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Interview with Provencio, Alyssa

Provencio, Alyssa
Sunday, November 22, 2009
  • Rebuilding Together New Orleans
Biographical Information: 

Birthdate: 8/1/87

Birthplace: Phoeniz, AZ

New Orleans Post-Katrina Work: rebuilding volunteer, volunteer coordinator with Americorps VISTA

Interview Log                                                                                                                                    

00:00 – 5:00 minutes                                                                           Set-up, Introduction,

                                                                                                            explanation of project,

                                                                                                            background in career and life

                                                                                                            in Kansas, initial reaction to

                                                                                                            Hurricane Katrina


5:00 – 10:00 minutes                                                                           General impression of

hurricane coverage, setting up a group on campus, recruiting students for volunteer work, alternative spring break, heading to New Orleans


10:00 – 15:00 minutes                                                                         Television coverage versus reality, first hand reaction to New Orleans, first volunteer experiences in New Orleans


15:00 – 20:00 minutes                                                                         Volunteer duties, first visit to New Orleans, emotional effects, racial tensions


20:00 – 25:00 minutes                                                                         Racial tensions continued, reaction to racial interaction, second trip to New Orleans, creating a volunteer student group at Kansas State


25:00 – 30:00 minutes                                                                         Relating college education to New Orleans experience, discontent with second trip to New Orleans, discontent with student volunteers on second trip


30:00 – 35:00 minutes                                                                         Wanting to volunteer, wanting to be in New Orleans, becoming a volunteer coordinator, clients of Rebuilding Together


35:00 – 40:00 minutes                                                                         Working with volunteers, working with homeowners, being a volunteer coordinator


40:00 – 45:00 minutes                                                                         Looking for volunteers, working with volunteers, helping homeowners, working with other organizations


45:00 – 50:00 minutes                                                                         Relating college to volunteering, speaking with local woman about Katrina story, giving back to community


50:00 – 55:00 minutes                                                                         Reception of volunteers by the community, destruction and rebuilding of neighborhoods, bureaucratic processes



55:00 minutes – 1:00:00 hour                                                             Dealing with stress and emotions as a volunteer, becoming a volunteer


1:00:00 hour – 1:05:00 hour:minutes                                                  Public service, safety, misconceptions of New Orleans


1:05:00 - 1:10:00 hour:minutes                                                           Safety, understanding of other volunteer groups, faith in volunteer organization


1:10:00 - 1:15:00 hour:minutes                                                           What types of projects Rebuilding Together does, GNOHA


1:15:00 - 1:20:00 hour:minutes                                                           Organizational interaction, governmental levels of support


1:20:00 - 1:25:00 hour:minutes                                                           Hopes for the future, helping homeowners navigate the system, LFHA, funding from different sources, government funding support, funding problems


1:25:00 – 1:30:00 hour:minutes                                                          Coming up with solutions to the problem, views on government as a result of experiences, views on the nation as a result of experiences


1:30:00 – 1:35:00 hour:minutes                                                          Katrina’s personal affect, what New Orleans needs for the future


1:35:00 – 1:40:00 hour:minutes                                                          Future of organization in New Orleans, future plans of Alyssa, networking for future interviews


1:40:00 – 1:43:04 hour:minutes                                                          Setting up networking for more interviews, final comments, next steps in interview process, conclusion















Dr. Christopher Manning phone interview of Alyssa Provencio, November 2009.

Dr. Christopher Manning: Testing one two, testing one two.  Mic check, one two. Mic check.

[Dial] [Ring]

Alyssa Provencio: Hello?

CM: Hi, this is, uh, Chris Manning from Loyola University.

AP: Hi Chris.  How are you?

CM: I’m doing fine.  How are you doing?

AP: I’m doing great.  Thank you.

CM: You feel better?

AP: Yeah, um, still fighting through it.  But, uh, I’m feeling a lot better than I was.

[Both laugh]

CM: I can only imagine.  Do you have the, uh, the, uh, swine flu, or just the regular flu?

AP: Um, I actually just have had some sinus problems lately and, and asthma.  So, that didn’t help out too much with that.  But, um…yeah, I, I, I don’t know.  There’s a lot of stuff going on right now. [Laughs]

CM: Yeah, no kidding.  Well, um, uh, you all ready for the interview?

AP: Yes I am.

CM: Ok.  Um, first thing, I just want to double check if everything in the legal documentation was clear.

AP: Yes it was.

CM: Ok.  And, uh, do you have any questions about the project?

AP: Um, I don’t think I do.

CM: Ok.  Uh, just wanna be sure before we got going.  So, uh, I guess, uh, a good place to start would be, uh, why don’t you tell me about your life before the hurricane.

AP: Ok.  Um, so, prior to the hurricane, um, I was in college.  Um…the, the hurricane hit, um, at the beginning of my sophomore year.  Um, so, you know, I was just the average college student, um, trying to figure out, you know, my major, what I was gonna do with my life.  Um…and then, and then that actually, the hurricane was kind of a turning point for me.  Um, so, you know, not a whole lot going on, um, other than, just you know, the normal college life and then, um, and then the hurricane hit.

CM: Where…

AP: And then…

CM: Where were you going to school?

AP: Um, I was going to Kansas State.

CM: Ok. Oh, K-State!  I used to live in, uh, Junction City.

AP: Ok…

CM: Which you…

AP: …so you’re really close then.

CM: …probably fortunately never visited.

[Both laugh]

AP: That’s unfortunate. 

CM: [Laughs] Uh…

AP: It’s a great place.

CM: Uh, Junction City?

AP: Um, no.  Uh, Manhattan.

CM: Yeah, I was, I was saying you’d be fortunate if you’d never visit, visited Junction.

AP: Oh yeah, Junction City is, um, I had to go there ‘cause I’m, I’m originally from Derby…

CM: Ok.

AP: …Kansas, which is just south of Wichita.  And so, I had to drive through Junction City all the time and.  Yeah, it didn’t seem, uh, too exciting of a place.

CM: No, it wasn’t.  Anyway, so, you’re at K-State?

AP: I was at K-State, so, I’ve just, um, been there for a year and, um, just getting the, you know, the start of the school year goin’ and…um, and that would be then.

CM: And you said it was a turning point.  Um, what were you thinking when you saw the hurricane and the subsequent coverage of it?

AP: Um, you know, at first, I really wasn’t paying attention.  Um, to be completely honest.  Uh.

CM: Um, hm.

AP: You know, you do hear about hurricanes every now and again.  And being from the Midwest you don’t really pay too much attention because, you know,  you’re kind of like, you know, why does this affect me or it doesn’t affect me, um,  in anyway.  Uh, and nothing, you know, that fierce had ever really happened in my lifetime.  And so, at first, I, I, I didn’t really feel, um, too much about it.  And then, I think, um, as, as it got closer, and, and more into, um, you know, the, the day it actually hit, um, was when I started to pay a little bit more attention.  And, um, you know, this isn’t like, oh, wow, this could be something that’s really big and, um, and, and really affect a lot of people.  Um, you know, and, and not just, not just be something to, to take in passing.  And I think that, um, a lot of people weren’t really aware of what was going on because we were so far removed from it.  Um.  But, you know, as, as you saw what was going on, um, on t.v. and, you know, the response, um, of the government and, you know, the preparation for mandatory evacuations and things like that.  Um, I think that’s when it really started to hit.  Um, so.  That’s kind of what I saw, um, you know, about the coverage and things like that.

CM: And, and what did you mean by, you said it was, earlier you said it was a turning point?

AP: Yeah, um.  What, it was a turning point, um, [5:00] and I, I guess I didn’t realize it at the time, because, um, after, after Hurricane Katrina hit and, you know, um, and the relief effort started happening, um, we quickly got together a group of students, um, and I was a part of our leadership department, um, as a, as a student.  And, um, they had this, I mean, at a lot of schools right now have alternative spring break programs.

CM: Uh, huh.

AP: And, so, we immediately began plans for sending a group of students down, um, to New Orleans, um, to assist with the, you know, the relief effort, like a lot of people were doing.  Um, and I don’t think that when I originally signed up to volunteer here how much it was going to, um, impact my life later, later in life.  Um, and how much of a, of, of a…life changing experience it really was going to be, um, when I came here.  Um…I know, you know, it being a, I was a, I was a very involved student, so I wanted to get involved as much as possible. 

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: And so, you know, I was helping coordinate this and that and the actual logistics of the trip and not really worried too much about the implications of what, of what we were actually going to do.  Um, and then, and then when I got here, um, that’s kind of when it all hit home for me.  Um…by the work we were doing and the people that we were helping, um, and just the vibrancy of the city.

CM: Let me ask you to go back for one moment.  Um, you said…

AP: Sure.

CM: …you keep re, referring to a we.  Uh, whose the we?  Were you part of a religious group?  Or was it a vol, a civic organization? 

AP: Sure.

CM: Or was it your friends?  Or?  Who were these folks?

AP: It was, it was, um, a, alternative spring break group, um, for my, um, for the school.  So, for Kansas State, um, Leadership Department, um, they do…um, alternative spring breaks all over the country.  Um, you know, helping with Habitat for Humanity, doing, um, homeless, home, homeless shelters, um, you know, serving food, um.  And, and they usually pick, uh, three or four places to go each spring break.  Kind of as a, just, alternative.  For people who want to do community service, um, as opposed to taking, you know, a trip to Cancun, or, you know, going and partying with your friends.

CM: Right.

AP: Um, it’s really, you know, just a chance, um, to get back and, to give back and, um, you know.  So, it was something that I, I really wanted to be a part of.  Especially since, you know, we were in those elements with the, from the, um, what had happened…

CM: Uh, huh.

AP: …that, um, you know, I really wanted to get here and, and see what was going on.

CM: So, were you civically minded before the hurricane happened?

AP: Um, I definitely was, um, to a certain extent.  I think that I thought I was a lot more, um, than I actually was.  You know, I, I participated in, in, in church, um, service projects.  Um, I was a leadership minor.  Um, and, you know, really, and basically what that means is, you know, uh, organizing different service projects, um, in my school.  Uh, whether it be doing, like, we do a drive called Kept for Can and so, um, you know, like, doing a canned food drive or adopt a family.  Um, but…um, I don’t think that…that anything that I was doing really compared, you know, to what was to follow.

CM: So, when you went to, um, New Orleans for alternative spring break, what organization did you couple with in New Orleans?

AP: You know, we, um, didn’t, um, couple with a, an organization that was set up, at all.  It was, um, a group of, of people that one of our advisors had known through, um, her various networks.  Um, I think they were part of, like, a tu, a church organizat, organization.

CM: Ok.

AP: Um, and they basically had found three or four families that needed their homes to be gutted.  Um, you know, so, obviously at that point when we had arrived in New Orleans, um, it was a lot worse than I had ever anticipated.

CM: Yeah?

AP: Um, and, you know, the houses that we were going into, um, were basically just mold infested.  And, um, everybody…who, you know, their, their belongings were in their houses, you know, nothing was gone.  Um, and that, you know, that was eight months after the storm.

CM: Let me ask you to go…

AP: And…

CM: Oh, I’m sorry.  Go ahead.

AP: No.  Go ahead.

