Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hi y'all,

Week #3 began with temperatures in the low 30’s – is this TX? This is not normal, but can you believe this sunrise?

Although we are “Construction Managers”, Ken has been getting his hands dirty with solving electrical problems in a couple of houses we are working on. We make many trips in a day to the lumber yard. I am coding all the invoices, with UMCOR numbers, that we charge at various locations, along with the supervisor’s invoices.

This week we had a team of 50 Mennonites from PA Lancaster area. Since we have several houses waiting for inspections, UMCOR decided to send half the team to the Port Arthur / Orange area, about 2 hours North East on the Texas Gulf Coast. Each morning at 5:30 a.m., they would be bussed over to the sites and then return about 7:00 p.m. to Galveston. We had hoped that the team would just stay in Port Arthur, but they wanted to stay together with the whole team in Galveston.

The other half of the team that stayed in Galveston mainly worked on two houses. On one house, we did electrical rough in and exterior painting. On a second house we finished texturing the drywall in two rooms, primed, and finish paint.  One of the houses needed a handicapped ramp...when all was said and done it looked like the lines in Disney World...five (5) levels!

                                            5 levels of handicapped ramp

We have one house that is waiting for a professional plumber as it has old cast iron plumbing that needs to be relocated. The owner of this house is living in a little one bedroom FEMA trailer next door. This week he got a letter from FEMA saying that starting in March, they are going to start charging him rent - $852 per month. This is hard to believe. We heard that these trailers have Formaldehyde problems and will be destroyed. We plan to meet with our supervisors next week to see if there is any way we can complete his house and get him moved in before the deadline.

Ken continues to help Pastor Billy at one house doing plumbing (not one of his favorite jobs), but at least it is the ‘clean’ plumbing…hooking up all the fixtures, etc. He came home for lunch Saturday not having a good day. He had a plumbing leak somewhere, got a screw in the sidewall of our SUV tire, went to Home Depot to get the stuff for the plumbing leak and it didn’t work…so his day did not go well at all.

                                           Ken working on a shower

McCoy’s (a lumber company we do a lot of business with) put on a BBQ for the volunteers as a thank you for helping here in Galveston. There were about 50+ people in attendance. Food on a charcoal grill just has a great flavor – even though it was quite chilly out. Volunteers were playing volleyball and enjoying themselves.

We got to visit Pastor David and his wife, Maria. The team from our church that came down in May worked on his house. He has it just about completed. His wife’s health is much better and she is enjoying being in her house and decorating.

On a sad note a friend of ours, Pastor Tim that was part of our ‘community family’ here in Galveston was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was hauling flooring to one of the houses they were working on and his right side of his face and right leg went numb, his speech became slurred, he was nauseated and had a weird smell in his nose. After many tests, the doctors have told him there is a lesion/tumor on the left side of his brain that is 1” x 2” and close to the area that controls speech and motor function. They are not sure if it is cancerous or not so they must remove it and biopsy it.

                          Pastor Tim Schwartz, Ken & Julie (at Mardi Gras parade)

Tim was a pastor from Philadelphia, PA who felt God leading him and his wife, Jenn, to Galveston to help with the hurricane recovery. They arrived here in February of 2009 and stayed at University Baptist (where the rest of us were housed). They left their family and jobs behind to minister here in Texas. Jenn is twelve weeks pregnant with their first child so this is especially difficult for them and us. Please pray for Tim’s healing and for comfort and peace. Tim is planning to be healed so that he can run a 5K for the American Brain Tumor Association in Chicago on May 22. Tim will be having surgery in April.

We met with my friend, Sally, Donny and Heather (their daughter) on Sat. night. Sally and I worked in the Neo Natal Unit at Texas Children Hospital in the 80’s. We caught up with all we have missed being apart. She just ran a half marathon in Austin last week and during the summer she went to Mexico twice on a mission trip.

Heather, Donny, Sally, Julie & Ken

On Wednesday, our ‘community family’ that we formed last year while working at University Baptist, got together and had a tureen. Tim was missing because he had a day full of tests at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. We had a fun time talking over old times, what has happened in our lives in the last year and re-acquainting with each other again.

