilding Together, was there a training period, um are you still training or how has that been so far?
DM: Yeah, there was this training period we had about two weeks of training, um so we had a-uh a week uh in our office um ‘cause I-I work in the office--
DM: --I do things like public relations and information work. Um, and then we did a week uh in New Mexico where it was more like AmeriCorps training. Um but during that training we learned ya know, all the institutional stuff about the organization and the work that they're doing, what we would be doing, and we also got an opportunity to go out in the field, um and work with um this one on actual houses, so we actually ya know got to do like um ya know painting, construction, and things like that.
DH: Mmkay. How- so far, how different has this been from your-your previous um volunteer, service experience as far as just to ya know, what you're doing from day to day? Is there real adjustment?
DM: Um…It’s-um I mean I think the biggest thing is just that it's-it really is full-time.
DM: I think um it's ya know-I ya know I work forty hours a week um just like a normal job. Um--ya know and-and while I've worked a lot for non-profits before, uh it's never been this kind of like direct service. Um and it's also kinda living where ya know, where we work and where the need is, is also-
DM: --really interesting as well. It's um, I start to noticing things, ya know we have to learn a lot about like ya know different types of like house-types and architecture and things like that and just uh kinda noticing ya know, just driving down the street ya know I can point out ya know, that's a double shotgun, that's a Creole cottage, that ya know, they've got um damages to the bays, or things like that. Um, so it's sometimes can be hard to leave work just because you're surrounded by all the stuff you need to do.
DM: Um…and stuff has kinda been interesting, it definitely uh ya know part of the AmeriCorps process they say is it's a twenty-four/seven uh job, and it really is. Like it's I feel ya know we even when we're just out in the community and hanging out and talking to people um ya know, I'm constantly explaining ya know what we're doing and um ya know, how can they can see connections and try to make uh ya know, help the organization out by ya know even by finding you uh clientele, people who need their houses rebuilt or making outside connections to whatever they need for donations or um community support and things like that.
DH: Okay. Take us through a-a-a typical workday for yourself if-if there is such a thing.
DM: Um it-it kind of fluctuates. Um my main focus, like I said before um I'm a public relations and information officer--
DM: --so my main focuses are um, kinda all of our online marketing so I do like website, newsletter, um and then I also do um like special events, so I'll go ya know to sit in on meetings that where they needed an RT representative or a um a or things like that to explain what we're uh what Rebuilding Together is doing, um and I also manage all of our statistics. So the average day for me would be um, ya know um is-is getting um all the information from our field um so, let's say we're closing a house um that day so it's my job to do sorta, sorta like exit interviews.
DM: That basically we go and we-we ask them all questions about like ya know, how the process went and um and how things worked for them. We usually video record it um so that we can send it to volunteers later on so that they ya know, kinda see the end of the work that they did. Uh, recently it's been a lot of kinda website work, so ya know I just kinda sit in an office and do a bunch of coding. And then every once in a while ya know, I do go out to a sites. Uh we do like photographing things for ya know, whatever marketing materials um and then I also do sort of all the local media coverage. Um so just recently we-we had a segment on kinda public access and community matters uh segment, and they did a ya know half-hour feature on us and so my responsibilities were kinda to coordinate all that, writing the script, making sure everybody had the right questions, and things like that.
DH: Okay. You mentioned, um one of things you do is-is uh closing a house. Can-can you explain what that is?
DM: Um basically what that is-I don't actually do the paperwork, we have what's called um community outreach officer, and they're the ones who usually, they usually find the homeowner um, they go through all the paperwork ya know, they help them sign everything to get um funding ya know, whether it's from um private funders or bringing in government money or sometimes they even use their own personal money, they just want to use um an organization that they trust. Uh, so they set up all that so ya know, they-they built the house or they ya know, do the rebuild or whatever they need to do um, and at the end of that when we're kind of signing everything off and saying we completed the work, with all that's going on, that's when I come in. Um and I ya know, we-we're just trying to get some feedback on-on what we can do better, how we ya know, how we helped them, if-if they have experiences they saw that they liked, that they didn't like.
DM: And then as far as the marketing side of it, so for future reference we go and ya know, if the majority of the homeowners ya know didn't like the construction managers we used, or the professional services we used, or something like that.
DM: Definitely we get engaged with those kinda things.
DH: Okay. What-what type of feedback do you get? Has it been-are there problems that come up fairly consistently?
DM: Um...naw, I mean I can't speak to too much 'cause like I said I've only been there for two months.
DM: For the most part we get really good feedback. Um, the way our organization works um, Rebuilding Together, is a lot of times we're sort of the last um option for a lot of people. We work specifically um in seven neighborhoods and we only work with elderly, disabled, first responders, and then um single-guardian households.
DM: So a lot of these people are on fixed incomes um, a lot of them are either ya know, collecting social security, or those that are on welfare, or things like that.
DM: And they've either ya know a lot of them didn't have insurance before the storm so they're ya know, very reliant on FEMA and Road Home funds, and things like that. And a lot of times they just didn't receive enough ya know-
DM: --the scope of the damage was so great um that ya know, it just-ya know, the seventy-five, eighty thousand dollars they got just wasn't enough to ya know, do all the work they needed, and so. A lot- the majority of I would say of the people that we work with uh are people who just say ya know, they can't get loans, they ya know they don't have the kind of incomes that can make the necessary repairs to live and ya know to kinda in a safe environment and so um, that's where ya know, that's where we come in.
DM: To-to help them out, uh with that.
DH: Okay. What-what are some of the specific relations you've had with other um, other private relief organizations or-or even um on the federal or state level?
DM: Um, well with other organizations, uh I mean obviously we all work really collaboratively um, although the kinda rebuilding organizations, um in the area um we all of specialize a little bit.