CM: I was gonna ask you to go back for just a moment.  So…

AP: Sure.

CM: …um…you had seen the coverage on t.v.

AP: Right.

CM: And, unlike a lot of people it sounds like you were interested in the coverage.  ‘Cause, I, I remember at the time that a lot of people just kind of, uh, down played it as something going on somewhere else. [10:00]

AP:  Right.

CM: How did, how did what you see compare to what you expected to see?

AP: Um, it was way worse.  Um, because I think that, you know, you…I think it was worse in a different way than what was covered on t.v.

CM: Ok.

AP: I think on t.v., you know, they show you, um, you know, the big, the big picture of it all.  The, you know, the flooding was up to, you know, yay high and, um, you know, people haven’t been evacuated and, and want-not.  And, so, on a large scale, um, you’re kinda like, wow, you know, why is that happening or, or, or whatever?  But then when you actually get here it’s, it’s a lot different when you’re in it, um, than when you’re seeing it on t.v.  And meeting people…

CM: What’d you mean?

AP: Well, when you’re meeting people, um, who’ve been affected by it and who get a chance to tell you their stories…

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: …and, you know, what heart break they had to go through.  Um, whether it be losing, you know, all of their belongings, or losing family members.  Um…just the, I guess, the human emotion wasn’t really taken into effect, in, in the coverage.  You know, you didn’t really hear those stories.  And, so, I think it was a lot different on the ground when you went into people’s homes and you really did see, like, this was someone’s life. 

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um, and it’s still here.  And where are they?  And, um, you know, the, the car graveyard, as we called them when, basically, under all of the overpasses there are just cars upon cars upon car upon car and you’re like, you know, that car belonged to somebody at some point.

CM: Mm.

AP: And, there’s just hundreds of them there, you know, without any owners or anything.  And, and.  I don’t know.  It just…the human emotion was never taken into effect, I think.

CM: I heard a…a lot of, I, I guess, for lack of a better word, horror stories…

AP: Ok.

CM: …uh, uh, about the experiences of early volunteers that were involved in the gutting.  Uh, what was the, that you, you all did gutting in that alternative sp, spring break trip, right?

AP: Right.

CM: What was that like for you?

AP: Yeah.  It was, um, really difficult.  Um, I think that, you know, you go and you’re like, oh, I’m gonna go down, I’m gonna do a lot of good, I’m gonna do community service…

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: …you know, I’m gonna be a better person.   Um, and then, like I said, you know, you go and you’re in someone’s life, basically.  Um.  And so…um, yeah, I mean, I think that as far as the actual volunteer work goes, um, ha, I mean, there was a lot of black mold.  I mean, toxic.

CM: Yeah.

AP: I mean, I mean, you know, we were in, like, head-to-toe covered, um, gear. Uh, we had face masks.  Um, people, you know, were bringing, like, the ventilated masks.

CM: Yeah.

AP: I mean, there were…And, and, you know, we were in there all day, every day, and, I mean, I was only here for, you know, a week that first time.  But, uh, it’s taxing, you know.  And not only is it taxing physically, but emotionally as well.  Um, and then, as far as, like, other horror stories that I’ve, I’ve heard, um, and stories from other people, I mean…I remember that student groups were still finding, like, they  found bodies in the houses that supposedly had been cleared.

CM: Wow.

AP: Um, and, you know, these are homes that were supposedly searched by, um, you know, whatever authorities it, it was, it, it may be.  Um, and, and, you know, they, they do the X’s and they have the dates and they have the authority and then they have the number of bodies found and if there were, um, you know, animals or want-not.  And, you know, all of the homes that student groups were supposed to be going into should’ve been checked and, you know, that that was still happening was kind of, um, unsettling.  Especially since it was eight months after the storm.

CM: Good grief.  Who didn’t have to open any refrigerators did you?

AP: Um, we didn’t, um, open any fridgerators, because, you know, we had heard those stories…

CM: [Laughs]

AP: … and we made sure we had duct tape.

CM: Yeah, everyone’s heard that story if you’ve been done there…at all.

AP: Yeah.  It was terrible.  Um, I mean, I thankfully didn’t have to, um…experience that.  I, I can’t even imagine.  But, you know, if we, if we came across a fridge, and whether or not, we didn’t even open them we just duct taped them shut and brought them out to the, you know, front where they were doing all of the collecting.  So.

CM: So, in this first work that you did, uh, you said that your coordinator had set-up an arrangement with, uh, uh, I think you said, four homes, that needed some work.

AP: Yeah.

CM: Did you get to meet the homeowners at that time?

AP: Um…We met a few of the homeowners, um. [15:00]  It, it was kind of, I mean, it was kind of hard because a lot of the homeowners weren’t there.  Um, after the storm.  You know, they were still evacuated and want-not.    Um.  We met, um, one of the homeowners, you know, who was very grateful and, and…wanted it, you know, basically, it to be taken care of as soon as possible.  Um, but the most memorable person that I met, um, wasn’t until, um, the next spring break when I went back.  Um…

CM: Oh!  So, you’d gone twice?

AP: I’m sorry?

CM: You’d, you’d gonna twice before your current position.

AP: Right. 

CM: Ok.

AP: Right.  And so, um, the first trip I did a lot of, you know, we were doing a lot of gutting and it was, um, a lot of that preliminary, um, trying to get all the mold out, um, of the places.  And the second trip we got to do a little bit more, um, rebuilding.  So.

CM: How did, how did you feel after the first trip emotionally?

AP: Drained.  [Laughs]  I, I think that’s the best, um, way, you know.   When you’re, you’re going, not only into people’s homes, but into the neighborhoods that are completely deserted.  Um, we saw where the, uh, we saw the barge that had come over the levee it was still in one of the backyards…

CM: Wow!  It was still there?

AP: …of the houses.  And, um, at that time, um, a lot of the houses that had been moved off of their, um, foundations.  I mean, you could see them three houses down.  You know.  You’re like, oh, and that house is supposed to be…down the block and it’s not.  Um, or, you know, we saw school buses in yards.  And, and there were still a lot of boats everywhere.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um, a lot of the, you know, little paddle boats or canoe boats.  Um, they were in front yards all over the place.  Um, and so, I think that when you see that you’re just like, how can that, how can this happen here?  You know, how can this happen to this many families?  And this many people?  And, and displace, you know, all of them.  And, and they don’t have the chance to come back to their home. 

CM: Did you? 

AP: So…

CM: Oh, I’m sorry.  Go ahead.

AP: No, I was just saying, so, it was very draining.  Because, like I said, you know, that, the human emotion when you first watch it on t.v. it wasn’t really taken.  You know, you, you were just kind of like, oh, ok, well, that’s, that’s happened.  And then you go down there and you meet people and you see it.  And you’re like, what if this happened to my family?  Um, you know, it makes you kind of cringe and just… I don’t know.  It was, it was pretty terrible.

CM: Did you have anyone to share your experience with?  I mean, in other words, were you friends with any of the people that you did ABI with that first spring break?

AP: Um, I went with, um, a group of students that, um, I didn’t, I didn’t previously know.  I kind of jumped head first into it.  I’d never been a part of anything, um, like that.  I was, you know, a sophomore.  Um, so, I wasn’t really, I wasn’t really, I didn’t really go there with a lot of people that I knew.  But, I can tell you that that experience, um, completely brought me together with the people that I was on the trip with.

CM: It did.

AP: Um…pretty instantly.  Um, and we were really lucky that, um…

CM: [Coughs]

AP: [Unintelligible]…kind of, kind of had anticipated, um, the emotional effect that it would have, um, on our group.  And therefore we had debriefings often, at the end of every day.  And, we kind of got a chance to talk about, you know, what we did, um, you know, what we felt about, you know, what was going on.  And, and, just talked through, you know, some of those feelings, so.

CM: Mm, hm. What were those sessions like?

AP: Um, really intense.  Um.  I think a lot of us just wanted to talk about it.  Just wanted to talk about what we saw.  Just kind of get, get it off our chest.  Um, but, um, I do recall one specific instance and, um, and, and I’ve never experienced anything like that, but, there was, um, a group of black students and a group of wh, I mean, and, uh, that were [Unintelligible word] you know, with us.  And I’m Hispanic and, you know, there were black kids and there’s, uh, white kids, there were, a whole different, all different races involved.  But, I remember, um, a few of the black students getting really defensive over, you know, some of the things that the white students were saying as being racial.  And I had never…been around that my ent, I mean, I, I guess I was very sheltered, or I just wasn’t brought up in that environment.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: And so, for me it was really, like, eye opening, um, that, that these issues were really coming to, um, a forefront, um, not only in the public media, but also, like, within our group as well.

CM: Do, what were the issues?  Do you remember?

AP: Um, you know, I don’t remember specifics.  Um…it was, I, I think someone had made, um…just a statement about, um…I think it’s, it [20:00] had something to do with, why weren’t they smart enough to, like, get out?

CM: Mm.

AP: Or something like that.  And…

CM: That’s a real load question.

AP: I’m sorry?

CM: That’s a load question.

AP: Right.  And so, um, I think that, you know, the black students were kind of like, well, what do you mean they?  And, and so, it kinda escalated from there.  Um, because of, you know, the demographic of the area, um, and also because of the underlying issues.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um, y, you know, that were here.  As far as, like, how could people get out if they didn’t have transportation?  Or, it wasn’t that they didn’t want to, it was could they.  And, you know, a lot of different issues that I don’t think…um, the person who had said it really thought about before saying it.  So.  It was really…it was, yeah.  It was, it was very eye opening for me.

CM: So, these weren’t issues that you had thought about before?

AP: Um…

CM: Or…

AP: …I think that, you know…as a, as a young college student, you know, you, for me, I was very idealistic and, and it wasn’t that I had never encountered, you know, racism or anything like that.  But, I don’t think that I had been so blatantly put into a middle of a discussion to where, you know, you ha, really have to think about it.  And, or, somebody brings something up like that and you’re like, well, what are my views on this?  Or, um, you know, what do I think about this issue?  Um, you know, does this person even understand the issue that we’re talking about?  Um, and so, I think that…you know, I, I never really was put into a situation that was, um, as blatant and, and right in front of me.

CM: Sure.

AP: Until then.

CM: So, what happened to you in the year between, uh, the first ABI and the second ABI?

AP: Um, well, I went home.  I, I basically was like, wow, my life is changed forever.  Um, and, and it’s one of those things you can’t really put a finger on, on it.  You know, it’s just.  The, the series of emotions that you go through and the experiences and the people that you meet.  Um, and I went back and, um…I, uh, we started a group on campus, me and four other people who were involved in that trip, called Building On Breaks.  And, um, basically, instead of, well, not instead of, but, um, the alternative spring break, like I said, had picked, you know, a few locations, um, here and there every year.  And what we wanted to do was create an organization specifically geared towards coming to New Orleans.

CM: And it was called Building On Breaks?

AP: Building on Breaks.

CM: Ok.

AP: And, um, so basically the premise was that we would get a group of students, you know, every break that we had.  So, whether it be winter break, spring break, summer break, to, um, dedicate, you know, a week, or however long the break was to coming down and, um, helping out in New Orleans.  Um, I think that something also that we took back was, um, the awareness factor.  You know, we just, we didn’t, we weren’t aware of what was really going on until we were here. 

