Monday, September 12, 2005

Volunteer Blogging: Day 1

Today was my first day volunteering at a Red Cross shelter helping the survivors of Hurricane Katrina here in Houston. It seems appropriate, since a Blog is, after all, a log, that I journal my experience. For the duration of the week, I'll just be recording my experiences for the day. I don't intend to make sense out of them all, or extract any deeper meaning or lessons or points, at least not immediately. I want to make sure I focus on recording, as soon as possible, the impressions I get and things I see while they're still fresh in my memory (with that in mind, but as an aside, Hepatitis-B vaccinations hurt worse than Hepatitis-A vaccinations, but the soreness from the Hep-A shot lingers longer. Trust me on this, my arms know from bitter experience).

I arrived at Christchurch Baptist Fellowship at around 8:30 this morning and signed in as quickly as possible. They set me to emptying trash cans into the dumpster. After I'd finished that, I was put to "work" (if you can call it that) sitting by the entrance to the living quarters of the shelter, making sure only the resident guests (evacuees) and specific authorized volunteers went in. It was tedious work -- necessary, but mind-numbingly easy to the point of boredom. If it hadn't been a needed function, I would have felt guilty performing it.

That job morphed into one that was just as dull, but a bit more physically demanding. I and two other male volunteers were tasked with patrol duty -- walking around, mall-security style, making sure that everything was in order on all three floors.

This tied up a good 30% of all the men working at the shelter, as female volunteers outnumbered male volunteers, by at least 5 to 1. what we lacked in numbers, we ,made up for in willingness to do whatever was asked of us.

Most of the volunteers were Houston locals, but I did meet one other volunteer with a storey similar to mine. she flew down from Colorado to volunteer.

While most of the guests were African American, there were some residents of the shelter, as well as day guests (who are staying elsewhere but showed up for assistance during daylight operating hours), of many various ethnicities -- caucasian, Laotian, natives of the Indian subcontinent. And while the majority of the volunteers were white, there was als a good representation by other ethincities.

A few things struck me about the evacuees. they were incredibly polite. I don't think I've been greeted with "good morning" that many times in one day in my entire life. They actually READ my name tag and called me Brian.

I also noticed how parenthood has changed my perspective. When I did have time to converse with guests, I gravitated towards families with children as young as The Lad. And our mutual experience as parents made establishing common ground blazingly simple.

But while they were polite and friendly, they were also quiet -- and I don't mean just a polite "Let's not disturb anyone" quiet, but an eery, shell-shocked quiet.

Furthermore, despite the rapport that has been established between the guests and volunteers (especially the veteran vlunteers), it was obvious they hit it off with one another even more, and had a kind of bond, almost like fellow soldiers in a war.

My final duties included helping unload incoming donations, as well as unloading the hot food delivered from KFC. I finishes around 6:30 PM, got a ride home from Vulture 6 at 6:45, and had a chance to relax in the pool before I sat down to Blog.

I don't have to stay there. Despite enjoying the swim, I couldn't help but think of those who do.