DM: Um in that ya know that - partly it's just so ya know, we're not stepping on peoples' toes. Um but like I said ya know we focus on elderly, disabled, um first responders-
DM: --and-and single-guardian families. Um, we are both the largest rebuilding organization in Orleans parish but there's also um, for example there's the St. Bernard Project which is in St. Bernard parish, and they're really big there, um and they do kinda their thing there. So ya know we-we share resources, ya know we tell 'em like like hey, use these construction managers, or we use this ya know, tiling company or whatever, um we share that kinda information. Um on the state and government levels, um Rebuilding Together New Orleans is actually an affiliate of Rebuilding Together National--
DM: --which has two hundred affiliates across the country, so we definitely use their resources as well. They send a lot of people - a lot of the volunteers that we get that are not from Louisiana, um are sent to us through them. Um ya know, people will contact them, their office is in D.C and uh say ya know, we want to get involved, we want to help, ya know where do you guys need the most help? And a lot of times ya know they'll - they'll funnel them to us because we do really have such a large, um need. Um.
DM: And then I don't know-did you also ask like uh like government-specific questions?
DH: Right, yeah, is-is there ya know, as far as working with the state of Louisiana or the city or even federal agencies?
DM: Yeah, we actually work pretty closely with uh ya know, kinda all local state and-and national government. Uh, we have a couple of relationships like Louisiana Land Trust and FEMA Um, for example uh Rebuilding Together um we have what's called a deconstruction program. And basically what that is, is they've created a partnership with Louisiana Land Trust which purchased about, I believe, it's about ten thousand um like [unintelligible] and homes, homes that basically weren't going to be repaired that people um just basically sold um, because they didn't want to move back. Um, and what we're doing is we're going in and we're salvaging items from those homes--
DM: --so we're taking um ya know doors, windows, um fixtures, uh anything that we think we can reuse, um, so partly - part of the reason why we're doing that is because uh ya know we're trying to be green, we don't want to put all this stuff in the landfills--
DM: --and the other side of that is we want to kinda maintain the uh, the New Orleans kinda feel ya know, New Orleans has it’s own, sort of um uh ya know architectural style.
DM: And-and different influences. And right after the storm when a lot of the damage was done a lot of contractors and construction workers from other states and other areas came and they took a lot of those things out. So part of that project is to keep um all those things central and like I said we're doing that with the Louisiana Land Trust.
DM: Um and then also with FEMA as well ya know, we do a lot of partnerships with them, we-we do work with them um, maybe not as much as we do with Louisiana Land Trust but um we ya know, we get some of our funding from them, we do have a relationship with them because all of our homeowners – well, the majority of our homeowners - they get some sort of FEMA funding--
DM: --and so we have to work with FEMA to ya know, verify funds and things like that, and then they send us the reports on um on anything that they do to give us a better understanding of what’s going on in ya know, in-in the parish.
DH: Okay. So as far as the-the architectural concerns, is that where- that's where Louisiana Land Trust mainly comes in, do they have their-their preservationists and architects or historians that they use?
DM: They're-they're not so much as - they're, what they basically came into do was to tear down these houses and um, and basically ya know either rebuild or sell them and things like that--
DM: Um we jumped in, um because we saw this need to preserve and for preservation.
DM: So we saw this need that hey, if all these houses, if ten thousand houses - and I think that's the number if uh ya know, I might be a little bit off. But um, we saw the need, that hey we need to-ya know, whatever we can save let's try to save it um, because ya know we can't obviously recreate a lot of-a lot of these works. Um and-and then kinda there's this history, so I-I wouldn't say that Louisiana Land Trust is necessarily focused on preservation--
DM: --but they definitely recognized that there was a need for it and that they didn't have the capacity to fill that need.
DM: That's when we came in.
DH: Okay. So is Rebuilding Together, do they do a lot of-of research on their own to-or is it just a just a general feel for-for preservation?
DM: Um we-we actually uh work out of the preservation resource center, which is um uh, I don't know, it's an organization in-in New Orleans that has been doing preservation for years.
DM: So we do take a lot of their kinda work that they do um, as well.
DM: Um and ya know, we also work with other um other organizations as well, so we don’t actually do as much uh, of our own research.
DM: We are trying to build up kinda our advocacy program--
DM: --but uh it's not quite where we would like to see it.
DH: Umm…What can you tell me about the uh-the rest of the volunteers that you work closely with at Rebuilding Together? Are they mainly temporary volunteers, college aged students?
DM: Um, it’s a huge—huge kinda swath. Uh-We’ve got uh—I’m not sure of the exact numbers—but we’ve got about 15 AmeriCorps working, who work in the office. Um then we have about another 20 or so that work out in the field.
DM: And we’re all fulltime. Ya know so we work 40 hours a week. Um ya know we work on houses, ya know or we do the admin stuff, and things like that. Or write grants and whatnot. Um and then throughout the year we get different groups that come in. Um and that age range is just kinda all over the board. Um the office and field volunteers, ya know we kinda all tend to be a little bit younger, ya know usually in our twenties.
DM: Uh there’s a couple of people that are little bit older than that. Uh and then like I said, our volunteers kinda are all across the board. We get a lot of spring break kids.
DM: Um like alternate spring break, so you know that’s college aged, things like that. Uh we get a lot of um corporations that-that come in. So ya know, things like Chevron, Shell, Starbucks, and whatnot. So, that’s different ages. Then we also get um like the AARP, or MALTA ya know which tend to be a little bit older um demographic, as well.
DH: So what do they do out in the field?
DM: Um. Well our office—well our full time office volunteers out in the field, um they do—the majority of them are what we call House Captains.
