Sunday, December 9, 2007

Trying Times

It has been a tough week here at with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Early Friday morning we got word that my boss here and the Volunteer Village Coordinator for PDA, Rich Cozzone, died in a car accident on Thursday night. It was a single car accident and he was driving back home to Gulfport, MS from New Orleans. I was supposed to have a meeting with him early on Friday morning and he didn't show up. Soon after that we learned the news.

It's been a tough week for all of us here and I'm sure for his family. He was married and has 3 kids who are all somewhat close to my age. It all was so sudden and unexpected. He was a great man whose heart was in the right place. He loved being here and being a part of the relief effort. He touched many people's lives here and was living his life in God's service. I know he is in heaven but it is still a shock.

Also, yesterday Don Valencia, one of the adults from the Christian community I lived in during college, passed away. He fought cancer for the last 15 months and yesterday the pain finally left him as he went up to heaven. He has an amazing, loving family with two boys who are high school age. During these last 15 months Don kept a blog documenting his progress and keeping his friends and family updated. This blog served as a huge encouragement and testament of faith to so many people, myself included. The perspective he kept during such a difficult time absolutely amazed me. He would often end his posts "God is good all the time" and had so many stories of God's faithfulness and love. God truly was carrying him through these last 15 months and now he can truly be with Him. There's a link on the right-hand side of my blog that says "Don" if you'd like to check his blog out.

Please keep Rich and Don in your prayers. Please pray for their families and friends. Also, please pray for PDA as we trying to make up for the loss of our leader here. Our PDA family has really come around one other in support during these last few days and we are very thankful to have each other's love and support during this time.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Long Awaited Update

I've been quite a stranger lately, so I better fill you in on what's going on here in Mississippi. We had a couple weeks in late October that were crazy. We had 60 volunteers one week and 90 the next week. Becca, Dan, and I were a bit burned out after those weeks and were in need of a break. Thankfully we didn't have any volunteers the next week so we were able to relax a bit and get caught up on things.

Recently we had two really great groups of volunteers here. I really enjoyed getting to know the groups and it was nice to have smaller groups here because we could actually get to know the volunteers a little better than when we have tons of people here.

There is still a definite need here and it still surprises me going into houses that are down to just the studs and still in need of drywall, flooring, and basically a lot of work. The other day, Becca and I went on our usual Walmart run. A lady who was working there giving out samples seemed a little shocked to see Becca and I wearing our Presbyterian Disaster Assistance shirts and she said, "You're still here." She was an incredibly sweet lady and she thanked us repeatedly for still being here to help rebuild. It definitely made my day to see her face light up at the sight of our t-shirts.

I've been reading the book "Blue Like Jazz" lately and one major theme that has really stuck out to me is the theme of humility and being real and authentic with people. It can be really easy to sit on our soap box of we are so great to be down here helping out on the Gulf Coast. But none of this is about getting attention for being here and helping out. We are no better than any of the home owners that we interact with. We are here to serve the people here not with big signs saying, 'look at the great things we are doing,' but rather just serving the people here. What an amazing challenge to have such an attitude of service and humility.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

Just your "average" day at PDA

Fortunately or unfortunately Walmart is part of my daily routine. Dodging old ladies is becoming a specialty of mine. We have about 90 people staying at our camp right now so it's a tight squeeze around here. And the Walmart runs are pretty funny. For example, today I bought 120 bratwursts, 15 heads of lettuce, and 18 boxes of angel food cake. I got some pretty strange looks when I piled 120 bratwursts up in the check out line :)

It's also raining buckets around here today. When it rains down here it pours, Seattle rain has nothing on the downpours we get here. The funny thing is no one seems to own rain gear around here. During my trip to Walmart everyone was just walking around in t-shirts soaking wet. It's one of those days that I just want to curl up "inside" (in my trailer) all day and pretend the world doesn't exist. Thankfully everything is going smoothly around here even with 90 people, it's a miracle!

In other news, a week or two ago some insect bit me on the foot. They couldn't tell me what it was but my foot was so swollen and I ended up going to the ER for it. But no worries, I'm doing just fine now and my foot is back to its normal size, but you have to check out how it looked.

Now that's a swollen foot.