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: And so, I think that for us it was a lot about, go home, tell your friends, tell your family.  Um, you know, tell everybody that you can tell about what’s going on here.  And, um, you know, that work, you know, the state of the city is still terrible and it’s been eight months out.  And, they’re not getting the help that they need.  They’re not getting the support that they need.  You know.  It’s gonna be years and years and years before it, it’s even close to what it was, um, prior to, um.  And so, I think a lot of it was just, um, you know, we came up with our presentation and we would go to groups, like, off campus and any, anyone that would basically let us speak.  And, kind of…give presentations on what we did there and, you know, re, try and recruit people, um, to go, you know, for the next break.  So.  And so, I served as, I think, like, the Secretary for that and, you know, we, we just kind of all…um, and I, and, and also the Recruitment Chair and so, we would go around trying to get people involved, um, to come down.

CM: That’s a lot of initiative.  How, how well did it go?

AP: Um, it went really well.  Uh, the next year, um, for the next alternative spring break we ended up getting…well, that first year, um, there was, there was about fifty of us, which is a pretty big, pretty big group anyways.  Um, and then the next year, you know, they sent, um, I think, about 75.  But they had, like, I think 200 applicants.  Um, to go.  But we just, obviously, as a student group you can’t really afford that.  Um, and transportation becomes a hassle.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: So, um, but, I mean, it was, it was very successful, I think that, um, you know, those, those students who weren’t able to go to New Orleans were able to go other places, which is still great.  But, um, that the interest was there was, was awesome for us.  So, um, yeah.  It was, it was definitely, um… I think that it was really great initiative by the group that, you know, we were able to, to accomp, accomplish that and get that many people [25:00] to, to go that next year.

CM: Did that lead you to pick a major, or start to change the types of things you were studying?

AP: Um, I think that…uh, it definitely did.  Um, I, I didn’t change my major.  Um, my major, uh, is hotel restaurant management.  So, uh, I, I obvious, obviously, um, already minoring in leadership and so, that was just kind of the underlying factor.  But, what it did, is it kind of let me shift focus.  So, I became more…socially aware and then also more…open to and, um, I guess, uh, passionate about public service in general.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um, and so, I switched from…basically, just like, hotels and restaurants to doing social event planning for fundraisers…

CM: Oh.

AP: …and for philanthropy.  Um, and so, it’s still the same major, but, um, I…basically got into doing, like, an auction for, you know, raising for scholarship money and, and doing things like that.  So.  Other, other social things that weren’t necessarily tied back to New Orleans, and so…

CM: Yeah.

AP: …public service oriented.

CM: So, how did your second ABI trip differ from the first?  Or compare to the first?

AP: Um…It was, it was really weird, it kind of…

[Both laugh]

AP: …to just put it out there…

CM: Ok.

AP: …because, um, having gone eight months after and seeing what we saw.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um, and then coming back with an entirely different group of students, um, that you didn’t initially go with, um, a lot of people…weren’t as serious about it.  Um, because…you know, they, they, I think a lot of them thought that, you know, New Orleans was, was back.  Or, you know, was starting to get there because they did have Mardi Gras that, that year.  Um, you know, they, they, they heard all of these good things about it and so, they, they really wanted to go for spring break.  For a real spring break.  To go and party on Bourbon Street.  And, I think for those of us that had gone the year before we were really upset because we had seen…all of the, the damage and the debris, and the cars in the yards and the, um, you know, the boats and, and I just, I don’t think that, and we also, the second time around, didn’t, um, work with, um, any individual homeowners.  We worked for a church.

CM: Ok.

AP: And so, um, we basically helped, um…like, restore, um, and get their church back in working order…but…

CM: That’s interesting.

AP: Yeah.  And so, it didn’t…

CM: That’s very different kind of work.

AP: Right.  It was different because, you know, you’re, you’re not goin’ through someone’s life, um, like the first time around.  And very different because you, you don’t have those individual stories.  And so, a lot of those people didn’t get to meet…you know, individual homeowners, or know how, you know, fixing up, you know, their home was gonna mean to them because it was a public space.   Um, so, I think that it was really, it was really conflicting because you know, you want to almost share the, the heartbreaks of the people who…Katrina happened to with the people that you’re with.  They don’t, they don’t get it.

CM: And you don’t want to bring…

AP: Yeah.

CM: …them down either, do you?

AP: Right!  And then the, and then you don’t wanna, you know, marginalize what they were doing either because it was still great work.  You know, and they were still able to do something for the community and they’re still able to give back.  And so, you don’t want to marginalize that either.  So, it was, it was really, it was, it was very conflicting.  But…

CM: So, so after that first trip…did the, well, am, am I reading you correct in feeling like…the second trip did not give you the same sense of satisfaction as the first?  Or am I missing that?  Missing something?

AP: No, I mean, I think that, I think that, you know, the satisfaction was there.  I think that what was hard, um, about, about the second trip was the fact that th, the people that we went with weren’t taking the work that we were doing as seriously as they should have been.

CM: Ok.

AP: Um…you know, you’ve been to go out to party on Bourbon Street and then, you know, not, and kind of do a half ass job.  And it’s like, why, why are you here?  You know, what are your motivations?  And I think that that what’s was, um, upsetting.  Not because of the work that we were doing.

CM: Ok, I understand that.

AP: Because of, you know, the, the general overall feeling amongst the group.  So.

CM: How much did that…how much did that, uh, it sounds like you, in some ways you…you were desirous of [30:00] people just taking things more seriously.

AP: Right.

CM: And how much did…

AP: They didn’t…Go ahead.

CM: No, you go ahead and finish.

AP: Oh, I was, I just think that, you know…they didn’t realize that, you know, people were expected, affected as, as much as they…as, they weren’t being as reverent, I guess, as, as much as they should have been.  Um…basically, you know, not really thinking about, um, whose lives were affected.  So, yeah.

CM: How much did that, sense of…of, of desiring people to take it more serious, ‘cause this is the summer, this is your end of your…this, this is the spring break of your junior year, correct?

AP: Right. Mm, hm.

CM: How much of that played into motivating you to get back there after you graduated?

AP: Well, um…it cemented my love for New Orleans. Um, because, when I first came here, you know, you see all this devastation.  But then you also were able to sense the feeling of optimism, you know, in the state of all of this, you know, catastrophe, um, in the people.  And, you, you experience the culture, you know.  We were able to go to a, um, crawfish boil and, um, I’m going to hear live music.  You know, all of those things.  And, you’re like, oh, wow, this is, you know, there’s something really special here.  And I had never been to New Orleans prior.  Um, but, even in the midst of all the…the terrible things that were going on, I could still feel that.  And I think that the second time around, um, being able to share that with other people too and also experiencing it again, um, really just cemented my love for the city and for, um, all the people that are here, and, and, you know, working towards rebuilding the city.  Um, to make it what it was before.

CM: So…

AP: Um…and as far as, you know, what I think, like I said, those trips definitely made me, um, public service minded.  And so, after graduation, um, I, I knew that I wanted to do something in public service and so, I actually applied for Teach for America.  And I don’t know if you’re familiar with that program?

CM: I am.

AP: Um, and I, uh, applied at, to New Orleans as my first choice and I didn’t get it.  I, um, got, um, sent to Phoenix instead.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: And so, I, um…

CM: Did you ac, did you end up going?

AP: I’m sorry?

CM: Did you go?

AP: I did.  I went to Phoenix and, um, that’s, like, an entire separate story.

CM: [Laughs]

AP: But, um, I, I did Teach for America for a while.  It wasn’t for me.  And, um, I started doing, um...I, I, again, after I, um, left Teach for America I know I, I wanted to do something in non-profit.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um, again, just to put the whole public service in mind.  And, uh, so, I was there.  I didn’t wanna really up and move after I’d only been there four months, to New Orleans. 

CM: Ok.

AP: Um, so…um, I took a, a job as a volunteer coordinator, because I wanted to be able to share my love for public service, um, with others.  Um, and also it combines, you know, my event planning experience, um, as well.  Um, and so, I, you know, was there for a year and then, um, as soon as I found, um, a position, um, here in New Orleans for a volunteer coordinator position I knew that  it was for me.  So.

CM: So you were actively searching for a volunteer…you were actively searching for a way to get back to New Orleans?

AP: Yes.  I definitely was.  I knew that I wanted to return to the city that made me fall in love with the service.  Um, no matter what. Um, I, you know, I’d only been there twice, uh, here twice.  I’d only been here for two weeks total.  Um, but, I think that it, it just made that much of an impact on me that I knew that this is the place that I wanted to be and I had to at least give it, you know, a try and see if I liked it, or, else, you know, I would never know.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: So, I was definitely actively searching for a way to get back.  And then also I knew that there was still a lot of work to be done.  So…

CM: [Unintelligible]

AP: …and I felt that, you know, I, I can’t do a lot, but I can do my small part.

CM: Now when did you start as a volunteer coordinator in New Orleans?   It was, it was just recently, correct?

AP: Right.  It was August.  It was August.

CM: So, your, your story is very interesting…in, it’s a little different than many of the, than several of the stories that I’ve heard.  Because, it sounds, in some ways you have more experience in New Orleans before…

AP: Right.

CM: …deciding to do your long term thing.  ‘Cause the, the typical story is something along the lines of: uh, I came for a week and either I completed what I was doing, like, say, college, and then I came back.  Or, I just decided to stay. [35:00]  And your story is really curious because you came for a week, you went back, made an org, an organization dedicated to doing work down there, and then you went back again, volunteered somewhere else, and then finally came back.  What was it like for you having been there as one of the volunteers, quote unquote, and getting a job as a volunteer coordinator?  I mean, what kind of work were you doing when you first sat down?  You’re on the other side of the desk now. 

AP: Right.

CM: What was it like for you?

AP: Um, it’s, it’s kind of cool.  Because, um, like I said, the reason why I took my first volunteer coordinator position in Phoenix was because I wanted to share my love of public service to others.  And then, so, when I became a volunteer coordinator in New Orleans, not only was I able to share my love of public service with others and get them excited about coming here, but also share my love of New Orleans…with them.  And, um, and, and, and kind of be able to, be like, I was in your shoes, um, you know, I was in college, um, I wanted to make a difference, um, and now I’m able to coordinate groups, um, you know, that are bringing people down for the first time.  Um, and so, it’s, it’s satisfying knowing that, you know, you’re playing some small part in getting more people down here to help.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um…Yeah, it’s definitely, it’s def, it’s different because, you know, you’re used to being on the front, for me, you know, in a house, like, gutting or whatever.  But, also being able to bring, you know, thousands of people down…

CM: Yeah.

AP: … they can, you know, so they can experience it.  That’s, that’s pretty empowering.

CM: Yeah, I can only imagine.  So, why don’t you, uh, let’s do a little detail work for a moment.  Tell me, what’s your, what’s your day like?

AP: Um, so, it, it varies.  Um, it varies on, like, I think, the time of the year, um, and it also varies on, like, the number of, um, groups that we have coming in.

CM: Ok.