DM: They basically volunteers who are—are trained um and ya know—everything we need to do on the houses, whether it be ya know like laying tile, installing fixtures--
DM: --or um ya know painting, scraping, all that kinda stuff. Um and then they go and basically lead all the volunteers that we assign to a house. So when a volunteer wants to uh come down to New Orleans and uh, ya know whether it’s as an individual or as a group, uh we assign them to a house and then that house also gets a House Captain. And that House Captain basically makes sure that everyone there knows the proper way to paint, ya know so they’re not ya know cutting things inapprop—ya know--
DM: --the right specifications, or making sure that—ya know safety, um requirements and everything are being fulfilled. Um and then we have a couple others who-who work uh in the field to do like uh—like I said our deconstruction side. Um so they basically just go and tear down houses and um save whatever we can. Um and then we have a couple more that do kinda random salvage um—salvage efforts and things like that.
DH: Okay. Where uh, where do you get most of the materials for-for the rebuilding projects? Are they donated?
DM: Um a lot-a lot are donated. Um we also, ya know we do have to buy things, as well. Um but, kinda part of our deconstruction stream is that a lot of the stuff that we’re saving we reuse.
DM: So um, a lot of the things that uh—that we take from these houses ya know, that like the Louisiana Land Trust houses—um we’re able to reuse. So ya know, doors, uh, wood, uh ya know we recycle a lot of wood and the things that ya know, we feel we can um reuse, we do.
DM: Um so, I would say it’s probably—a majority is-is donations. Um and then we do buy, obviously um, ya know a lot of materials as well and then kinda that last component is the reused, um salvaged materials.
DH: Okay, okay. How’s the-how’s the reception been, um for your work? You mentioned that you’re—since you’re in public relations um, how’s the media react to it?
DM: Um, it’s been great, I think. Uh…ya know, kinda public uh perception is obviously ya know still really good. I think we ya know get volunteers all the time who say they working on a house and somebody’s driving by and says ya know, ‘Thank you so much for coming here and helping us,’ um and things like that. Um so I think locally, uh it’s not hard to kinda keep a good image. I mean, I think everybody here who, ya know, who spends ya know even a small amount of time here can recognize there’s still a lot to be done, um--
DM: --and that’s, ya know, that’s good. Um, the hard part for us um, especially from a kinda marketing um standpoint in getting volunteers, is that we are four years out from the storm. And I think a lot of people don’t realize how much still needs to be done, and how much need there still is.
DM: Um I mean, a lot has been accomplished ya know, and a lot of people have been able to come back. But, there’s still so much work to do and I think it’s just become—it’s not, like—we’re not the ya know, the hot charity any more. We’re not the, ya know the big group that everybody wants to be a part of.
DM: Or I think New Orleans a lot of times falls off peoples’ radar.
DM: Um because they feel ya know, four years out—ya know almost five years out, um we should have everything set. But um, the scope of the damage and the scope of the need um is just so great. I don’t think people realize that um, there’s infrastructure issues—
DM: --and ya know on top of the socioeconomic issues that aren’t remediable in ya know four years, five years, even ten years.
DH: Uh-huh. So what are some of your-some of your tactics to-to get people to realize that there’s so much work to be done?
DM: Um well, a lot it is-is just kinda getting our ya know, name out there. Ya know we’re fortunate enough that we have a ya know pretty steady stream of regular volunteers. Ya know, we have a lot of partnerships with universities-
DM: And different organizations that really ya know help with that. Um but a big thing, I think, that we try to do is kinda show that holistic approach. We try to show um not just the work that we’re doing, but um kinda the state of New Orleans in general. So, ya know we try to pull reports about um ya know, uh income and unemployment and things like that. And then try to market those. For ya know some people, it’s a numbers-it’s a numbers game.
DM: Um and we, ya know, we show them that, ‘Hey, ya know only 72% of this neighborhood has returned. Only 49% of this neighborhood has returned.’
DM: Um, so there’s still that need. Or we say ya know, ‘There’s still ya know $7 million worth of ya know, XYZ that needs to be done here.’ Um and that strikes a chord with a lot of people. And then we also try to do um kinda the more touchy-feely, that ya know can kinda get people as well. So we do like on our website, we have like Homeowner of the Month, and information like ya know if you donate money, this is what this money will go to specifically--
DM: --so if you donate $15, that will help buy a handrail for the steps of this elderly person—
DM: --something like that. Um, yeah. And what we try to do, too, is really engage um all the people who come through here. We try to make this—like, this isn’t a one-time deal. Ya know—we hope you don’t just come to New Orleans to uh—I would say uh the majority of our volunteers are out of state.
DM: Um that you just don’t-you don’t just come to New Orleans that one time and that was your good deed, and you’re done. Ya know we try to promote that you become an advocate for New Orleans. That when you go back, you tell your friends, you tell those people. And hopefully kinda virally uh, that we could still stay relevant. And I think ya know, like we do a lot of that, too. Like Twitter and Facebook and--
DM: --basically, ya know, things like that really help, help keep us in peoples’ um minds, ya know even after they leave. So—uh ya know we make efforts and we realize that there’s a struggle. Um and especially I think this year—being as next year will be the five year anniversary.
DM: And I think a lot of organizations, a lot of people are kinda pushing that, that’s the big ya know, big like-
DM: When you have all these special events and things are going to go on. Um, that ya know, four years out people are kinda like, ‘Eh, we’ll wait a year—
DM: --and then we’ll, ya know, kinda make a big show,’ whether it’s donating money or going to volunteer and things like that.
DM: So it can be a struggle to kinda keep ourselves um in the public eye. But um, like I said, locally um we do fine and ya know. And kinda outside that, it is an effort. So I think we’re doing-we’re doing all right.
DH: Do you have many return volunteers, who-who come back ya know—even though you’ve been there two months—maybe that you’ve just heard about, who have come back?
DM: Yes, we uh do actually. Um every year we have something that’s called um…Christmas in October—uh our October Build Project.
DM: And that’s strictly local volunteers. Um and what that is, is that we had about 700 volunteers this year work over three weekends, um and they’d come in and basically do ya know the same kinda work that we have many volunteers do. But a lot of these volunteers—some of them have been coming since, ya know, as long as we’ve existed, so some of them have been coming for twenty years.
