The following are e-mail updates written to the Sheehan and Lyman Hall staff by Rob Kovi, a 2007 chaperone.

Monday Morning-


By now many of you may have heard the news that the Lyman contingent was stuck in LaGuardia airport just hours after the Sheehan group took off for our Louisiana trip. We all arrived safely and on time in LA yesterday.

We spent some time getting acquainted with our new home for the week, took part in a Habitat for Humanity orientation, and spent some time with one another playing games and volunteering here at the camp. Everyone here has to do their part. We've missed the second half of our group and eagerly await their arrival.

Today we set out to begin our first day of work, clearing a lot that will be used as a temporary site for the community library.

Tuesday Morning-


It's 4:50 AM CST here as I write. You'd be proud to know that some of our Sheehan students volunteered to help make breakfast for everyone at Camp Hope this morning. This means waking up at 4:00 AM.

The Lyman Hall CREW has arrived (HURRAH!!) and we're looking forward to greeting them when they wake. They arrived around 1:00 AM CST.

We began the day yesterday in Arabi clearing the lot for a library. They expected us to be there all day. We completed the work by noon. The "Friends of the Library" were so appreciative that they bought everyone in our group a smoothie. They really hit the spot. In addition, representatives from Red Bull saw us working and stopped to offer us free Red Bull.

It's amazing to see how happy the residents are to have our help. People continually honked their horns and waved as they passed the job site in their cars. There are residents who regularly stop by Camp Hope to spend time talking with volunteers. One man, John Wilkes Booth, is quite the storyteller. When thanked for his time and his stories he replied, "If all I can give is stories I'll give them." He's been here each evening.

With more time in the day we moved on to another job. Members of AmeriCorp were happy to have us there. As one person said, "We weren't expecting to have any workers today." We spent the rest of the day stripping vinyl tile from a flood damaged middle school. Because so many people left the parish and have not returned there are only three operating schools, an elementary, a middle school, and a high school. The school building we are working on will be used as the new Camp Hope and ultimately, when people return, a school again.

The flood waters at the school only raised about 4 feet leaving the second floor of the school in good condition. We found it interesting to learn that the lockers in the hallway still contained the belongings of students from the school that had never return to empty them. The ultimate goal is to help reunite the students with their belongings.

Well, it's off to do more work at the school and to do some work actually rebuilding houses.

Wednesday Morning-


Today I'd like to welcome the Lyman Hall staff to my daily e-mail. For those who do not know me, my name is Rob Kovi, and I'm an English teacher from Sheehan. I began by sending an e-mail to the Sheehan staff when we arrived, but now that Lyman Hall has safely joined us in Violet and completed their first full day, I thought you all may enjoy the update. Your support and encouragement has already been wonderful and I apologize to the Sheehan staff for any repeats in the details.

Yesterday the CREW contingent divided itself into three groups and went to a middle school at which the Sheehan group had already begun some work on Monday. This middle school will be used as the new Camp Hope, a base for the volunteer efforts. Unlike the current Camp Hope this building will someday be used as a school again when more people return to the parish.

There we all received a short orientation for the work we would be doing. After the briefing, one group stayed and distributed drywall that will soon be used to finish the classrooms in the school. During the afternoon the group continued the difficult task of stripping damaged vinyl floor tile. The same job the Sheehan group had done part of the day before.

Two other groups went to work on two homes that are being rebuilt in the area. Both of these homes were completely destroyed during the hurricane. To give an example, one was lifted from its slab foundation where it floated until it smashed against a neighbor's home where it came to rest. The other did not lift from its foundation thankfully, because its owner attempted to ride out the storm and later spent more than 24hrs on his home's roof waiting to be rescued. The students and chaperones got to meet and speak with the residents for which they were building the homes. Their stories were moving and meaningful for all.

One woman in the neighborhood stopped to visit with our group, excited to explain that her home was next to be worked on. Her goal was to adopt foster children once her home was rebuilt, stating "I only have one child because my oldest son will be leaving for the Air Force. After living in a trailer for so long you come to realize how little space you actually need. I used to have a TV in every room. I don't need that, so I'm going to share my house with children who need it."

The first house was already framed and the group worked to attach plywood sheathing to the structure. The second house only had the floor system built, but the walls were already assembled in the gymnasium of the new Camp Hope. It rained a number of days last week (the weather is exceptional this week) and volunteers took advantage of the gymnasium to build the walls of the home inside so they did not lose a day's work. The walls were transported to the home site where the CREW group began to assemble them.

Today the group has many great opportunities to work in the community. Two groups of different students will return to the homes we worked on yesterday and continue the work already started. Another group of 18 students will go to a local relief distribution center. The center is a place where residents can come to receive donations that have come in from around the country and world. They will help sort donations, restock shelves with items, and help distribute items because Wednesday is one of the days in which the center is open to the community.

Nine students are heading to the local elementary school. As I mentioned yesterday, there is only one elementary school in the parish because there are not enough students to fill more schools. The kids and their families have simply not returned home after the storm. The school serves 2000 K-6 students. Our group will work in an art and music therapy classroom, and work with students and teachers in the classroom. The CREW students were excited for this opportunity.