AP: Um, because if we, like, there’s no typical day in the life of a volun, of a volunteer coordinator, which is why I love it.

CM: Ok.

AP: Um, it’s, if we, if we have a volunteer group here, um, like, Sunday evening, um, I would go and, basically, you give a brief orientation, um, kind of the history of what happened during Katrina, um, the history of our organization, um, what they’re gonna be doing for the week.  You kind of mentally prepare them, um, for the type of work they’re going to be doing.  Uh, tell them about the homeowner.  That’s something that’s really great about our program, is that, um, since Rebuilding Together works with existing homeowners, um, and they’re not doing new construction, um, they have those stories that I was so connected to in, you know, when I first came here…

CM: So, you, you make a…

AP: …and so, we’re able…

CM: Do you…

AP: Go ahead.

CM: I was gonna say, do you make a point to, uh…allow your volunteers to meet their homeowners?  Or the homeowners, the home, the owners of the homes that their working in?

AP: Um, that’s kind of tricky for us, because, um, obviously we would love all of our volunteers to meet the homeowners.

CM: Uh, huh.

AP: But, um…depending on the homeowners’ situation, it may or not be, may or may not be possible.  Um, we work with elderly and disabled homeowners.  And so, sometimes they may not have transportation.  Um, they might be staying with a member of the family.  Uh, they might not even be in New Orleans, you know, they may be in Atlanta, or somewhere still, because they don’t have a place that’s inhabitable.

CM: Ok.

AP: Um, but, something that we do for all of the volunteer groups is, um, each homeowner has a biography, um, that we make about them that tells about what they were doing before the storm, um, what they did when they evacuated, if they evacuated, um, what they came back to, and, um, you know, basically, their story since the storm as well.  And so, for every, for every single volunteer group that we have we make sure to share that with them, um, because we want them to have that connection.  That’s what makes the volunteer experience so valuable…

CM: Mm.

AP: …is putting that face to the home.

CM: Ok.

AP: Yeah.

CM: And so, you mentioned sometimes that you’re busier than others.  What, what’s your cycle like?

AP: Um, so, um…basically, uh, it, it…during the fall, um, we get a lot of people, um, we, we do this big project call up, called October Build.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: And it’s, um, local volunteers.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um, and so, this is something that, um, we are, basically, trying to increase every year.  Because after the storm there weren’t a lot of local people here.  But we know in ten to fifteen years, um, you know, the hype [40:00] is gonna die down and we’re not gonna get national volunteers anymore.  Um, and, so, we’re trying to build that back up.  So, October’s kind of a crazy month because we do that.  And we get, um, a lot of, of local businesses and organizations agree to, um, to donate, you know, three weekends out of the month and send X number of volunteers whether it be from 10 to 100 volunteers.  Um, obviously, um, the spring is really big.  March, uh, we’re completely full already, um, and it’s, what, November.  Um…and, I think that also, um, the early part of, of the year, like, August, September, gets really full too.  And, and there’s a lot of, um, full times, like, around holidays, um, usually ‘cause people have off.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um, but, that’s kind of, that’s kind of the cycle throughout the year.  It kind of, it kind of varies.  Um, and then January we get a lot of people for winter breaks.  For, um, you know, the, the alternative spring breaks, we still get a lot of, a lot of alternative spring breaks, so that’s great.

CM: Now, are you comfortable in the position yet?

AP: Oh, yeah!  Most definitely.  Um…I think that, um, you know, I was really lucky that I have had, you know, some professional experience as a volunteer coordinator.  I think that it would be really difficult had I not.  Um, but, you know, you was asking me, uh, about my typical day.  Um…you know, normally, you know, that Sunday evening I’ll go and I’ll orient them and then, you know, Monday morning I have to go into the warehouse early and, and make sure that, basically, all of our volunteers are, are getting to where they need to be, um, on each home.  So, we may have, you know, on a busy week, we may have, um, I don’t know, ten volunteer groups that are going to different sites.  And so, making sure that, um, all of the house captains are getting to their sites on time to meet the volunteers, so they have somebody to greet them on site.  Um…and then after that, um, it’s just a matter of, you know, responding and, and corresponding with, um, with them to make sure that their experience is going well.  Um, visiting them on-site to make sure that, um, you know, everything is, is, um, basically, comfortable for them…

CM: Yeah?

AP: …um, you know, if they need additional supplies, or, you know, they need to talk to us about something that’s going on on-site, or whatever it may be.

CM: Do you do arrangements for their housing and such?

AP: Um, we provide recommendations. 

CM: Ok.

AP: Um, unfortunately, we don’t have the, you know, the, the capacity to house volunteers.  But, um, we definitely have made partnerships across the city, um, that we try and refer them to.  Um…you know, whether it be, um, Hands on New Orleans, or, um, United Way, or, somebody, you know, that’s, that’s pretty, um…has, has a lot of different options for us to help them.  Um, and then we also provide recommendations for transportation and food and, um, and things like that.  Um, and that’s, that’s something that happens during the recruitment process.  And then, you know, that’s another element to the day is, is, basically seeking out, you know, what volun, what volunteer group have we not tapped into yet.

CM: Uh, huh.

AP: Um, and, and something that right now that we’re doing is conventions and conferences and events, um, because, obviously, um, New Orleans has a huge tourist industry and, you know, we think that it should be almost a requirement that if you come to New Orleans and you’re having fun on, in New Orleans that you might as well give a day, um, or at least a half a day. 

CM: Well…

AP: To help rebuild.

CM: Well, that’s interesting. 

AP: Um.

CM: How successful are you with that…initiative?

AP: Um, well…

CM: I mean, I mean, because I meet so many people when I went…so many people are like, oh, it’s three years later they don’t need any work.

AP: Right.  And I think that that’s our biggest…I think that that’s our biggest obstacle.  Is people are still not aware of what’s going on down here.  I mean, I get calls like that all the time.  They’ll be, like, oh, well, um, do you guys still, are you still in need of volunteers?  And it’s like, are you joking me?  Like, my goal is 6,000 volunteers this year.  Yes, we need volunteers.  And, I mean, we, um, are only increasing the number of houses that we do per year.  Um, I know that last year, I think the, the goal was 100 and we met that.  And this year we’re doubling it, our goal is 200 houses.  Um, and so, you know, it’s like, I, I think that’s, that’s our biggest, um, biggest, uh, downfall is that, is that premonition, or, not premonition, that idea, of that, you know, we’re back to where we should be.  And it’s not like that at all.  Um, as far as the co, how the conference and the events thing is going, um, that’s actually an initiative [45:00] that I just started in August.  Um, I, we, as an organization they’d never previously thought about tapping into the industry.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um, and so, it’s kind of new territory.  Um, being an event planner, um, you know, by, by major and by, my background, I was like, well, you know, I think that that would be a, a definite place to get people, and, um, I think it’s just a matter of creating partnerships with different event planners around the city and with the, um, convention and visitors bureau, um, with different hotels and, um, I think that, um, you know, it’s gonna get there.  [Laughs]

CM: Yeah, I mean, it, it’s…

AP: [Unintelligible] I’m still doing init, a lot of the initial leg work.  But, um, looking forward to some good things.  I’ve already solidified a few, a few groups, so, um, it’s exciting to see that progress.

CM: It’s a great idea.  Um, I wanna ask you about your experience as a volunteer.  Now, what’s interesting is we have, really, three different experiences to talk about. [Laughs]  Um…

AP: Right.

CM: So, what were, tell me about some of your favorite moments in your work.  And I, I, I say in your work because we have, like I said, we have the first year, the second year, and, and the work you’re doing now.  So…

AP: Right.

CM: …feel free to choose from any of them.

AP: Um…well, I would, I would say that the one that I was, um, talking about earlier where, the most memorable one wasn’t until the second year that I came.  And, um…I, we were working on the church and, um, somebody was like, hey, um, there’s this lady down the street that wants to talk to some of you.  And we were like, what?  We, we were kind of confused and we’re like, ok.  Um, and it was this little old lady, whose probably, um, I, I think that she said that she was in her 90s.  And, she was living in a FEMA trailer and, um, there was just, only three of us that, like, went down there and she was just like, oh, come in, come in.  And, [Interference, unintelligible] wanted somebody to tell her story to.  Um, so, she sat us down and, you know, we were like, kinda like, you know, so, so, what happened?  And, she was like, well, you know, I wanted to get out, but I just couldn’t, and, um, you know, I’m old, and I’m just not very mobile, and, um, you know, she kinda told us a little bit about that.  Um, and then, we says, well, you know, how did you end up getting out, or, you know, what happened?  And she says, well, I got rescued and I was holding onto a light pole with one hand and I had my pictures of my, of my grandbabies in the other.  And…

CM: Oh, wow.

AP: …she was, like, pulled onto, um, a [Unknown word] and then she later found out that she lost all of her kids.  Um, they all died in, in Katrina.  And, um, she was still…trying to figure out if any of her grandkids, um, weren’t somewhere.  That, obviously, a lot of kids got lost, um, in the midst of everything.  And so, um, and she was the most optimistic person I have ever met in my entire life.  I can’t imagine being 90 years old, you know, find out that you lost all of your kids, um, and then still being as optimistic as you are, um, in just saying that, you know, God has a reason for everything, and this is just his plan, and, you know, we’re all better off be, because of it.  And I just, I was just amazed.  That was…I think that that just kind of made me, uh…way more humble than I’ve ever been in my entire life and then also just completely in awe of that, but, um…

CM: Did she…

AP: …that was one moment, that definitely, like, I will never forget that.  Ever.

CM: Did she, did she just wanna…

AP: Um…

CM: …tell you her story?

AP: …yeah.  I’m sorry?

CM: Did she just want to tell you her story?

AP: That was it.  She just wanted to tell someone.  And I was like, that’s [Interference, unintelligible word]…

CM: That’s…

AP: I mean, I just felt so privileged too, that, you know.  It was just, it was completely random and completely out of the blue, but it was, I don’t know.  It’s just, when things like that happen, it’s kind of like, well…I don’t know.  It’s very humbling.

CM: That’s really powerful.

AP: Yeah.  It, it definitely was.

CM: So…

AP: Um, so, that has got to top the list.  But, I think that as far as, like, all of my experiences goes it’s taking back, you know, the fact that, you know, I can’t, I can’t single handedly, you know, do something.  And I can’t fix New Orleans and I can’t rebuild New Orleans.  But, you know, I can do my small part.  And, um, and I don’t, you know, I don’t, it’s not like New Orleans was in great shape before the storm, but, you know, there’s this vibrancy and this something about it that just draws you in [50:00] and it makes you feel alive, you know.  And so, knowing that you, you’re apart of that…

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: …it, it’s a really good feeling.

CM: So, the, the story you told about, um, the, the, the woman from down the street when you were working on the home.  That made me think about…your reception in New Orleans generally, uh.  How, how do you feel that the people of New Orleans have received you and the other volunteers?

AP: Um…I’ve never felt more accepted anywhere.  Um, the first time that I ever came here, um, it was really surreal.  I mean, people would see that we were from a university because we had the Kansas State vans down here.  And they would honk at us and they would wave and…you know, they’d be, thank you so much, or, you know, people would, they’d say, oh, well, you know, are you from here?  And, you’re like, oh, no, I’m just here volunteering, or um, you know, I just moved here, you know, both the first, second, and third time.  You know, they’re like, thank you so much for being here, um, you know, you, it’s really great what you’re doing, you know, we appreciate it. And so, I’ve never received anything but, but good things, so.