DM: Um, which is really cool. Um and all those relationships we’ve made with different um like businesses and organizations. Um ya know whether or not those specific volunteers have been there before, that organization has been coming back um for years, and years and years, which we think is really great.
DH: How do you think the-the economy is affecting your, your donations and your corporate um sponsorships, relations?
DM: Um I think—I mean it’s definitely hard. It’s-it’s hitting everyone actually. Um, part of the reason why—part of the reason why I moved here was, I was actually working in development in New York for a museum. Um and— and I mean—I pretty much got laid off just because we-we couldn’t—ya know we weren’t really getting any donations. And art, obviously, is one of those things that’s ya know one the first to go when people ya know don’t have funds.
DM: Um thankfully we’re a little more lucky um here. Uh that uh…ya know we get, uh we’re still getting a pretty steady stream, and actually this year um we got about six million dollars, uh just to do kinda all of our work. Which is the most we’ve ever had.
DM: Um, so ya know, I can’t really speak to like why that is—
DM: --but I guess ya know it’s—people still feel like ya know we’re doing good work. And that um maybe ya know they’re willing to cut back on other things. Yeah, it’s actually pretty surprising that we’re doing so well, kinda with um, the way that the economy’s been
DH: Okay. Can-can you give us an example of uh, ya know one of these success stories uh that you use as outreach?
DM: Um, let me think um…um…
DH: Or is there, just, anything like—a particular story or-or instance that you would point towards that ya know really gave you a sense of accomplishment of, of ya know, getting something done down there?
DM: I mean there’s so many like homeowner stories that we try, try to market and um—ya know, like I said, I’ve only been here for two months, so I kinda, I haven’t seen ya know like a project construction finished yet.
DM: Um but um, yeah I mean, it’s just…like for some of the homeowners that I have met, like I guess you get to start to really realize what um kinda, like what they went through. And I think that part is really moving.
DM: Um, at least for me it’s inspiring to kinda sit there with these people, ya know, the one’s that had like eight feet of-of flood damage. Ya know they had to be helicoptered off of ya know the roof of a bank that was down the street. Uh ya know they, they lost family, they lost friends, um things like that. So I feel like it’s not something that’s hard—it’s not necessarily something that’s hard to-to get people to understand.
DM: It’s just um—I guess the struggle comes with um…ya know people can only hear so many stories and ya know they start to filter—‘Oh ya know this is another sob story.’
DH: So ya know making them, making them…unique. So ya know we try to find little things that each person—so each homeowner, we say ya know, ‘Miss So-and-So is ya know—um, she’s lived in the is neighborhood her entire life, she ya know, sings in the choir…’ We try to personalize it for everyone. And we do that with all our volunteers, actually. All the volunteers that come to the site, they learn about who lived in the home and who they’re helping out--
DM: Um ya know a lot of times the homeowner isn’t actually living there. So, ya know we do try to make and effort and say ya know, ‘This home that you’re working on, um ya know has been lived in by ya know the same family for 60 years, ya know they’re trying to come back, and So-and-So has these problems, So-and-So is sick—
DM: --ya know, they’re trying to raise ya know however-many children um ya know on a fixed income,’ and things like that.
DH: Uh huh. OK. Do you have-do you have a lot of free time? If so, how do you-how do you spend it?
DM: You mean like personally?
DH: Yeah, personally, uh-huh.
DM: Oh, you mean personally?
DM: Oh, uh. Yeah I mean, we do, we do have-we do have a decent amount for free time. I actually uh—I’m also volunteering for an organization here called Project Lazarus.
DM: Um which is a um, basically like an AIDS resident home for ya know people that are homeless or don’t have the capacity or the resources to take care of themselves.
DM: So, um I spend, I spend some time there, either kinda doing whatever they need, whether it’s just like talking to people. Or recently I’ve kinda started helping out doing um like landscaping um and horticultural work for them. So we kinda do that. And then just uh—sorta general stuff. Like hanging out ya know…I guess?
DH: Okay. What-what part of the city do you live in? What’s it like?
DM: Um I live in Uptown. Um, I’m about, I don’t know, seven-eight blocks away from Tulane University and Loyola. Uh and we actually live in technically what’s called the Fourette Neighborhood.
DM: Um and uh the interesting thing about the Fourette Neighborhood um—and I think this speaks a lot to just New Orleans, in general—is um, the Fourette Neighborhood, especially where I live, is not um…To kinda give you an idea, like I live next to a vacant lot, which is next to another lot, which is next to a paint store—
DM: --which is next to, like, some I guess at one point was a restaurant, or something. Um, so they’re trying to rebuild this um, this neighborhood. And while local government and the state has given them money—there’s like a Fourette neighborhood project or something like that. Um the majority of, of the kinda revitalization in the neighborhood that is going on, is really uh basically the residents. Um ya know the residents and the neighborhood association of Fourette has created like farmers markets ya know at the beginning of every month, which has drawn a lot of people here.
DM: Um and they’ve really been trying to promote like, uh Fourette Street as kinda like a thoroughway for like shopping and things like that. And uh it’s surprising how, that’s really how all the neighborhoods um have been successful with their rebuilding. Um well, they do get resources from, ya know from local, state and national governments, it really is neighborhood-driven. Um if you do a little bit of research about the different neighborhood associations, um you know the really great neighborhood associations, like for example the Broadmoor Neighborhood Association.
DM: Um ya know that was one of the quickest neighborhoods to come back after the storm, and it’s thanks just to-to them. I mean, it was the residents that said, ‘Hey ya know, we’re going to organize. We’re going to get things done.’ Um, and Rebuilding Together works uh really closely with all of the neighborhood associations. We basically consider ourselves the construction arm um of those organizations.