I wouldn't want to leave you with the gross image of my foot so here's a pretty sunset from a couple days ago.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Road Trip Continued

After we left the Grand Canyon we drove to New Mexico and stayed with my brother in Sante Fe. Then as we were driving out of New Mexico towards Texas we saw about 5 to 10 tarantulas on the road! It was insane! The first one Cassandra accidentally ran over but then we kept seeing more as we were driving. PJ insisted on stopping even though I was strongly protesting. He caught one in his camera case and attempted to smuggle it into the car with us, but I pretty much freaked out and we locked him out of the car until he let it go. My heart was beating so fast, I am not a fan of spiders, especially tarantulas! It was pretty ridiculous but quite a story.

The tarantula, ick!

PJ catching the tarantula

Cassandra and I at Turner Falls, Oklahoma. I was very impressed by Oklahoma, it's pretty. And there was a Big Foot researcher where we camped in Oklahoma, such good times.

PJ enjoying the view

We hiked along a little trail up to this creepy but cool cave!

Our last stop was in Wesson, Mississippi. Cassandra has a friend who owns a dairy farm, so we woke up in the morning and helped feed the calves. Cassandra even named a couple of the calves.

Seattle to Mississippi!

I never got a chance to update y'all on how the road trip went, but it was amazing! Cassandra, PJ, and I had an amazing time! We went to Vegas, the Grand Canyon, visited my brother in Sante Fe, went to Oklahoma, and Mississippi. We camped along the way and it was definitely the best road trip I've been on. Here are some pictures to help you relive the moment :)

Cassandra and I starting off in good ol' Washington


The heavens opened up for us in Oregon

The strip in Vegas at night. We drove from Seattle to Vegas in one day, it was insane! And we slept in an industrial parking lot in Vegas, that was pretty hilarious. Then we picked up PJ and drove to the Grand Canyon!

At the Grand Canyon!

The Grand Canyon is absolutely spectacular!!! There is no way any of my pictures can capture how amazing it is! It seriously looks fake and I couldn't stop saying, "This is so awesome" over and over again.

Hiking into the canyon

I'll post some more pictures from the trip soon!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Trusting God

For about a year or so, God has constantly been teaching me how to truly trust Him. It sounds like such a simple concept and it is, but in practice it is one of the hardest things to do. To just let go and let Him have the control over whatever situation I am facing. I should have it down by now because looking back over this last year and a half I can tell you some pretty amazing stories of God's faithfulness in my life.

The story of how I ended up here in Mississippi is an incredible testament to how God is always orchestrating everything perfectly even though it often looks like complete chaos to us. About a year and a half ago I came to Mississippi for the first time to help with the hurricane relief effort, little did I know that that trip would be the beginning of a new direction in my life. After I left the first time I just kept wanting to come back and I did during that spring and the following summer. It was so hard for me to leave last summer and when I returned home to Seattle I immediately felt homesick for Mississippi. What a strange but incredible feeling to miss a place so much. No one likes being homesick, but it often means that you have left something you love and I am so thankful to have found something to be homesick for.

I felt like I was waiting on God all last year because all I wanted to do was come back to Mississippi. At times I felt like God was teasing me and I was afraid that my time here was finished. But I just had to be patient and God opened up the right opportunities and I am exactly where I want to be. Sometimes when things start to get a little chaotic around here I have to remind myself why I am here and that I am exactly where I want to be. I'm living the dream, my dream at least.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Road Trip!

I got back to Gulfport a few days ago but I am off again. Tomorrow I fly home to Seattle for a few days, then my great friend Cassandra and I are leaving to go on the best road trip of life from Seattle to Mississippi! It's going to be insane but I couldn't ask for better company. I need to get my car down to Mississippi so here we go. Cassandra and I were roommates in Mississippi last summer and we turned in instant life-long friends and adventure buddies. We also both love Mississippi!

Our first group of volunteers came into Orange Grove tonight, it's great to have volunteers here and to start getting out and rebuilding homes. The group that came in tonight is from Georgia and there's another group coming in tomorrow from Florida. Unfortunately I won't be here for most of the time that these groups will be here. It's bitter-sweet, it will be good to see my family and friends at home but I am ready to just be living in Mississippi without traveling every few days.

Prayer Requests:

-Safe travels on the road

-For the volunteer groups and our staff this week - specifically safety, productivity, and that the volunteers would have a great time and see God in this place

Cassandra and I last summer frolicking in an amazing downpour in good 'ol Mississippi!

And this is one of the many reasons I love Mississippi, gorgeous!