CM: Wow.  The, um, so, you told me about the good moment, what, what’s been difficult for you?

AP: Um, I think that…I think that, um…there’s two, kind of, things.  One is, um, like I said, it was really emotionally draining, you know, you…and, and, and frustrating too.  Because, you know, you talk about, ok, well, I can do my small part.  And you, you get frustrated at, at, well, why can’t more people do their small part?  If more people did their small part and, it would be, the process would be just that much faster.  You know, whether you’re talking about individual volunteers, or if you’re talking about at, you know, the different, um, the different levels of government, or if you’re talking, you know, whatever, whatever you want to talk about.  I think it’s frustrating that more people aren’t concerned about, about New Orleans and about what happened here.

CM: Does there, are, are there things that make, that happen often that make you think about that?

AP: Um…I mean, I don’t, I don’t think that it, I think that it’s really hard now, because, like, I work for a non-profit organization that’s specifically geared towards rebuilding homes.

CM: Uh, huh.

AP: And so, you know, I’m really lucky in that I, I get to, um, you know, work around amazing people who have these amazing visions for the future.  Um, but then, you know, on a day-to-day, day basis, you, you live here.  You know, you see the infrastructure problems.  You know, you see, um, you know, out in Gentilly, um, used to be, you know, one of the most populated, um, neighborhoods in, in the city and, you know, you go out there it’s completely deserted still.  Four years after the storm.  And, you know, you go to hand out fliers and there’s no one to hand them to.  Because…their gone.  And they may never be coming back, you know.  And that’s one of the most historically significant, uh, neighborhoods in the entire city, you know, because it was basically the first, um, African American neighborhood, um, suburb, um, where…in, in the ‘50s.  And so, it was just, I don’t know.  Those, those things.  You know, there are always constant reminders.  I think that when you go see, you know, the homes that, you see the X’s, you know…

CM: Yeah, those are scary.

AP: …on homes.  And you’re like, well, let’s do something about that.

CM: Is your work now as emotionally draining as your volunteer work?

AP: I don’t, no, not even, not even close.  Um, because, I’m, like I said, I’m surrounded by a lot of, um, positivity, um, for the most part.  Um…you know, with, I’m dealing with people every day who are so excited to come down here.  Um, but then I see, you know, colleagues and, and they, um, they’re emotionally drained because they’re the ones working with the homeowners.  Um, and I don’t know if I could do that every day.

CM: Really?

AP: [Unintelligible words]  I mean, they work with the homeowners on a day-to-day basis, um, you know, trying to get the necessary paperwork to go through the whole bureaucratic process of getting, um, approved for money, or, or whatever, you know, whatever.  They have to listen to stories over and over and over again.  And, you know, they’re amazingly powerful stories and you want to help everyone, but, you know, the process is what the process is.  And unfortunately it just doesn’t always work that way, and so.  Yeah, I don’t think that I could work, work, you know, with, with homeowners every day, because, you know, you, you have to relive, you know, their pain too.  Um, and so, I really admire the work that they, their doing, but, lucky for me, you know, I, [55:00] I get to…basically, surround myself with people who, who are just really excited to be here and, and do their part, so.  Um, yeah, I definitely think that being…on the front lines is a lot more frust, a lot more draining than behind the scenes.

CM: How do you, uh, take care of yourself?  Or, not…

AP: Um…

CM: …just you, but you and, you know, the people around you?

AP: Um, you know, I can say just it’s always focusing on, on the positive, on the positives.  And, you know, I think that with public service it’s a really hard, hard thing anyways.  I mean, before this, um, in my, in Phoenix, you know, I was working with, um, with youth in South Phoenix that were, um, you know, in, in gang and drug infested neighborhoods, you know.  So, I think that with public service you always have to keep in mind that the reason why that you’re doing public service is to fix something that’s wrong.  And…

CM: Yeah.

AP: …so, going into it knowing that, you know, there’s, there’s a reason why you’re doing  the work that you’re doing and, um, and not letting the wrong overtake your small part.

CM: Ok.  That’s ver…

AP: So.

CM: …you know, but, um, that’s very, that’s very philosophical though.  I know, I mean, for example, I know when I was there, I noticed that…uh, I’m not a drinker for example.  And I noticed that people would, kind of, regularly go to the bar and kinda hang out.  And it seemed to me that that was kind of a way…you know, to kind of, uh…let out some of that anxiety and tension.  And then, I also, one of the things I’ve seen in the interviews is that they’re a lot of religious folks who go and rely on their faith.  Um, you know, so, I’m just wondering, like…what are the concrete things that you do?  Or, or is that your concrete thing, just trying to stay mentally focused?

AP: Well, I mean, I think that, you know, as far as, as far as, you know, you, you talk about, you know, dealing with colleagues and things like that, and, you know, hearing those stories.  I think that that’s where that part comes into play.  You know…

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: …the, the, um, staying mentally focused on, like, what you’re doing.  But, obviously, you know, um…I am a really, I’m, I’m not very religious, um.  You know, I’m not, um…I, I, I don’t know.  I, I, I don’t, I, I, I feel like it’s more about balance for me.

CM: Mm.

AP: So, making sure that I am, you know, having fun still.

CM: Right.

AP: Um, and, and not letting those things bog me down.  And I think that, you know, like I said, you, it is about staying positive.  And so, you know, it’s going out to one of the awesome festivals in New Orleans, or, you know.  So, so just basically keeping a balanced life.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: You know, and not letting, you know, the work that you do, um, too much into your personal life.  So, you know, going out and having a good time with friends or, um, you know, going to a dinner party, or whatever it may be, you know.

CM: Yeah, yeah!

AP: But, um, yeah, I definitely think that, there’s nothing, nothing too concrete, um, about, about getting through, you know, the, the hard times.  I think that it’s just about trying to stay positive.

CM: You sound very, uh, balanced too.  No pun intended.  And it, it’s just made me wonder to what extent with your leadership background…and also, having come in as a volunteer coordinator from somewhere else.  I wonder about the extent to which you are, somewhat, more prepared than others.  Um…in other words, it almost sounds like…you’ve come in with an understanding of how to live the lifestyle more so than, ‘cause sometimes I get the impression that, uh, it’s kind of, uh, jumping feet first into the pool for some people and it’s a little overwhelming.

AP: Yeah.  I think that, um…you know, every person’s experience is very different.  And, I think that, um, there were a lot of people who came to New Orleans, um, right after the storm and they had never left.  And, were so completely, uh, overwhelmed by what was going on and the lack of response and, you know, hearing all of the stories all of the time and, um, you know, that it, you know, they, they used different things to cope.  Whatever that may be.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um…but I think that for me, uh, I was really fortunate that I was able to come and experience it and then mentally remove myself from it.  Um.

CM: Right.

AP: And then, you know, prepare, because I had been here before.  Like, ok, um, you know, I’m going back and do this again.  And, and then doing it.  And then, um, I think that…it helps, you know, knowing, [1:00:00] anyways, um, you know, what public service and philanthropy and, and, like I wa, you know, like I was talking about, what it, it truly is about.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um…and not letting that completely overwhelm you.  Um, because it is.  If you, you know, if you think about all of the…you know, the horrible things that happen here, you know, still today.  And happened during Katrina, like, I don’t, I don’t really know if I can, you, you know, mentally handle that.  You, you have to constantly make an effort.  To…

CM: Yeah.

AP:, to not let yourself get so bogged down.

CM: So, um…I wanna, just one more, I wanna ask you one more detail question then I have some big questions for you.

AP: Sure.

CM: The…I got lost when I was there one night at about two in the morning on the Loyola New Orleans’ campus.

AP: Mm, hm.

CM: And, uh, a campus police officer saw me and hu, quickly hustled me to the dorms [Laughs] that we were staying in.  Uh, you know, letting me know that it really wasn’t safe for a person like me to be out, um, lost, at that time.  And I, I remember our, our, our coordinator really made an effort to make sure she was like, oh, you all always need to travel in groups because, you know, crime is high and, you know, how have you had to, or let, let me take that back.  Have you felt a responsibility to, um, help your volunteers think about their safety?  Or, has that not really been an issue because people know who the volunteers are?

AP: Um, that’s a really difficult question.  Um, because, I think that, um, as a volunteer coordinator, you know, you want to do your part at, you know, in making sure that they have the best volunteer experience possible.

CM: Uh, huh.

AP: Um, at the same time you’re dealing with a lot of different groups.  Um, and so, it’s not always easy to, um…you know, to talk about, like, the safety issue.  Um, and then you also don’t want to scare volunteers.

CM: Ok.

AP: Um, so there, you know, so there’s two, th, before they even get here.  Um, so there’s kind of two parts to that, um, you know, you wanna make sure, I mean, a lot of, a lot of the safety stuff that we do…

CM: Yeah.

AP: …I mean, is just on site safety.  And it’s, it’s not just, um, you know, the, the construction part of it, it’s also the, you know, make sure that, you know, you aren’t leaving site, because, um, you know, we don’t want anything to happen to you, um, you know, when you’re down the street getting, you know, a soda at the gas station or whatever.

CM: Right.

AP: Um, but then you, you know…part of my job is also to, um, entice people to come here.  So, if you’re…talking about, you know…it may be unsafe, you know, then I’m not gonna really wanna come.  Um, even though that that’s very much, you know, it, it, and I would not think that it’s an issue if you’re smart about it.

CM: What d’you mean by that?

AP: Um, I think that, you know…just…using common sense, um, when going out, you know.  If you go out at night, you know, do make sure you’re with other people.  Um, you make sure that, you know, you are aware of your surroundings and are you on a main street or a street split, um, but that’s not…just New Orleans.  I mean, that’s any big city.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um, you know, so, I, I, I definitely think that, you know, there, there are issues here, but I think that, also, if you’re smart, um, there’s no reason for you to feel unsafe.  Um, I’ve never felt unsafe in New Orleans.

CM: So, would that, does that…

AP: Um…

CM: …does that mean that the, um, you know there’s a lot of…uh…[Sings] do, do, do, do, um…there’s a lot of reporting in the media regarding crime in New Orleans.

AP: Right.

CM: But, you know, I live in Chicago and there’s a lot of reporting about crime in Chicago.  That doesn’t mean I go out and I’m worried about gangbangers jumping out of the window shooting at me.  Um…

AP: Right.

CM: …is it, is it similar?  I mean, is it something where crime feels distant from the experiences of, uh…volunteers and, and doing the rehabilitation?  Or, is it, or is it something that’s, kind of, maybe hovering in the background?  Where, where does it feel like it is, to you?

AP: I think that, you know, the whole safety issue is very ingrained in, um…in the national media, uh, or the national mindset of, of people in general about New Orleans.  I feel like, you know, if you say, oh, I live in New Orleans, they’ll be like, oh, well, why do you live there, it’s so dangerous.  And you’re like, is it really that much dangerous than, much more dangerous than any big city?  Um, and I, I don’t know if that’s just, like, a cultural thing?  Um, because, this city has, you know, traditionally been known as, kind of, a party place.