DH: Okay. Do you get to spend any time with-with volunteers um—ya know sorta outside the office—from other organizations?
DM: Yes uh we do, actually. Um there are lots of AmericaCorps um in New Orleans, right now.
DH: I bet.
DM: And, ya know, we’ve met a bunch just sorta through our work and then, also ya know every once in awhile on the street you’ll see someone ya know in an AmeriCorps shirt, and it’s kinda an instant conversation starter. So, yeah—and people are doing some really diverse stuff um, ya know obviously it’s all just all rebuilding. Um some of it is, is kinda that infrastructure aspect. Whether it’s ya know [unintelligible] the schools—I mean there was a lot of children who ya know missed out on a lot of schooling um because of the storm. Um and so ya know they’re kinda doing that aspect. And then there’s still—
DM: --ya know—even before the storm New Orleans had a lot problems with ya know the homeless and poverty and things like that. So there’s a lot of volunteers who are working with that, as well.
DH: Okay. Daniel, do you want to take like a five minute break, right now?
DM: Um. Sure--
DH: Is that good? Ok. Let’s do that. Um grab some water, here. Um. We’ll just put you on hold for a couple of minutes, and then get you back on here. OK?
DM: All right. Just-just let me know when you’re ready to go.
DH: Okay. We’ll yell at ya.
DM: All right.
DH: Daniel, are you there?
DM: Yeah, I’m here.
DH: Okay, cool. Are you ready to get back, to get started?
DM: I’m ready.
DH: All right. Um, we were both curious to-to hear more about your volunteer experience in South Africa and maybe how that has prepared you for what you’re doing now.
DM: Um, well OK. So I uh, I went to South Africa and I was working for an organization called Rap and it was basically a uh organization that represented children um who had been like abused, neglected and stuff like that.
DM: A big aspect of that was representing them in court. Um, and I would say that probably the biggest thing that I got out of that volunteer experience that kind of prepared me for this one was um you know, it was-you were constantly dealing with really you know gut wrenching, sensitive material. Um, ya know, obviously, when it comes to children and things like sexual abuse and-and abuse in general it’s really difficult and um you know I think for me you know, at first I was really overwhelmed with the whole—you know—oh my gosh, there’s so many problems in the world and there’s so many problems here in Africa um and you know. And I wanted to do so much, but ya know, where do I even start. Um and like I said before it was kinda like when I came back I realized, hey, you know there’s so many things I can do here in the U.S that um that uh ya know, I could kinda affect change and be part of here um that I could start here, first.
DM: Um and then kinda in our everyday kinda work here it-it can get really difficult sometimes. You know like I said before, how we are sometimes the last resort for a lot of these homeowners, um, and sometimes we can’t help them. And that’s-that’s one of the most difficult things of this job and it can be absolutely uh ya know, just gut wrenching. Because ya know, you hear these stories and basically what is you know we go through this-this really long intake process with them. And, you know to find out kinda what their story is, what their income is. And they have to fulfill all of these requirements because a lot of our funders ya know have requirements at well.
DM: And unfortunately, ya know, we’re not able to take, um, all the people that come through our doors. And-and I don’t know the exact numbers on-on-on who we accept, but I mean I would probably say it’s probably somewhere close to maybe one out of every ten or fifteen people we can actually help.
DM: And a lot of times it’s just because they don’t live in one the areas that we’re working in. Um sometimes you know, it’s uh a lot of things that will disqualify them, whether it be um ya know, maybe they’re a year, a couple of years too young to be technically be defined as ya know, elderly. Or um they-they somehow own some other property somewhere else um that they’ve been living in temporarily—that disqualifies them as well. So, I think that for me that was the biggest thing. It kinda prepared me to deal with these really difficult situations—
DM: -- and to kinda keep in perspective that you can’t do everything. But, that you know every little bit that you do is-is helping someone.
DH: Have you had any moments where it—you know—like a really difficult situation. Um…that the people didn’t handle it well? That—you know—or are they generally resigned to it?
DM: I mean—it—I…on one hand I would say I’m kinda fortunate in a sense that I don’t necessarily deal so much kinda with that intake process.
DM: Like I don’t necessarily have to go out, um, and talk to people. The majority of the people that I work with are people that are people that have already gone through our process and we are working with. Uh, but I mean, I know um that it’s hard for all of the people who have to deal with that—um, to turn people away. And um, and it is kind of a mixed bag, it depends on how people’s reactions are. Some people, they ya know, they understand and that, you know, they’ve been through this process before. And um ya know, and we do our best to try to refer them to other organizations--
DM: --that might be able to help them. We-we make it a point to never straight out turn somebody away. Um, but yeah, so we definitely do have those people who—you know—we were, they were counting on us to-to be that ya know, final, that final arm that, uh, that helps them get back their homes. Um, and you know, cause a lot of these people, specially since I would say the majority of the people, while we work with the disabled, first responders—
DM: --single-guardian parents, the majority of the people we work with are the elderly. Um, and so ya know for a lot of them, too, I think they feel like they don’t have a lot of time and they just don’t have the energy to kinda fight anymore.
DM: To, ya know, kinda fight with organizations. And I’m not saying like, ya know, fight in the sense that, like—tell them like, ‘Hey, ya know, uh you need to do this or I need you to do this,’ but you’re just like the qualifying for things, or finding all the resources available to them. Um, I mean, we’ve had stories of houses where we’ve rebuilt um, a person’s house and it’s just by the time we got to them, by the time we finished, I mean, some of them passed away, ya know—it was months later. And that’s always really difficult um as well.
DH: What happens in that-in that situation?
DM: Um—I mean, that…it’s just kinda one of those things, I mean—we-we definitely create relationships, or you know um, a lot of our field people—our field office people — um create these relationships with these people um, because they work with them for months and months and months.
