SHU Crew doesn’t mess around…day 1 of service

After rising early to complete our chores required as a part of our stay at Camp Hope (cleaning up after breakfast and cleaning bathrooms and shower rooms), the SHU Crew traveled a little over a mile down the road to work at a newly operational arc center. For those of you unfamiliar with arc, it is a non-profit dedicated to providing service, employment and a sense of community to the mentally challenged.

This particular arc facility was a newly developed farm. The members of arc are responsible for not only tending to the crops but also selling the harvest at local farmers market. According to Jafar, the 20-something hippie who assigned our work for the day, the farm made over $800 on assorted crops during their lat visit to the market.

The farm and surrounding land is leased from the local Diocese of New Orleans. After Katrina, many of the churches within the diocese did not reopen. In this specific case, the church was torn down to prevent people from petitioning to reopen the church at a later time. The church did, however, leave the parish center standing and it is currently being renovated into a recreational center for arc.

Although this might seem unreasonable to tear down a perfectly good building in need of water-damage repair, it’s important to remember that New Orleans still has less than 50 percent of its population pre-Katrina. It just isn’t economical or practical to open do many churches when the current ones aren’t filled to capacity.

Okay, so now you’ve got the background on our worksite. On to our day of service. Our first job was to clear a line for a fence to be built. The fence, which was donated by a local company is going to be put up personally by officials of the company (forgive me–I forgot the name of the donor), but in order to keep on schedule, it was necessary to clear the area of weeds, hay, debris and anything else that might prohibit the building of the fence, such as small trees and shrubbery.

Jafar gave the crew a few wheel barrows for transporting everything removed from the area and encouraged us to use metal rakes, hoes and pitchforks to clear the path for the fence. He expected this to be a full-day project.

Boy, was he wrong. The Griffs did work! After plowing half of the area with strictly the equipment he provided us, one of the crew, Dave, who is a recent grad and currently works in the studio art department, convinced Jafar to let him power up some of the weed-wackers and other machinery to aid us in our quest. By 11:30, we were ready to break for lunch–we’d cleared the entire length of the property in less than half the time Jafar had anticipated.

After lunch, we split up–half of us ventured back to the fence area to pick up remaining twigs and to deposit all of the remnants of trash we’d come across along the way while the rest of us turned to the incredible brush pile waiting to be chipped into mulch.

After Jackie, Darren, Dr. Hoover, Dr. Atkinson and I finished with the trash, we joined the crew who were tackling the brush pile. We worked as a team to rip down branches and organize them in piles for those in charge of feeding the chipper. We turned a pile that was once the length of an olympic size swimming pool, as well as six feet high and six feet deep into a shorter pile, about half of its original size.

A few of us suffered some bumps and bruises form assorted stubborn branches. Cat and I both received mild puncture wounds courtesy of a few dead palm tree branches. Just as Dr. Hoover was about to warn me as I reached for the branch, I felt it rupture skin just below my right elbow. We hurried to bandage up my “flesh wound” as I was bleeding all over–I literally had my left hand filled with blood by the time we reached Darren’s truck and the first aid kit.

Dr. Hoover’s glasses were the only casualty overall. While she was tugging on a particularly stubborn branch, it somehow managed to smack her in the face, break off one of the legs of her glasses and slice her just above the eyebrow. She was unable to find the other part of her glasses, but luckily, Hoove was able to create a makeshift leg for her glasses using a twig and some tape to make it through the rest of the day.

All in all, we had a very successful day. We changed a lot of lives for the better and made a couple new friends along the way, including Jafar, who may or may not be a gypsy–three different people asked him where he was originally from and received three different responses: Minnesota, Oregon and Missouri.

Still, we had a lot of fun and the day went so much faster than any of us could’ve possibly anticipated.

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