Ghost Ranch, NM

I'm back in Mississippi from the national orientation I went to in New Mexico. It was a good week, but I am happy to be back in the south. The place we were in New Mexico is up in the mountains and unfortunately I got altitude fun! I have never had any problems with altitude sickness before and I have spent a fair amount of time up in the mountains and at high elevations. But I am ok and happy to be back at sea level. The one thing I am very grateful for is the support around me when I wasn't feeling well. The people I was with were very loving and took care of me even though I haven't known any of them for more than a few weeks.

New Mexico is beautiful though and there were some pretty cool hiking trails where we were. Thankfully I felt fine the first day or so and had the opportunity to do some hiking, hooray! I also met some very cool people who are in the same program I am but they are placed all over the U.S. Here are some sweet pics from our hike to Kitchen Mesa.

Andy and Leanna hiking up on the right

We hiked/climbed up the middle of that crevasse :)

View from the top of the mesa

Ghost Ranch (where we were staying) is the grassy field below us

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Building Pods

Good news, the tropical storm that was headed our way fizzled out so it looks like the worst we'll get is a couple inches of rain and some minor storms. That means we didn't have to drive to New Mexico and we're flying out tomorrow morning instead, yes!

This week I helped build pods in the volunteer villages in Mississippi. The pods are what the volunteers who come down for a week or so at a time sleep in. I'm tired, but it was a great week. I worked hard and got to know the people I'll be working with for most of the year. I think I'm going to fit in great in Gulfport.

Becca and I working on building pods. Becca and I will be co-managing the volunteer village in Gulfport together.

Friday, September 21, 2007


So there's a tropical depression that is supposedly on its way to Mississippi's Gulf Coast (aka to where I am). We spent this morning strapping down the villages so nothing flies away but we are hoping the storm goes away because there is a lot we need to get done before volunteer groups come.

But, I'm actually going to New Mexico tomorrow for a national orientation with the program I'm involved with here in Mississippi. We were supposed to fly out on Sunday but it looks like we are going to rent a 15 passenger van and drive to New Mexico instead because the storm is supposed to hit when we are flying out and then we would be stuck. So yep, it's going to be quite the trip. I'll be gone until the 27th. Hopefully it'll be a great trip, I hear there's hiking which I'm excited about!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Pictures of My New Home!

Jessie and I went to the beach that's 10 minutes from the PDA village in Gulfport. I love being so close to the beach!

One of the other Young Adult Volunteers, Jessie.

And now for the tour of my new crib.

The inside of my trailer. It's a pretty sweet set up; I have a queen size bed, bathroom, shower, microwave, stove, and a TV.

My trailer

The dining tent and such

The totem poles that have a sign representing each work group that has been down here

The trailer line-up

The cute little church here :) The congregation is tiny but the pastor seems really good and I think I'll fit in well.

Oh and of course the porto-potties and the pods. The pods are the blue things on the left, that's where the volunteers sleep.

So there was this flaming orange thing in the sky coming toward earth this evening...anyone have any ideas about what it was?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

I Made it to Mississippi!!

I'm in Mississippi and loving it! Today we drove from New Orleans to Gulfport, my new home for the year. I'm living in a first class trailer and I'm honestly pretty excited about it.

We have been pretty busy these last few days, so here are a few highlights:

Learning CPR and first AID

Tool Day - we learned how to use all kinds of tools from saws to drills and many other cool stuff

Getting to move into my trailer!

Meeting the people I'll be working with in Gulfport, they seem pretty awesome!

Walking on the sandy beach with my feet in the wonderful warm water tonight in Gulfport

I'll try to get a couple pictures up of my awesome trailer and my new home for the year. It feels good to be home in Mississippi.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Trying to Rebuild...

I have to admit that I completely agree with this bumper sticker. Today during orientation we toured around New Orleans in the Lower 9th Ward and some other areas that had been hit hard by Katrina. We also learned more about how the health care and education systems in New Orleans have been effected. I have to admit that it is pretty dang depressing. There is a huge shortage of doctors and many of the hospitals in the area were badly damaged and have not reopened. We heard a few stories today about people waiting in line for hours and hours just to get a bed in the hospital. To make matters worse the people who were telling us these stories have health insurance so I can't even imagine how hard it must be for all the people who don't have health insurance to get proper care. It frustrates me that we are spending so much money in Iraq when we have areas in our own country, like New Orleans, that are in desperate need of aid.