DM: Um, from you know kinda processing them in the beginning to checking up on them to see how the house is going. Some of the construction projects ya know can take up to a year—
DM: --depending on the amount of damage and finding funders and things like that. So, it can be really, really hard on, um, a lot of people. Um, you know, our organization, uh, has a lot of turnover. Uh, probably because, um, it is ya know a lot of younger people, but I think partly, too, uh, it’s just—it’s just—difficult.
DM: It’s hard to put yourself in that situation and I think um a lot of us, uh ya know, can kinda see how people um…ya know… either they learn to just tkinda disassociate, ya know still care about what’s going on—
DH: --but still be able to work. But for a lot of people, uh—Ya know I would say had I come to this experience with out, kinda, previous experience, um, I ya know I don’t know if I would be strong enough to kind of do this for a long period of time.
DM: Just because, ya know, it’s hard. You are the face of…the organization that they thought was going to bring them home or ya know, kinda be their savior, I guess.
DM: Um, and you also have to be the one to tell them, ‘I’m sorry we can’t help you.’
DH: Okay. So just-just to go back a little bit to, sorta daily life in New Orleans. Has there—since you’ve been down there—has there been a time where you’ve kinda feared for your safety? Um, just, like you said you didn’t really know the area very well…
DM: Um. Not, not really. I’ve lived in uh, ina couple of major cities. Like I’ve lived in New York and um ya know I lived in Chicago for a while, as well.
DM: Uh, and I—and my big thing is like I lived in South Africa which has one of the worst crime and murder rates in the world. Um and so I feel like I’m pretty—I’m pretty comfortable with-with, um, kinda my knowledge of how to be safe and kinda just recognizing my environment and things like that.
So I really haven’t had um any sort of fears about uh about my safety. I’m obviously smart about what I do. Um ya know like when I do have to go areas um like um whether it be areas in the, in the Ninth Ward or um things like that, um ya know I always go with somebody else, ya know we try not to stay there too late. Um…um and things like that.
DM: But it is-it is an interesting line to walk. Like, for example the street that I live on—um ya know—the area I live in is fine. Ya know we’ve got like, there’s a college bar right down the street.
DM: Um, ya know there’s a lot of students here. Uh, but you can go like six or seven blocks down-down the same street um and it almost becomes like, uh, like a dead zone.
DM: Um, and some previous people that have lived here before have um reported—ya know—that there’ve been shootings down there, and ya know, people have been killed. So I recognize that there’s ya know, there’s obviously ya know, dangerous areas of the city. But I personally haven’t ya know, felt too uncomfortable.
DM: Um, just because I think I am, I’ve gotten kinda used to it and I know how to-to handle myself in those situations.
DH: Sure. So, during your last couple of months down there, has-has your experience—um or the things you’ve seen or heard about—has that really affected the way you think about America, in general?
DM: Yeah, I mean—it’s-it’s interesting um I think just…to be I guess, kinda to be the kinda…[unintelligible]…the bureaucracy and how our government works um ya know kinda in response to this international disaster.
DM: I think um…it’s-it’s surprising. I mean you want to able to help everyone and I understand that there’s a process for everything, there’s a reason why things are in place. But at the same time it can be really frustrating when ya know you see these people and you think um, ‘they-this person needs help.’ And like…in every ya know, kinda like every situation you say, ‘this person deserves ya know—deserves—’. That they’ve tried everything they can ya know they’ve dumped all their funds into this process and the system fails them.
Um and that—and that’s really hard for me. I think especially kinda growing up ya know middle class, um ya know, not really ever like worrying about that or having to think about things like that. And kinda always looking at, at ya know, the government and the system and all that kinda stuff that someone who stood up for-for you as an individual and a person, to come down here where the mentality is a little bit different. A lot of people felt like ya know that government failed them. Like um, systems failed them. Um and things like that. So, it’s given me a broader aspect of…of kind of how…how we still have so many gaps.
DM: Ya know inequalities in kinda everyday life and um and how things can improve. And I guess it’s one of those things, too it—it’s hard um, to be here and not kinda to want to side with the people here—
DM: --um and their— ya know, some of their frustrations. But at the same time kinda realize that a lot of these people can’t get fixed on this level. We have to ya know—we still have to use government um ya know organizations to get things done. We still have to work through them to accomplish things. So kinda walking that line between um…it’s like sympathizing with people here but also getting them to realize—and kinda keeping in the back of your mind— that um that the best way to get a lot of this stuff done is gonna be through, um these broader uh avenues and systems and government and organizations and things like that.
DH: Okay. As far as Rebuilding Together um, where do you see the organization going in the next few years? What’s its future hold?
DM: Um. I mean—we’ve been growing lot um recently. Uh like I said, like this year, it’s kind of an insane year for us. We’ve gotten so much money, almost more than we know what to do with.
DM: We’re kinda—we’re really trying to up our—our project goals this year and, know just so we can make sure that we do actually use all the-all the funds that we’ve been allocated. Um, so I think there’s a lot of growth. I think um ya know we’re, we’ll kinda—expand a little bit more. Um we want to stick to our mission of helping ya know elderly and disabled people and homeowners get back into their homes. But I think we’re slowly starting to-to realize that um—there’s the other component of it too—is also creating um systems that may help these people succeed. Um. And this is more stuff we’ve just kind just recently started working with single guardian households. And so, uh one of the new programs that we’re trying to start up is a Youth Build program, which is basically training—like vocational training—for um at risk youth. I think specifically we’re going to be working with single mothers.
DM: To teach them skills um…to not only teach them how to read bills, um ya know or how to build up a home, to do constructions and things like that, but also help them um get ya know GEDs, continue their education. Um but then also put them back into communities that—ya know—they can help with this rebuild process. So I think we’re trying to look a little bit broader, but at the same time kinda stick to what—ya know—what we’re here for.
