Rebuild·Restore·Renew: Sponsoring and building a house

14 June 2010

Last Friday we got up at what seemed to be the crack of dawn and went to New Orleans East to help build the house that DevExpress is sponsoring. Jeff took along his video camera to take lots of footage (which I am sure we’ll be posting as and when he reviews and edits it), but I also had my iPhone with me and took a few photos at lunchtime. I thought I’d quickly write a photo montage and diary entry to describe the day.

First things first: had organized a group to go help on the same house the previous Sunday, just before Tech·Ed started. They’d done a grand job building the cinderblock pillars on which the floor had been placed later in the week. (For photos of their build, see here.) We, then, only had to build the frames for the exterior walls and nail them in place. ...Only.

In preparation for the wall-building ceremony that morning with Jim Pate, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity New Orleans, two wall frames had been already made and so we put them in place for the ceremony (I tried to keep my speech short, of course). To celebrate, it rained on us as we put them up. Indeed for pretty much the rest of the day, that’s all you saw from the front:

The DevExpress house with front wall frames

The cinderblock pillars are reinforced with rebar (steel rods) that went deep into the foundation. They are designed to withstand the destructive flashflood that devastated the area — we’re probably something like 2 or 3 feet below sea level here so the flashflood from the levees breaking must have been horrific. Here’s an already completed and lived-in house — as it happens, the same design as we have sponsored — that shows the pillars:

Completed house showing the built-up flood defenses

The thing that shocked me the most was the amount of destruction that’s still visible, even nearly 5 years later (Hurricane Katrina happened in August 2005). Where we were, there was only about one lot in five that had a house that was occupied. The other lots were either overgrown — the house long since pulled down and gone — or contained a condemned house, waiting to be pulled down and redeveloped.

Overgrown lot, house long gone

Abandoned house, broarded up, due for demolition 

Mysterious hand-drawn signs from the post-Katrina clean-up are sprayed on the walls of abandoned houses, indicating the the rescue teams had visited the house to check for the injured or the dead:

Rescue team graffiti indicating results of search

The gas has been turned off

Further down the street were yet more abandoned houses, with another development going on in the distance:

More abandoned houses

As to the work itself, it was pretty grueling. The temperature was something like 91F/33C, and the humidity was in the 80s, especially after the sun came out after our ceremonial shower. We sprayed ourselves with sunblock, covered our heads with caps, and our necks with handkerchiefs. Everyone was sweating profusely and we’d take regular water breaks to rehydrate. But we did some great work.

Front of the DevExpress house at lunchtime

Let me thank the people who were there who were helping us. Firstly Ben and Bruce, who have built more houses for Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans than they care to count. Then the four young women from Americorps who were working harder than anyone and had been there all week. Then there was also a group from a Texas Baptist Church, complete with minivan that came in handy for shade and comfortable seating.

The friends of DevExpress who were there included Scott Cate, Steve Andrews, Sara Ford, Peter Ritchie, and some guy called Kevin who Bobby had met the previous evening on Bourbon Street and persuaded to come along. You guys rock!

From DevExpress, we had Amanda Christensen (our video spokesmodel), Jeff Cosby (our videographer), Bobby Edgar (Marketing PM), Mark Miller (Chief Architect), and Mehul Harry (ASP.NET tech evangelist). I’d like to thank them all personally and publicly for their efforts. Thanks everyone, I love working with you all.

OK, I was also there and wielded a hammer from time to time.

Injuries? A couple: Mark got a blister on his thumb from all the hammering and suffered jokes about getting his money for nothing and his chicks for free. Jeff got hit by a bad bout of sunstroke/dehydration in the morning and had to recover in the shade (although there was shade, there was no cool spot; instead we’d dowse ourselves with iced water). And then poor Amanda, on hammering the very last nail of the day, managed to hit her thumb with the hammer.

We really should go back in three months or so and see the finished house. Plus, I need to have some more Crawfish Etouffe.

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