On a different note, we had some pretty amazing thunder storms this afternoon. It was absolutely pouring, but I love storms so it was great! We ran about 20 feet from the car to the building across the street and got as wet as you would get in about a half an hour outside in typical Seattle rain.

This picture was taken today in the Lower 9th Ward...but I just love the clouds. They're gorgeous!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

We've had a pretty full week here in New Orleans getting to know the people we're going to be working with and seeing some of the sights around town. Yesterday we went to Cafe Du Monde for beignets (deep fried doughnuts with a ridiculous amount of powdered sugar) and coffee. We have spent some time hanging out in the French Quarter and went out to dinner at the Gumbo Shop for some authentic New Orleans food.

The 8 of us volunteers are living together in what's called a "shotgun". I have to admit that I hadn't heard the term before, but shotgun houses consist of three to five rooms in a row with no hallways. To get from room to room you have to walk through everyone else's bedrooms, so it's a bit tight around here but we all get along well. Our next door neighbor, Dorthy, is the best neighbor we could ask for. She is incredibly nice and we have all really enjoyed getting to know her and have welcoming her over to hang out with us. When we first met her she was very straight forward with us telling us that she's pagan but despite any differences we have getting to know her has been a highlight for me so far.

We went to a black Presbyterian Church this morning which to me sounds like an oxymoron, but it was great. The people were all very warm, welcoming, and excited to meet us. It's a very small church that's trying to rebuild its membership. But when I get to Mississippi for the year I might just have to find myself a gospel choir to join at one of the churches there and so I can be the token white girl.

This is the group of Young Adult Volunteers I'm living with, they're pretty cool. However, Jessie and Caitlin aren't pictured but I'll post more pictures soon.

I just had to post this... This picture was taken on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. It boggles my mind that you can walk around the streets of New Orleans with a beer in your hand as your pass by cops. But don't worry, I'm not getting into anything crazy, I just thought this sign was hilarious.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

I'm in New Orleans!

I arrived in New Orleans last night and will be going through orientation and training here for the next couple weeks before I move to my year-long site in Gulfport. I'm part of a group of 8 Young Adult Volunteers who will be serving all around the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. We are all living together in a tiny little house for the next few weeks. But they are an awesome group of people and thanks to the North House I'm used to living in tight quarters. During the training I'll be learning a wide variety of construction skills and we are even going to a National Orientation camp in New Mexico for a few days which should be awesome.

There is still so much work to be done here even though it has been 2 years since hurricane Katrina struck. Especially here in New Orleans there are so many houses that are still empty and need rebuilding. I have to admit it's so great to be back here. I've missed it so much and even though the process of me getting accepted to the program and moving went incredibly quickly I know that I am exactly where I should be.

I'll try to get some pictures up here soon for your viewing enjoyment.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Moving to Mississippi

I'm moving to Mississippi on Wednesday!! Everything is happening incredibly fast but I am so excited! As many of you know I have developed a passion and love for Mississippi and the hurricane relief work there. I've been looking into programs through Americorps and a few other organizations to move down there for a year or so.

I applied for a year-long program through the Presbyterian Church that is working with the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA). I sent in my full application on August 22nd. I got an email on Monday the 27th saying that they received my application. On Wednesday, the 29th, I got a call from the national office and had a phone interview. On Friday I got a call from the guy who is in charge of the operations in the Gulf Coast. Then Saturday night I had an official phone interview with the same guy in Mississippi and he pretty much told me that I have a position with them if I want it, but orientation starts on September 5th and I need to get there by then! Crazy stuff! But this is exactly what I've been praying for and looking for!!! So I'm going. I'm uprooting and doing it. I know that this is so fast, but at the same time I've been wanting to go back down to the the Gulf Coast ever since I returned about a year ago, so this decision is definitely well thought out and prayed about.

My position will be coordinating the volunteer groups that come down for a week or two at a time. I'll be learning how to do all the construction stuff down there and then I'll be teaching others how to do the same. I don't know very many details yet but I'll fill you in as I go. I'm so excited and all I can say is God is so faithful!

I'm going to New Orleans for orientation this week, but I'll be in Seattle in the beginning of October to get my car and any other stuff. So hopefully I'll have a chance to see people when I come back later this month or in the next day or so. If I don't see you that does not mean that I don't care, it just means things are moving way too quickly.

God Bless!!!