I think sometimes that-that can be a problem with a lot of organizations, is that they try to do too much. Um, and we don’t want to do that. Um, we’ve been successful with what we do because we’ve been so focused. Because we only work in seven neighborhoods.
DM: Because we only work with the target populations. Um, and we don’t want to lose that, um and kinda bite off more than we can chew. There is—there’s so much to do. So, um I-I think Rebuilding Together…ya know, it’s-it’s going to keep moving forward and how that evolves over time will be interesting to see. Um, I mean I don’t know what’ll happen in ya know…when then majority—hopefully—when the majority of-of kinda the work—Hurricane Katrina work—gets done.
DM: Maybe we’ll branch out and do some other stuff.
DH: Okay. Um. When you—when you talk to your friends or your family back home or outside of New Orleans in general, how do they-how do they react to your work there? You mentioned that your friends want to come visit you.
DM: Yeah. I mean [laughs] ya know a lot of my friends obviously, ya know they want to come for the Mardi Gras aspect, and the party aspect. Um and—and that’s one of the volunteer things that we actually kinda—we kind of realize ya know. If-if we get college students to come here because they want to experience New Orleans, that’s great.
DM: Um ya know…I think, um. If they can do service here, too, I mean that’s even better. And I think um we have to be realistic about why people come here. I think a lot of people come here um—ya know, the reason why we get so many volunteers, especially college-aged volunteers, is because they figure ya know, ‘Hey I can have my spring break and help people at the same time.’
DM: I don’t see anything wrong with that. I think um, ya know, whatever it takes to get people down here and keep the issues here fresh in people’s minds, I think is a good thing.
DH: So what, what was your motivation for-for volunteering for this interview, for this project?
DM: Um. I think I was kinda surprised at how…um I don’t know if these are the right words…But like I said before I came down here and I didn’t have a lot of expectations.
DH: And I kinda just looked at this as like, yeah ya know I’ll do what I can to help, and ya know, it will be a good experience, things like that. And I guess I didn’t realize how much um, (a) like how much what the scope of the need was down here.
DM: And then also how involved I would become. Not just kinda like professionally, but how much…I felt…it made me think about things…kinda in my off time and my everyday life. And the kinda conversations that it started with workers here, my coworkers, but then also my friends back home um as well. So I guess I just kinda want to continue that.
DM: I think that ya now, maybe that this interview would help think—help me think, ya know, think a little more in depth of kinda what some of the reasons why…um ya know I’m happy to be here.
DM: And kinda ultimately what um, what I’m getting from this experience. And I guess maybe helping verbalize it—ya know I think a lot of times in your head ya know, you don’t really know why that you’re doing something or you’re-you’re enjoying something.
DM: But I think uh, something like this is good to kinda make you organize your thoughts and then kinda recognize and be more conscious of…of uh why you’re doing things. And ya know…why not?
DH: Sure. Um. I just have a couple more questions and then I’m going to turn it over to Megan to maybe ask a few follow-ups. One thing I’m curious about is, is uh since you’ve been down there, what-what have you learned about-about the people of New Orleans, that is really unique?
DM: Um I think a lot of is that—just a lot of obviously with the homeowners and the people who have decided to stay here, um I think it’s the resilience. Uh…and their-and their uh pride I think is the big thing. Ya know a lot of people, ya know, New Orleans has an interesting history. Um especially kinda like with the African American population—
DM: --and where this was one of the first places that they could own property, ya know…as ya know, as free citizens. Um. And so a lot of the families that have lived here, have lived here for really long time. A lot of the houses that people lived in, um I mean it was, they grew up there, their parents grew up there, they’re raising their children there.
DM: So there’s a lot of history here. So a lot of the people are really proud…to be, ya know, to be from New Orleans. And that the culture that um…they’ve kinda created here and they all feel part of it even though it’s sampled from so many different um—so many different cultures. Um. And that ya know, kinda having lived other places um where, ya know, people don’t kinda have that pride. It’s a different feeling. It’s…something that’s hard to describe.
DM: But um, ya know, when you meet people here, I think they just uh—even despite Katrina. Like for example…we had one homeowner who after we finished her house, ya know, she’s just kinda all smiled, ‘ya know Katrina doesn’t bother me…
DM: --uh ya know, this is a city that I love and I’ve always been here and I can’t imagine ya know leaving.’ And I don’t think this could be said about a lot of places—ya know other cities. Like I don’t know if a lot of other people have those kind of connections to the city, um ya know that if something this devastating happened to them that they would willing to stay.
DH: Uh huh, yeah definitely. Um. One last question about-about your work with-with Project Lazurus—I’m sorry—Lazarus House?
DM: Yeah, Project Lazarus.
DH: Yeah. Um I actually have a former co-worker who is active with them up here, um—
DH: How does-how does your experience with, ya know helping rebuild, um ya know elderly folks’ homes—how does that cross over to when you’re working with um, the Lazarus Project?
DM: Um. I mean I think it just gives me a better view of, kinda, everything. I think sometimes ya know, we get caught up in the like, ‘OK, the only problem here is housing,’ ya know.
DM: And we’re rebuilding these houses and once we rebuild these houses everything’s going to be better. Uh, and ya know working with, at Project Lazarus and volunteering with them, ya know, I get to see another aspect, something that maybe—I think is slightly a little more universal to the rest of the country, that people can relate to.
DM: That HIV and AIDS still has a stigma in a lot of places, and there’s still a lot of people who ya know, don’t know a lot about this disease and a lot of people who still need help. Um, and I think for me for me, it just helps me kinda see a broader aspect that, ya know the rebuilding part that-that we’re doing in Rebuilding Together and that I’m a part of full time is, um, is one-is-one aspect of getting New Orleans back on track. And then also improving on how it was pre-Katrina.