Teamwork has been the name of the game for CREW. Students who usually see one another as rivals on the sporting fields are working side by side chipping tile or hammering nails during the day and sharing recreation time together as well. Last night after dinner the entire group played capture the flag, boys against the girls. The boys were outnumbered, but managed a tie as the game had to be called for darkness. Had it not grown dark the boys certainly would have been victorious. ;) Afterwards the students spent time playing games and enjoying themselves. We were having such a good time that the students and chaperones together were asked to be a little more quiet.

We've also had a treat this week. Dinner this week is being cooked by the owner of a smokehouse/ BBQ restaurant from Mass. Last week half the staff came and worked while one of the owners worked in the kitchen. This week the other half of the restaurant staff came to volunteer while the second owner works in the kitchen. Last night's meal was very good and we look forward to pulled pork for dinner tonight.

More news soon... Thank you again for the many responses I've already received. I hope you enjoy the updates.

Thursday Morning-


Yesterday 18 students plus chaperones worked in the distribution center for Katrina victims. This is the place where most donated items are collected and sorted for distribution. Local citizens can come here to get various toiletries, clothing and other items.

According to Scott at the center our group was "the best group he's ever had." The kids were moved by their experience. While sorting items they realized there were many items for young children and items for adults. The realized there was a shortage of items for teens and kids are already considering planning a clothing drive for teens when they return home (The students did in fact have a clothing drive. See the results of that drivehere).

Two groups returned to homes of Phillip Jackson and Carolyn Bienemy for the second day. The Jackson home is now completely sheathed and the hurricane straps have been installed as the roof is ready to begin construction( The Jackson Home April 2008). The Bienemy home is slightly behind the Jackson home (The Bienemy Home April 2008). It was started later. The home is completely framed and all interior rooms are framed and most of the sheathing is in place. Today's work at this home will include finishing the sheathing and installing the hurricane straps (the hurricane straps help to keep the roof from lifting in high hurricane winds).

The students had an interesting day at the local elementary school. Simply put, schools here are not like they are in Wallingford. Some of these classes of elementary students numbered at 40. I'll include more on this later.

Work continued at the new Camp Hope, the middle school that is being remodeled. Of special note is Lyman Hall student Mike Casey. Using what he learned in his Tech Ed classes he completely framed an office at the middle school by himself with the his assistant Veronica Scharpf. According to Veronica, "He was the brains of the operation," and she just did what she was told to do.

It's our fourth day of work today we have another new project, a baseball field...

Friday Morning-


Today will be our final work day. There are mixed reactions. Some feel that while it is good away it is best at home and others do not want to leave. You may all be amazed by how life changing this experience has been for these students. To me this trip embraces the true soul of education.

Most students will be ending the week at one of the two houses, while some will return for a second day at the distribution center. The houses are both sheathed and tied with hurricane straps. The interior walls are framed, the windows are all cut out and Tyvek house WRAP as been applied on the Jackson house. Today's work will most likely involved installed roof trusses or installing windows. The distribution center has plenty of items to be sorted and placed out to be made available to community members.

Yesterday we had another unique experience at a baseball field. I believe it will be included in Dan Champagne's RJ article today so I will not be too detailed. Basically the students and chaperones spread 32 cubic yards of baseball clay on the infield of a school's baseball field so that potentially the team could have their final game at home. The story I'd like to share is of Amy Rodgers a Sheehan art teacher. Many wondered why a petite seemingly non-baseball/athletic girl would jump to volunteer for work on the baseball field. Her answer, "My father and brothers lived for baseball and I know that it would be one of the important things they would want to see come back to the community, so I'm going there for them."

A second group of students returned to the elementary school. They had an even better time than the students had the day before. Like I said yesterday, it is hard to be brief when talking about the school. When the storm hit people left and are still coming back. While there is one elementary school for the entire parish, people continue to return and enroll their children daily. It is experiencing an unimaginable growth problem. Schools really are a keystone of the community. Simply put, we are lucky. Imagine getting a new student in your classroom every day, or your school receiving 40-50 new students a month.

Lyman Hall students 'challenged' the Sheehan students to a talent show last night. What began as a gathering of our contingent on the patio outside Camp Hope, soon became a show for all. Dave Baker began the show with drumming on a plywood box, followed by Ms. Allen and Ms. Scharpf with students in Irish step dancing. There were singing acts and lip syncing and skits. One humorous event... The Aqua FEMA Chug. Students and teachers from Sheehan and Lyman Hall competed against one another in chugging two cans of the shiny silver cans of FEMA water. I will leave it to you all to ask the students and teachers about FEMA water when they return. This yummy treat has assumed its own identity, one of legendary proportions, among the volunteer community.

As a teacher at Sheehan I see our students in the hall and know many of them. While they are all wonderful, I would like to specifically address the Lyman Hall staff in regards to their students. I am happy and privileged to have met your students. They are wonderful human beings, all with unique personalities and character that have represented their families, our community and your school in only the best ways. I will miss them all and am thankful for the opportunity to have shared this experience with them.