CM: Uh, huh.

AP: Um, a place, you know, that’s kind of for sinners, or, or whatever [1:05:00] it may be.  Um, I don’t know.  I mean, I don’t, I don’t really know the answer to that question.  But, um, I do know that I haven’t felt, um, anymore, um, unsafe here than I, you know, had felt when I was in Phoenix.  That’s a big city too, you know.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: And, and…and I don’t, and I don’t know if that’s just because I am, you know, more aware of my surroundings and, and I’m kind of cognizant of that?

CM: Right.

AP: Um…Yeah, I don’t know.  I mean, it’s a really hard, it’s a really hard question.  I think that…

CM: Well, I ca…

AP: …it’s kind of people’s opinions, you know, before they even get here.

CM: I can’t say that I really felt it either when I was there.

AP: Yeah.

CM: I, I mean, you know, ‘cause I’m from the South and I also live in Chicago.  So.

AP: Right.

CM: I didn’t have this thing where I went down South and I was, you know, um, a, a Yankee who had never been in the South before and was just, kind of, amazed by the South and…

AP: Yeah.

CM: …and, and weary of, of things.  Chicago’s not exactly the safest city in the world. [Laughs]  So…

AP: Yeah.

CM: …I didn’t feel, but, I do remember that, that we were it, it was, kept being repeated to us, just be, watch out for yourself, and be safe, be safe.  And, I did th, this made me wonder if, if other people, how their experiences of that had been, as well.

AP: Uh, I just, yeah, I don’t, I don’t really feel, I don’t really feel, like, it has been to me either, a big deal.  I mean, I think that’s also, um…I think that I’m always, kind of, a little bit cautious, more cautious.  But, I mean, I think that also has to do with being a female.

CM: Yes.

AP: Um, you know, you’re, you’re kind of always cautious anyways, um, I feel like, or…I think that women should be, um, just because, you know, physically you’re inferior.  But, um, it, it’s just, I don’t know.  That’s something that’s always kind of put there, not because of where I’m living, but just because of, you know, that I am female.  So…

CM: Well, that’s that common sense…

AP: …uh…

CM: …that’s that common…

AP: …I don’t know.

CM: …thing again.  Like you said a moment ago.

AP: I’m sorry?

CM: Uh, that’s that common sense thing again.

AP: Uh, exactly.  And it is.  It’s just, like, a common sense thing.  And, you know, I lived in Chicago, actually, for a while.  And, I lived in Evanston.  Not exactly the scariest place…

CM: [Laughs]

AP: …but, um.  I didn’t, I just, I don’t know.  I don’t feel like it’s any different.

CM: Well, let me ask you a couple of big questions.  Um, where do you feel like your organization fits into the relief effort relative to a, other organizations?  You know, I’ve talked to people from Operation Helping Hands now, and, and Rebuilding Together.  And I actually just did an interview with somebody with, uh, Project Homecoming.  Um, and so, I, I, I keep being surprised by the, the number of organizations, it seems like, are going doing work down there.  It just seems to be growing, which is scary from a research perspective.  But, where do you feel like Rebuilding Together ss, fits relative to these other organizations?

AP: Well, um, Re, I mean…statistically, I don’t want to say, stat, statis, uh, statistically, but, um, we, I mean, we are the largest organization, rebuilding organization in the city.


AP: Um, and so, you know, we’ve been very fortunate, um, and, and like I said, I just working, new here, in August.  But, I was really fortunate enough to come into an organization that’s been established and has really great relationships with, um, the neighborhood associations.  Um, and, kind of, has established this reputation for itself, um, as doing really good work here.  Um, and, you know, we, we just got awarded, um, a lot of really, um, big public dollars, um, that are just now coming out four years after the storm.  Um, and we were awarded the most out of any organization in the city.  Um, and so, that also, you know, puts just even that much more faith in, in the, the organization that I’m working for.  Um, that, you know, they, that the city, um, has recognized the efforts that we, that we’ve put forth so far and are continuing to do.  Um, I definitely think that, uh, on, in the, overall scheme of things, you know, we’ve been able to accomplish a lot in three years, um, with what we’ve started with.  And then, um, but I also feel like, um, we fit a very specific niche of people. 

CM: What niche is that?

AP: And...I’m sorry?

CM: Tell me about that niche.

AP: Um, well, we target the, uh, low-income elderly and disabled. 

CM: Mm.

AP: Um, and that was our original, um, mission.  And we just recently expanded to fit single mothers, um, and first-responders…

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: …as well.  Um, and, you know, obviously, these are all low-income and so…

CM: And can I?  Let me ask you one more qu, question.  Where in the process of rebuilding are your clients?  For example, uh, I know Operation Helping Hands and, um, uh, uh…um, oh, I can’t thi, remember the name of it now, [1:10:00] Operation Helping Hands and another one I just was, just spoke to you about a moment ago.

AP: Project Homecoming?

CM: Yes, Project Homecoming.  Thank you very much.  Um, they can only do individuals who have already done some rebuilding and have money to buy supplies.  And like with, with, uh, Project Homecoming, for example, they’re, they’re somewhat limited, because they feel like, there’re people who need more help out there than they can afford to give…

AP: Right.

CM: …at this point.  So…

AP: Um…

CM: …where…

AP: …well…

CM: …are your people coming in?

AP: We’re really, like I said, we’re really lucky, um, in that respect.  Uh, we do not charge our homeowners anything.  And we will take anything from a light rebuild to a full rebuild.  So, we will, basically, take, um, if there’s framing there we can do it.  Um, we don’t do any new construction.  Um, and, and we don’t do any, um, like, gutting.

CM: Ok.

AP: Um, but, you know, if there’s, like, a frame, if there’s a frame there we can build it from a frame up.  Um, and if there’s just some, you know, scaffolding, er, not scaffolding, but there’s some shingles missing and, like, siding and, you know, it needs a paint job, we can do that too. 

CM: That’s a huge…

AP: Um.

CM: …range.  Is anybody…

AP: What?

CM: …else able to do that much?

AP: Yes.  Um, and so, um, you know, it, it ranges.  Um, a lot of it has to do with, um…uh…the homeowners and, you know, whether they fit, like I said, we have that specific profile.  Low-income elderly and then also, um, you know, we take a really detailed look at, uh, their, if they received, like, um, Road Home money, um, any insurance money, um, how they’ve spent that money, um, if they’ve spent it, um, if they were a victim of contractor fraud, um.  A lot of different things before they’re actually, the average intake is three months.

CM: Ok.

AP: Um, they go through this process of, for three months of trying to figure out whether or not, um, the process is even viable for us.

CM: And, um, is any other organization working at the same range that you’re working on in terms of being able to handle, you know, such a huge range from houses that are just frames to, maybe, doing some siding and, and roofing?

AP: Um, as far as with existing, um, properties, I don’t think so.

CM: Ok.

AP: Um…

CM: Habitat does…

AP: …I know…

CM: …new stuff, right?

AP: Habitat does new construction.

CM: Alright.

AP: And so, um, you know, they’re just building from the ground up.  But as, as far as existing structures, no.  I don’t think that anybody has the capacity to do that.  Um, so, I mean, that’s, that’s really great for us.  Um, I mean it’s…it’s great for us that we were able, that we’re able to that.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um, we obviously wish that there was…a, a lot more organizations that were able to do the same.  Um, like I said, you know, we fit that very specific demographic.  So, there’s this whole other low-income family bracket that, you know, we, we’re…

CM: Ok.

AP: …unable to, to help. 

CM: Yeah.

AP: Um, because they might not, you know, have a disability.  Or, they not might, they might not be elderly.  Or, you know, or a single parent household, or, or, or want-not.  So, um, you know, there’s that whole demographic there that needs, that needs help, too.  And, you know, we don’t, we don’t service them.  But, um, there’s a lot of organizations that are out there.  And so, you know, hopefully with the collective efforts of all of us, um, you know, we can find somebody that, that can help them.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: And that’s something that’s also really great, is that we never just turn somebody away blatantly.  Um, we’ll always say, you know, unfortunately, you know, you don’t qualify for our program, but, um, here’s this, this, and this organization that may be able to help.

CM: What do you think is the, uh, level of coordination between all the organizations?  Do you all sit down and talk…with consistency?  Do you know what other organizations are doing?  Um, or, do you feel like you all are, kind of, out there on your own?

AP: Um, I think that there is a certain level of organization.  Um, you know, I’m not as involved on that level as I would like to be.  Um, or, you know, have had the opportunity to be.  Um, but, you know, there’s the Greater New Orleans, um, I think it’s, Housing Alliance.

CM: Ok.

AP: Um, is what it’s called.  GNOHA.  And I was able to go to one of those meetings.  And, and it’s, basically, um…an organization of all the, or, an alliance of all the organizations in the city that are working to rebuild.  Um, and they do have those meetings once a month.  And they talk about, you know, and, and it’s more along the lines of, um, you know…referrals, but not only that, like, um, on a pol, on more of, like, a policy level too.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: And making sure that, the, the helping, um, voice is heard.  Whether it be through elected officials or, or want-not.  Um, for, for the housing sector.  So, it, it kind of pulls from a lot of different, it’s rebuilding organizations and subsidized housing [1:15:00] and, um, you know, [Unintelligible word] housing and, and, I mean, it, it ranges, it, the people that are involved with that.  But, um, yeah, I think there’s a certain level of coordination.  I mean, I think that everything can always be improved.  But, it’s there.

CM: Now, uh, you mention policy, um, one thing I’m very curious about is, what is your impression of how the volunteer organizations are coordinating with the local government, state government, and national government?  What, what level of coordination is there, or do you really feel like there’s a, a lot to be desired?

AP: Um, yeah, I definitely think that there’s a lot to be desired.

[Both Laugh]

AP: Um, on, on a larger level.  Um, as far as, like, the, the local level, um, it’s not so much a government thing, it’s more of, like, a neighborhood association thing.  Um, neighborhood associations have been so instrumental in helping rebuild, um, their individual neighborhoods.  And one, um, specific, kind of, quality that Rebuilding Together has is that we won’t enter a neighborhood without first being asked by the neighborhood association and also requiring the neighborhood association to put forth as much effort, um, into finding homeowners, into being a liaison with the homeowners, um, that we’re working with.  Um, you know, um, on a consistent basis.  And so, um, that part has been really great, um…

CM: And these are…

AP: know, that…

CM: …these are community…

AP: …that you…

CM: …organizations, right?  These aren’t, they don’t have any relationship to city government?

AP: Right.

CM: Ok.

AP: These are just associations.  Um, and so, as far as that level, that’s been really great.  Um, as far as, you know, on a government, on a government level, with city and, um, city and state and, and national, um…yeah, I think that’s com… [Laughs] a bit more complicated.  Um, but…I think that, um…hopefully it’s progressing.  Um, I mean, obviously, I’ve, I’m sure you’ve heard about the mayoral races that are…

CM: Yeah.

AP: …going to be, um, taking place.  And there’s a lot of different people campaigning for that.  And, and, you know, everybody wants, wants more.  Um, but it’s also hard to back track the past three years.