DM: So, it helps me keep my head kinda like, ya know, from just focusing on one thing and realizing that, uh…a lot about the success of New Orleans and-and the recovery is going to be…um big picture. Um, it’s going to be building infrastructure. It’s addressing all the problems, not just ya know, rebuilding but ya know, homelessness and um AIDS awareness, and um, ya know at risk youth and violence and all that kind of stuff.
DH: Right. Okay. All right, well I’m going to turn it over to Megan now for-for a few more questions.
MS: Hi again Daniel.
MS: I—you’ve talked about the, sorta the ‘volunteer experience’ quite a bit and I just wanted to, um, to-to follow up a little more specifically about one thing in particular. Um, to sorta give you context for this question, um I spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in a Central Asian country. Um, so…one thing I’m interested to hear your perspective on, um…For instance, when I first arrived in country, um—as I think most volunteers are—I was sorta very enthusiastic, and idealistic um, whereas volunteers who were in country—who had been there awhile—um…had been there long enough to sort of…experience a sense of disillusionment and-and many felt like they sorta ran up against a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of corruption um, just a lot of problems that they felt they couldn’t overcome in order to um, work effectively. Um, I’m wondering if you, in the context of volunteering in New Orleans, um if you have met older volunteers or volunteers who have been there longer who have voiced a sense of frustration or disillusionment um, with um, any sort of the-the process of rebuilding New Orleans.
DM: Um, I think…yes, to some extent. I think there’s ya know, a general—uh, ya know obviously I don’t think it’s ya know, any secret that ya know, a lot people right after the storm were really unhappy with ya know FEMA and the Bush administration and how things were handled in that sense. Um, ya know I think that’s-that’s pretty common. But, uh, for the most I think people are relatively optimistic. I think, um, the organizations that work here, um, I don’t feel like any of them are just kinda here. Ya know and they’re just kinda functioning. I feel like the people who work at them are-are passionate and want to get things done. Um, like I said before, I do think that some people can get burned out. Um, but I don’t necessarily think that’s because of-of…of the frustration necessarily. I mean, maybe that’s a part of it, um, but uh I think, uh…Yeah—and I could see another aspect it, too, is that that, um, kinda dealing specifically with Katrina, I mean it’s only been four years.
DM: I think uh, it’s not necessarily institutional, yet the kinda ideas of being distrustful of ya know, bureaucracy or government or being fed up with it. I feel like a lot of people are still trying to um, to…to kinda work within the systems and, uh, and understand them better. Uh, I think a lot of—um, like I said before with like the neighborhood associations I think a lot of them realize they can kinda take on these projects on their own.
DM: Um, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that they are totally disillusioned with how things, ya know, things are going. I think they’re a little more realistic in an idea that like, ‘Hey, this is what we can do, and this what we ya know, can get done and so let’s do this and then maybe everything else will fall in line.’
DH: Um. Daniel, what—so you’re-you’re scheduled to be down there for a year, correct?
DH: All right. Do you um, do you know what you want to do next? You want to stay down there, maybe? Is that a possibility? Or—
DM: Uh, it’s definitely a possibility. I mean, like ya know—it’s only been two months—
DM: --so I can’t say like ya know, whether or not ya know where-where things are going to from here. But um I definitely think I feel like ya know I still have more that I can, ya know, give and kinda do here and there’s opportunities to. I mean, I definitely be all for it. Um, ya know I haven’t made huge plans yet. I kinda grab people or kinda in the back of my head. But, uh, I mean I haven’t really made any big movements on that yet.
DH: Okay. Um. I was just—before I came in, saw that there’s a-there’s a hurricane moving into the southern Gulf of Mexico there’s—
DM: Yeah, Hurricane Ida—
DH: Yeah, how’s—
DM:--we were just--
DH:--how are things down there? I know it’s not technically scheduled to uh, hit the city. But what’s the sense down there?
DM: It’s, well…I think right now we’re a little more worried that the Saints aren’t doing too well. But--
DM:--against the Panthers right now.
DM: But, um. Uh yeah. I mean obviously it looks like it’s going to probably rain a little bit.
DM: But, uh it hasn’t been on the radar too much uh as being a huge deal. But I guess it’s probably ya know—since—I’ve never lived through a hurricane and I’ve never been here for the preparation for it, or anything. So, um, I don’t really see too much-too much new, or too much different, from how people would act otherwise.
MS: Okay, I think um unless, ya know, you have anything that you’d like to add, Daniel, um, to-to our interview here, I think we’ve covered everything that we um wanted to.
DM: Yeah, I think I’m good—I just hope uh—my one thing is I realize I talk a lot about kinda Rebuilding Together maybe not as much about my own personal experience--
DH: That’s fine—
DM: But I hope that whatever you got out of it—
MS: Oh, no, absolutely. [laughter] You did an excellent job. And, truly all your answers were very helpful and informative, especially for our project. So, we really appreciate you taking the time on a Sunday late afternoon, um, to ya know take the time to speak with us, so—
DM: No, worries it’s been my pleasure.
DH: Okay. Is there anything you wanna-you want to leave us with? Uh, since this is going to be on the historical record, hopefully someday—years and years and years from now—some student or scholar will be reading or listening to this transcript, uh. Anything you want to close with?
DM: Uh, ah…you’re putting me on the spot--
DM: I mean, I would just say that ya know, the decision I made to come down here has been a great one. Um, it wasn’t one that maybe I uh, put much thought into, as a lot of other people have. But I’m so glad that I did it. Um, it’s given me a whole lot of perspective, and I um, I legitimately feel like I—there’s things that I can do that will-that will help and create a lasting change and hopefully will, ya know, make New Orleans, a ya know, a better place. And I’m really proud that I that I can be a part of that.
DH: Excellent. All right, well I think that’s-that’s all we have.
DM: All right.
DH: So, uh, thank you once again.
MS: Thank you Daniel.
DM: Thank you guys. You have a good rest of the day.
MS: You, too.