Rebuilding New Orleans one nail at a time

By Megan Pellegrino
January 31, 2008

Megan Pellegrino

“You really want to go to New Orleans?” “You know Princess would be expected to work!” “Eww, there are gators and swamps!” “You are going to get all dirty and bruised! How’s that gonna look?” Some kind of support I recieved from my family and friends when I made the decision to spend part of my winter break helping others rebuild what was lost from Hurricane Katrina.

Sadly, at first, they all were right! Princess was not happy!

After being on a bus for not one, count them, two days, we arrived at what they call Camp Hope. I, for one, not too hopeful. I stand in the middle of the main hallway of Camp Hope, this run down school with not even tiling on the floor looking up at a large school clock that was being held up by mere wires.

At this point, I tried to stay positive, laughed at the situation and decided to find my bedroom (classroom) and choose my bunk. Bunk bed? Ha! Try cot! And lets talk about selection, the room was packed! Instead of choosing a cot, it was more like finding the empty cot among thirty.

I finally found my cot, laughed it off, and decided that Princess could get her mind off of these horrible accommodations with a nice hot shower. Try artic blast!

Again, I will repeat, Princess was not happy with the accommodations!

Knowing that I was thousands of miles from Jersey, I decided to suck it up for the week, and pledged I would never ever go to Camp Hope or endure this experience from hell again!

Day one on the worksite arrived. I was nervous of what to expect.

Moments later, I personally met Miss Edna, the woman who the habitat for humanity house was for, in her FEMA trailer. Miss Edna told us her horrible story from Hurricane Katrina. She lost everything, including the love of her life, her husband. As Miss Edna shared her story, almost everyone around me was crying. It hit them hard.

I looked around at everyone crying, still intently listening to Miss Edna’s horrific story. When she was finished, she looked around at everyone with tears running down their faces, and told us not to cry. We were her angels, her babies and that we finally arrived and said “I may not be rich in money, but I am rich in friends.”

This was my breakdown moment, the exact moment when I realized why I went to New Orleans. Although, I spent the past few days complaining on just about everything under the sun, Miss Edna considered me an angel and counted on me.

From this moment on, I realized that week, I must dedicate to Miss Edna and Miss Edna alone. She deserved my overachiever personality and nothing less of that.

That night, when we returned to camp, instead of complaining, I was grateful for my running water, designated cot and waiting in line for a bathroom. It was something, a lot more than what Miss Edna could say.

The week went by quickly, and as corny as it sounds, it was an experience of a lifetime.

Our final day we worked hours into the night, we were determined to finish Miss Edna’s flooring and we did. We celebrated our success not as sixty individuals but as a team. We did it for Miss Edna!

As I was walking home, back to Camp Hope, my whole body ached, I felt like death, smelt like dirt and was covered head to toe in bruises, but Princess did not complain. She skipped back to Camp Hope with a smile on her face.

I come back to Jersey a changed person, I have acquired the skill of hammering, the strength to break crowbars and how to prioritize what is important in life.

Today I am constantly asked, would I do this again? My answer, yes the first moment I have the opportunity to go back, I will pack up my working boots and gloves and start heading south to Camp Hope.

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Megan Pellegrino

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