Monday, February 18, 2008

The NBA Comes To Town

Hello Everyone, and Greetings from New Orleans,

Following a small hiatus for Mardi Gras, when the City basically shuts down for a week of parades and merriment, it was back to work preparing for another Hands On-coordinated Day of Service project, this time brought to you by NBA Cares and the various sponsors of the All Star Game, which is being held here in New Orleans this year. Ann and I were asked to help Steve get Ms. Gibson's home on Mandeville Street in Gentilly ready for a day of painting and insulating. We spent the first four days of last week with a great team of AmeriCorps/NCCC folks replacing damaged siding, then scraping and caulking the exterior of her home. Inside, we banged up the nail stops around all the wiring and plumbing in advance of insulation. After over a month down here helping, leading, and making friends, Ann returned home on Wednesday, and I stayed on for Friday's service day. We've worked on a number of Service Day-type projects, and the one thing we know about them is that you never know just what will happen. There's always a rock-solid headcount given to us in advance, but it's always a crapshoot as to how many people will actually show up on Work Day. Further, people who volunteer for a half or whole day for these types of projects come with all sorts of skill levels. Many are suits by day, some are VIP's, some are celebrities. You never know just how much actual work you are going to get done until you see the whites of their eyes.

I am very happy to report that we had a very good day at work. After a few opening comments and a fun visit with Bob Lanier (Old Size 21 Shoe himself), we let our team divide itself up into an exterior painting crew and an interior insulating crew. I worked inside, and after showing our folks how to cut and hang insulation, we went to work.

I'm a Pop Culture illiterate, so it was pretty funny meeting the folks we were working with. I was in the back half of the house with my team, which consisted of Temeka and Nikki. Both went quietly and carefully to work, and I started chatting them up with the usual questions--Where are you from? I asked Temeka. Kenner, she told me. Oh, I said, there are a lot of local folks here with us today, and I was surprised because I had assumed there would be lots of folks from other cities, given the NBA had marshalled their players, staff, and sports media to help with this project. So, Temeka, what do you do? She quietly told me "I play for the Los Angeles Sparks". OK, this is going well so far. Sorry, I told her, I don't pay a lot of attention to basketball. Nikki, who works for the WNBA office in New York told me Temeka Johnson was the 2005 WNBA Rookie of the Year. There was lots I apparently didn't know about Temeka, but I did know this: she came to work. She and Nikki banged out an entire room of insulation in the short time they worked on our site. Nice young women, both of them, and hard workers too.

After Temeka and Nikki left, in came our next team, Seth and Bill. Since I'd done so well when it came to knowing everything about Temeka, I kept the same line of questioning. Hey, Seth, what do you do for a living? I'm an actor on an HBO show. Really? Which one? The Wire. Hey, Seth, I've heard of The Wire, but I've never seen it. Sorry about that. Are you a good guy or a bad guy on the show? He just smiled. Turns out even the good guys on The Wire have issues.

I'm batting 1.000, so I turn to Bill. OK, Bill, I give. What do you do?, I ask. I used to play Doogie Howser MD on TV, he says. Get outta town, I say--really? No, he responds. Everyone who had gathered to listen had a good laugh at You Know Whose expense, and then Seth, "Doogie" and I went to work. Like Temeka and Nikki, those two hit it hard for a couple of hours. Bill is actually Taylor Hicks' road manager, and we had a fun chat about life on the road. He doesn't have a home. He's been on the road with Hicks for a year and a half, with very little down time. Riding the wave while they can. Hicks came by at the end of the morning shift, said hi, took a few pictures, then moved on. Even I recognized him, and I've never watched American Idol.

Right around noon, the rains came, and our exterior work came to a halt. We got about half of the house painted before it rained, and we'll finish it ourselves this week. Our interior work didn't suffer, though. They started sending us more and more people to insulate in the afternoon, and by the time we finished, we had teams in every room. We did all of the walls, and 95% of the ceiling. We ran out of ceiling insulation before we were able to finish, but the place looks great.

Like I said earlier, you never can tell how those Service Days are going to turn out. This one was a real winner. A lot of fun, a lot of work accomplished, and another good chance to send the real story of New Orleans home with our volunteers. The NBA and its sponsors picked up all of the cost for this and 9 other projects around the city. We're talking big-ticket stuff, too. Basketball courts and play equipment at schools, paint, insulation, and sheetrock for Ms. Gibson's home and several other homes, etc. And New Orleans gets all of that media exposure, too. Hands On's coordination made it all work.

You can see more pictures of our crews at Click on the NBA Cares picture at the bottom of the home page. If you watched the All Star Game last night, you could also see us if you caught the NBA Cares commercial.

Bill Goslin, an old Hands On pal of ours, spent the week with us for his fourth visit to help. He's a very capable guy who gets started early and finishes late. It was a lot of fun to see and work with him. I snuck into the bunkhouse and spent Thursday and Friday nights there with him, and then saw him off at 4:30 am on Saturday morning. Pick your next dates down here, Bill. We'll be here with you.

On Sunday, I went back to our old home on First and Dryades to attend church with Rev. Eden. It's always a memorable experience to be in that church with those great people and with the Rev in the pulpit. I caught myself choking up during the service as I watched and thought about his congregants. As the Rev talked about thanking God for the people in our lives who didn't believe in us or held us back in some way, I couldn't help but remember that many of these folks are descendants of slaves. Here we were in that 175-year old church, and these people were thanking God for the tough times in their lives as well as the good times because they fervently believe that they are blessed by both. As I watched them all nod their heads in agreement with the Rev, I also saw their ancestors 100 years ago doing exactly the same thing in exactly the same room. Katrina was just another bump in their long road, the road they know leads to their salvation. If you ever need a dose of humility or if you ever think your troubles are unfairly laid upon you, I have a church I'd like you to visit and a Reverend I'd like you to meet.

My love to all.