CM: One volu…

AP: [Unintelligible word]

CM: One volunteer that I spoke to said that they felt like the federal and state government have absolutely no impact on anything that they do.  Is, would that be a true statement for you?

AP: As far as what I do?  No, absolutely not.

CM: Ok.

AP: Um, but, as far as, I mean, it’s really, um, I was actually really, uh, lucky.  I was able to go to the, um…what was it called?  It was, like, the White House forum on, um…oh, God, I don’t even remember what it was called.  But, after President Obama came here a few, I mean, it was probably what, a month or two ago?

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um, he called, uh, for a national, or a, a for, a forum to take place, basically, as a way for, um,  people in the government, um, in, the health inspectors, um, you know, whoever wanted to take part, come and be registered and share, kind of, their thoughts for best, best practices and the moving forward.  You know, how, um…you know, what needs to happen.  Um, you know, does there need to be, um, a, a plan locally for evacuation?  Does there need, does it need to come from up-down, down-up?  You know, and it’s basically just a forum for people to discuss this.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: And so, I think that…like I said, it’s really hard to back track over the past four years, um, things that have happened.  And so, I think that, you know, we just, as a city and, um, as, you know, the, um, the state and, and, and federally as well, I think that we just need to remember to be more sol, solution oriented.

CM: Right.

AP: Um, bec, because I felt like, you know, I went to this, this, this forum that had the potential to be really great.  And then to, instead it’s turned into a bitching session, basically.

CM: Really?

AP: Um, of people, you know, venting out their frustrations of what hasn’t, or hasn’t happened.  And for me, that was really ineffective, when we should have been talking about what should happen.

CM: Mm.

AP: So.

CM: That’s, that’s curious.  Um…that’s really interesting.  I’m not really sure what to do with that just yet.  [Laughs]  Um.

AP: Yeah. [Laughs]  I’m not really sure what to do with it either. 

CM: Well, I mean, why…

AP: It was…

CM: …the reason is, is…

AP: …it was really interesting to be a part of.  But, um, I, I’m anxious to find, they’re putting together, you know, a report of, of the different findings, or, you know, the different, um, things that were mentioned or said.  Um, and it’s for an emergency preparedness plan.  Um, and not necess, and it’s not for the city of New Orleans, they’re, they were going to [1:20:00] a few different cities in the, in the, in the, um, in the United States.  To, to talk about [Unintelligible word] they didn’t even mention what they were, I don’t even remember.  Um, to talk about this emergency preparedness type thing, um, of what needs, you know, to happen at the national level.  And so, I’m just really anxious to find out, you know, what that report ends of saying.  Um, I think it comes out…in, like, March.

CM: Yeah, I’m gonna wanna see that also.  It’s curios that many people have responded to that question about coordination with, usually, a reference to the mistakes of the past.  And then a, kind of, lack of clarity about what to do about the future.  And…

AP: Right.  I mean, I think that that’s kind of, you know, the overall general consensus.  It’s like, well, there wasn’t really a plan.

CM: Mm.

AP: You know, there wasn’t really a way to…yeah.  I, and I think that, you know, there were, there were a lot of things that happened and people want to talk about them and they don’t know the best way to do that.  And that was something that we also talked about in the forum that was like, you know, if somebody has a suggestion, you know, where do they go?  Even if it doesn’t, it doesn’t seem like, you know, the current way is effective, so.

CM: Well, is there anything, like, if for example, you could have a, besides getting all the money that you want, [Laughs] is there anything that you could think of off the top of your head that the federal or state government could do to make your job easier?

AP: Um…well, I mean, I think that’s kind of, I mean, it is kind of a hard question because for me, you know, I’m doing so…one-on-one, you know, with volunteers.

CM: Right, I can understand that.

AP: Um…but, as far as, like, overall, you know, and, and for the future, I mean, and it’s so hard because everything is so bureaucratic.  But, um, I know with the homeowners, um, you know, some of the people that we work with, um…it’s really hard for them to get through the process because of the stringent, um,  paperwork requirement.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: That sometimes are not just possible.  Um, bec, you know, to receive funding for something.  Um, for example, uh, all of the money that we were just awarded by Louis agent, Louisiana Housing Financing Authority, LHFA, um, is reim, reimbursement money.  And so, basically, we...that means that, you know, they’re like, ok, you are elig, eligible for 3.5 million dollars.  Um, and we’re like, oh...

CM: Where…

AP: …that’s great.  That’s awesome. 

CM: Where are you gonna…

AP: We don’t have…

CM: …get that from?

AP: We don’t have 3.5 million dollars to spend.

CM: Yeah.

AP: So, um, you know, you have to go through this whole line of credit process, um, for your organization and, you know, I don’t work with that on a day-to-day basis.  But, you know, and that, that’s a huge hurdle and it’s like, ok, so now I have an organization, it’s, it’s put this extra burden on us, um, to go out and figure out how that we’re, how we’re gonna even finance that 3.5 million dollars.  Um, and, you know, something needs to be done about, about that, first and foremost, you know.  Maybe it’s a drop down system.  You know, you spend this much and then you get reimbursed.  And then you spend this much and then you get reimbursed.  Or…

CM: Yeah, that’s just like…

AP: …whatever it is. 

CM: That’s like…

AP:  Um…

CM: …holding the money out in front…

AP: I don’t…

CM: …of you and saying, go work for it.

AP: Yeah.  I don’t, I don’t know what the best answer, you know, is.  But, um, lots of it, I know, I think that the current way is going to make it difficult for a lot of organizations to accomplish, you know, what their goals are.  Um, and, I, and, and I, I think that, also, like I said, the paper too, to even get reimbursed for that money…

CM: Yeah.

AP: …is extremely ridiculous.  Like, and there’s no streamlined, um, process either.  So, as you’re receiving money from one org, uh, from one fund, whether it be, you know, uh, Louisiana Housing Finance, or, Emergency Block Grant dollars, um…the processes are completely different.  And so, you know, if you have one house being financed by one grant and another house being financed by another grant, um, our community outreach officers [Unintelligible words] homeowners, homeowners are getting different documents for, from each homeowner, um, based on who they’re getting funded by.  So, there’s no streamlined system.

CM: Yeah, that’s a, you know…

AP: It’s aggravating.

CM: That sounds so much like the problems with the whole Road Home program also.  And just the…

AP: Well, yeah.

CM: …the level of bureaucratic difficulties that the homeowners have had to deal with.  If, if you don’t have the cultural capital to understand large scale bureaucracy, you’re just kind of out of luck.

AP: Right.  And, you know, uh, we have a really great community outreach officers that are able to walk through the process, but, at the same time it’s like, man, you know, may, maybe we don’t have every single receipt from, you know, where they spend their money, or maybe, you know, they did get, have, were the victim of contractor fraud [1:25:00] and they don’t have anything to show for it.  You know, what then?  So.

CM: Hm.

AP: Yeah.  And I, I mean, it’s hard, ‘cause it’s like, you know, you want, you wanna talk about, you know, all the things that are wrong, but at the same time, it’s like, what do we need to do to move forward?  And I think that that’s where everyone’s kind of stuck.

CM: Yeah.

AP: And it’s kind of, you know, and that’s why that you have these forums to talk about, you know, well, what has been working?  And I think that that’s something that, you know, kind of gets lost in the background…

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: …of…you know, what things have been working versus what things haven’t.  And I think that, you know, it, for me, you know, like I said, I try to focus on the positives [Laughs]…

CM: Right.

AP: …and so, for me, that was kind of disheartening to go to something like that with all of these people who hold very high positions, um, whether it be within the government or, um, within non-profits and just…not talk about moving forward.  And not talk about how we progress past this.

CM: Yeah, I, I can hear that.  Well, it’s been about an hour and a half.  I have, I have only about two more questions.  Do you think you can handle a few more minutes?

AP: Sure, that’s fine.

CM: Ok.  Um, couple of, of a, another big question is, um…um, how is your, your, your three different experiences, sort of, made you think about America as a nation?  Um, or, has it affected your, sort of, understanding of the nation?

AP: Well, that’s a big question.  [Laughs]

CM: It is.  It’s very big.  And, um, uh, however you want to approach it is fine with me.

AP: Um…I think, I think that it’s made me see both sides.

CM: Ok.

AP: I th, um, I think, you know, from an overall, big picture of, you know, feeling not really connected to New Orleans prior to the storm, or, you know, their having a hurricane, that doesn’t affect me.  Um, to the completely opposite side of the spectrum, you know, where I’ve worked one-on-one with homeowners in New Orleans.  Um, and, and feeling very connected and interconnected.  And so, I think that, you know, there’s this whole range of, you know, issues of, you know, are, are we really…if, you know, something happens on a local level, on a local level, you know, are we gonna get support from, you know, the national government?  You know, and, and it’s also, it’s…you know, it makes you question.  And it, and it’s like, should you have to question, you know, your government if there’s a, uh, if…if there, if there should not be assistance for something, you know, as disastrous as what hap, as what happened?  And my answer would be, you shouldn’t have to question that, um.  You know, if, if something’s going wrong in this country, you know, why are we not being there for our own people?  Um, you know, so, it’s definitely made me question that.  Um, but at the same time it’s made me see the generosity of people as individuals.

CM: Sure.

AP: Um, who are able to give up, you know, um, you hear, and I’m sure, you know, you’ve talked to a lot of people, but, people who’ve given, you know, a few days.  Or, people who came down here and were so frustrated and they’ve stayed for years now.  Or, um, you know, they’ve given their time and they’ve given, you know, their days to other people, to help solve other people’s problems.  Um, or fix other people’s homes.  Um, or whatever it may be.  Um, you know, the, I think that it makes you definitely appreciate the good things…

CM: Ok.

AP: …um, and the generosity of the individual people.

CM: Yeah.  I mean, I, I can see, I can see where you’re going with that because it, that also, it reminded me of what you said at the outset when you said you were down there and the destruction, it, it made you think about home, right?  Like, how…

AP: Right.

CM: …this could happen to anyone?  Um, but, every day you’re dealing with people who are really being very generous, giving hours and hours and hours of their time.  So, yeah, I, I can see how you can see both sides, um, on this.  Um, how has the, how have your experiences changed you?  Because it…you know, you, you’ve done quite a lot.  Do you, in what ways do you feel like you’re a different person since starting this interaction?

AP: Um, well, I’m definitely not even close to the person that I was…

CM: Really?

AP: …prior to, um, Katrina.  And I think that, it’s really funny, because when people…a lot of people…es, especially in New Orleans, talk about before the storm, after the storm. 

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: And everything revolves around the storm.  And it’s because they lived here and they went through it.  And, you know, they talk about what happened before and what happened after. And I think for me, it’s very similar, but not in the sense that I went through it, but in the sense that it…something so far [1:30:00] away was able to impact the decisions that I’ve made along the way.  Um, you know, so, I, I, I think that, um…it’s, it’s a series of events that has, has brought me to the current point that I am.  You know, whether it be the first time I came, or the second time I came.  Um, or, you know, whether it sparked my, you know, passion for philanthropy and giving back and the feeling, you know, of, of joy that you get out of helping somebody.  Um…I, I don’t think that I would’ve ever figured that out had I not come.  Um…because that, I mean, that really did, basically, spur, you know, I mean, choosing to go into teaching and [Unintelligible word] community and when that didn’t work out to, you know, continue to be in non-profit.  And, um, you know, I said, I said earlier, you know, I’m not a very religious person, but, um, I do believe in, in goodness in helping others.

CM: Ok.

AP: And I think that, um, especially through my experiences, you know, with, um, with Katrina and, and other, you know, public service things, I, I think that that has just increased so much more.  Um, and it’s also…it humbles you.  And makes you, you know, but it, it, but it humbles you and empowers you at the same time.

CM: Hm.

AP: Because, you know, you, you realize, you know, you are, you are only one person.  But, then you can also say, well, I am only one person, but who can I influence to do something?  Or, you know, can I, you know, me, one person, recruit 6,000 volunteers to come to New Orleans?  You know, or, can I do this?  Or, you know, whatever it may be…if only one person helps and inspires another person to help and inspires another, and it kept going, then that’s that many more people.  So…yeah, I definitely think that it’s changed me in a lot of ways.  I think that it’s changed me.  It’s basically picked my career path for me.  I think that, um, I, um, have become a more humble person, a more civic minded person, um, socially aware.  Um…yeah, I think a lot, a lot has changed.  Definitely.

CM: Where do you…you’re gonna, your, you have this position there now and I’m, I’m sure you’re beginning to develop a long term understanding of New Orleans.  What, what, what are the major needs for the city next?  What remains to be done?

AP: Oh…well…I mean, I definitely need…you know, I think the overall goals for everyone working towards progress, or what we see as progress, you know, you ask yourself a lot, well, what are we working towards?  Are we working towards what New Orleans was prior to Katrina?  Or, are we working towards a better New Orleans that didn’t even existed before Katrina?  Um and I think that the latter would be the answer.  Um, you know, there was a lot of blight, there was, you know, there was, there still is crime, there was crime, you know.  Um, there’s…a lot things, a lot of issues.  But, um, I think that, obviously, getting people back in our home, in their homes is, you know, a good short term goal.  But, also, just the infrastructure of the city and having a plan for next time if it does happen, or, you know, hopefully it doesn’t, but, um…making sure that they’re, they’re things in place to be prepared.

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um, you know, and that can come in so many different levels.  Whether you’re talking about government, or organizations, um…you know, if you’re gonna talk about public transportation, um, a better evacuation system.  I mean, there’s so, there’s so many different things that you can talk about in, in what, what’s left in New Orleans.  But, um…I think that there’s also, you know, like, this microscope, a little bit, on New Orleans now.  That it’s like, ok, well, um, because every, you know, like, we were talking earlier, comparing it to other big cities, every big city has problems.  So, what remains to be done in those cities too, you know?

CM: Yeah.

AP: Um, but, it’s just now, it’s kind of like, well, what is the end goal?  Is it, you know, to be back where it was before?  Or, better than that?

CM: And Rebuilding Together has gotten this large grant…so, where do you see Rebuilding Together in the near future?

AP: Um, you know, I thin…I think that it’s a very strong organization.  Um, I don’t see it going, um, shading out any time soon. 

CM: Mm, hm.

AP: Um, I think that we’re only going to get stronger.  I think that we’re gonna continue to put more people back in their homes. [1:35:00]  And, um, I think that we’re gonna serve as a really good model for other organizations to continue to do the same.  Um, and also, um…you kind of, um, hopefully, you know, not only, um, a leader in, in rebuilding homes, but influencing other factors as well.  Um, whether that, you know, be at a policy level, or, or what, or what-not.  But, um…yeah, and I, I mean, I don’t think that even, you know, after…you know, rebuilding, or, or whatever, you know, with national volunteers, it’s, it’s, it’s preserving, you know, what’s still there.  I mean, Rebuilding Together started in 1988.


AP: So, it, it was a lon, it was there a long time before the storm, um, you know, basically doing quality of life home repairs for the low-income elderly and disabled.  And, you know, if we’re done building homes in ten years, then, you know, there’s still gonna be people who need things done to their home, whether it be quality of life home repairs or not.

CM: Mm.

AP: Um, so… I don’t see, yeah, I don’t see them being gone any time soon.

CM: And last question.  What’s, what’s next for you?  I mean, well, you just go the job, so that’s probably not a fair question. [Laughs]  But, um…

AP: No, I’m…

CM: …what’s next for you?

AP: …I think that, you know, Americorps is, um, a year long.  So, I have this position until August.  Um…you know, I wanna do my part while I’m here.  I want to go, um, I wanna get my Masters at public service, actually. 

CM: Ok.

AP: Um, so, I’m applying to grad school.  Um, I, actually, am taking the GRE on Tuesday, so…

CM: Oh, good luck!

AP: Um, yeah.  I, I need it.  ‘Cause I’ve been so busy lately and I’ve not gotten to study as much as I should have, but, anyways.  So, um, uh, applying for my Masters in public service and, um, I wanna go abroad for a little bit.  And I’m coming back here.  That’s my goal.  So…

CM: Good f…

AP: I don’t really ever see myself leaving this city.

CM: Really?  That’s home now?

AP: Um, I, I think that, I mean, I might leave for a little while and go get my degree, but, um…I’m pretty sure that after that’s done I’m gonna, gonna come right back.  I love this city and I don’t think that I could ever bring myself to leave it.  It’s the only place that’s really truly felt like home and my home doesn’t even feel like that anymore. So. [Laughs]

CM: Hm.  I can understand that.  Well, thank you very much for a wonderful interview.

AP: Sure.  No problem.

CM: I…

AP: Thank’s for, um, calling me back.  And I’m really sorry about last Sunday, I was just, completely forgot.

CM: Oh, no worries.  These things happen.  Um, I’m gonna be coming down there, I think I told you I’m coming down there in January.  Did I tell you that?

AP: Ok.  No.

CM: And, and, well, I’m gonna try to do some networking and, I had a lot of trouble rounding up interviews this year.  And, I feel like it’s an important project and I wanna get it done by 2015, so maybe the, the project can do more to call attention to get more people to volunteer down there. 

AP: Mm, hm.

CM: So, um, I might send you an email in December, uh, asking if you have suggestions for, maybe, some key people that I should try to meet with, uh, during my time down there. I’ve, I’ve definitely gotten the impression that s, uh, face time and shaking hands and, and getting to meet people will be a good way to, uh, stir up interviews.  ‘Cause, seems like people are surprised that there were so few interviews, but, I, I, I think the key to that was that, uh, I, I, maybe I need to meet more people in-person, because it’s been over a year since I’ve been there.  So…

AP: Yeah.

CM: …um…

AP: Um, did, uhm…I mean, I know that you, um, spoke with somebody at Rebuilding Together about the interviews and that’s how we heard about it.

CM: That’s correct.

AP: Um, have you, I mean, did you talk to any of them about their experiences?  Because, um, there’s some people who had been, uh, um, ‘cause this just went out, this, the announcement or whatever, went out to just the current VISTAs…

CM: Yeah.

AP: …um, who were there.  Um, but, there’s a lot of, of people who are still with, um, Rebuilding Together who have been here, um, basically, since the end of the storm who are now in leadership roles…

CM: Mm.

AP: …um, at Rebuilding Together who would be, um, the, um, one person that comes to mind is, um, is the Program Director now, on the, not the Program Director, the Program, um…Manager of our deconstruction program.

CM: Ok.

AP: And so, his job is really cool.  He gets to, um, basically, go into homes that are about to be demolished and salvage all the historical pieces…

CM: Yeah.

AP: …of the, of the homes.  And so, he’s been here since the storm.  Um.  But anyways, there’s a, I mean, there’s a lot of people who that I can think of off the top of my head that would be really great…

CM: Oh…

AP: …for interviews.

CM: That’s…

AP: Um, and then, as well, if you’re coming down in January, um, we’re gonna have a lot [1:40:00] of student groups.

CM: Yeah.

AP: Here, in January for their winter alternative spring breaks.

CM: Ok.

AP: Er, I’m sorry, winter, that’s not spring, but, winter breaks.  Um.

CM: Alt, alternative winter breaks.

AP: So, I don’t know when you’re coming, but there’s gonna be a few different groups during the month too, that we may be able to find a few people.

CM: Yeah, it’ll be the first or second week of January.  I think, it sounds like it would be very fruitful for me to, perhaps, meet some of the people who have been in the organization longer.

AP: Right.

CM: Um, and, I, my meetings, what I really want the meetings to do, is I need to talk to, the best people for me to talk to are people who are both individuals who would be profitable to interview, because they have experiences that would be valuable to the project, as well as people who have the ability to help me connect with others.

AP: Right.

CM: So, that’s why I would probably want to talk more with folks who have been there for a while because they might have more connections.  Um, but I am interested in the experiences of the new people as well, because that’s very valuable to, kind of, catch and see how people feel at the time of their initial immersion.  So, yeah, I, I’ll send you an email in a couple of weeks and if you can, uh, if you have a couple of names that you could send me…

AP: Sure.

CM: …um, that would help me out a lot.

AP: Well, I think that what I’ll try and do too is, um, I have some names of some volunteer coordinators around the city…

CM: Oh, that would be super helpful.

AP: …and so, I’ll, I can maybe see if they, um, have anybody in mind.  Um.  I also know, I mean, I, we have a few long term volunteers that have been coming, like, multiple integral, intervals since the storm.  Um, people who’ve come and worked through Rebuilding Together, you know, a, a month at a time every year, or something like that.

CM: Yeah, that’d be great.

AP: Um.  So, I’ll see, I’ll see if I can, um, get some names together or send some emails out, or something.  Um.

CM: Ok.  Well, thank you I appreciate that.

AP: Sure, no problem.

CM: Good luck with your GRE.  Everyone who takes it always feels funky before we get in and we all do fine.

AP: Yeah.

CM: So, so…[Laughs] you’ll do…

AP: So, we’ll see, we’ll see how it goes.

CM: You’re gonna do great.  Ok?

AP: [Laughs]  Alright.

CM: Alright.

AP: Well, um, thanks so much.  And, uh, do you want me, if I have names, do you want me to just email them to you?

CM: Yeah, that’d be great.  And, oh, I forgot one more detail thing.  I am going to turn your interview into an MP3 and, uh, I probably won’t get it transcribed until…the summer.  So, if you, I can send it to you as soon as it’s done, or, uh, I can wait to you, ‘til the transcription’s done.  Um, but, just let me know which one you’d prefer, because the, the interviewees should always get a chance to see their whole interview and look it over…

AP: Ok.

CM: …and, you know, maybe you might not want a portion included.  So, um, just let me know which format you’d like.

AP: I’ll wait until the transcription, because, um, I think that it would be really weird to hear myself speak.

[Both laugh]

CM: Ok.

AP: I think, I get freaked out when I hear myself on the answering machine. So.

CM: Yeah, so, they won’t, those won’t be done until, um, around spring or summer.  Ok?

AP: Ok, that’s fine. 

CM: Alrighty.

AP: Alright, well, thank you so much.

CM: Thank you, have a good night.

AP: Alright, you too.  Bye.