Jenn Schwartz (Tim was absent), Dawn & Billy Graff, Ken & Julie, Janice & Rex Bruton, Gisselle, Punay & Bing

Ken has been working on plumbing and electrical this week at Mr. Abraham’s home. We have had two Mennonite ladies with us all week (along with a few others that pop in) who we have become attached to and are quite the worker bees. One lady, Martha, (from the Bible, the worker) has become quite friendly with Mr. Abraham – she even calls him “Pop”. We sang to him on their last day and he was crying and saying how much he was going to miss each and every one of them. Martha had gone those extra miles and done some extra things for him…stripping and staining a night stand, cleaning up some knick-knacks for him that had Gulf muck on them. Amanda and Rosemary helped wash all his dishes and put them away and cleaned up his water stained chairs. He said they looked like new! He is so easily pleased and grateful.

One of the teams started work on a different house (there are over 2500 homes on the UMCOR backlog) this week. When they started repairing the roof deck they discovered several on the roof rafters were severely charred from a previous house fire. The owner of the house had purchased the house before Ike and the previous owner had not disclosed that it had been fire damaged. The city inspector came and told us the house cannot be repaired and the team will now have to destroy the house. The property owner only got $20,000 from his insurance, so now UMCOR is trying to get him a new home through the local agencies.

Today, Friday, Ken is helping with laying concrete so the plumber can come in and finish plumbing. We have been waiting for over a month for the plumber. Quite frustrating.

Next week we will be getting new assignments since Jenn & Tim are on temporary leave, until after Tim’s surgery and doctor appointments. (Please keep Tim and Jenn in your prayers as they go through this stressful time in their life.)

We are not sure what we will be doing starting Monday. Stay tuned.

Blessings and stay warm!
julie & ken

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Week #2 in Galveston

Our last visit in Houston was with the group I worked with at Fluor Corp.  I could not believe I have been gone from there for almost 12 years!  We had a great time reminiscing.

We are now camped at the Island Community Church RV Park. Last year, Julie worked with the City to have them create this RV park specifically to provide accommodations to the volunteers who come to Galveston in RV’s.

Saturday, Sandy, our construction manager threw a big, all-day party to celebrate Mardi Gras.  He parked one of the UMCOR flatbed trailers on the Seawall and brought a grill and picnic table from Crockett Church.  He told us he was there at 5:00 a.m. setting up.  It is quite difficult to get a parking spot on the Seawall during Mardi Gras.  Tons of RVs lined the Seawall.  From the flatbed and picnic area, we had a great view of the three parades, the Gulf and the fireworks.  Sandy cooked hot dogs and sausage for lunch and chicken for dinner.  Everyone who came brought a side or dessert, so there was a variety of good stuff
In the parade were 10 Clydesdale horses pulling a carriage.  What amazingly beautiful and powerful horses!  The costumes of all the people on the floats were bright, wild and crazy and there were many beads thrown! We avoided it last year because we had been working on that day.   Overall, there was a lot of family fun where we were parked.  It was neat just to be there, taking it all in.

We spent a little time with Billie Graff and his wife Dawn. Billie Is the Baptist Pastor that we worked with last year.  Billie is the pastor of record, but no longer does any pastoral duties at University Baptist Church.  He was working there without a salary for 18 months and can no longer continue “pro-bono”.  He is currently involved with a construction project at a Baptist Church in League City, and he has his house in Galveston for sale.  Please pray that Dawn and Billie can find new careers in this area.

We have been assigned as “Construction Supervisors” which entails picking up and delivering supplies to the sites and making sure all is done the right way. This week we have 22 volunteers (a group of 10 Amish from Iowa, and 12 Mennonites from PA) from the Mennonite Disaster Service.  At one house, an elderly man (Mr. Abraham) who is 87 years old and a widower, lives in a FEMA trailer next door.  We are painting the rooms in his house and installing kitchen countertops.   He is so funny – he usually waits until we are there late in the afternoon, pulls one of us aside and asks if we can do something additional that another group has missed.  He just wants to have it like it was.  One afternoon he complained that his electric dryer was not getting hot.  Ken had to repair the receptacle wiring and also the dryer cord was wired incorrectly.  After that, Ken had to install a new Dryer Vent.

Another house (Mrs. Dobson), we are refinishing the wood floors on the second story and painting the exterior siding and trim.  We have 2 other houses where we are finalizing the electrical and plumbing.  Once it passes inspection, then we will be able to have a team do drywall.

Each morning we have breakfast with the team at 6:30 and are learning a little more about them that we didn’t know.  They have been a joy to work with. Next week, a new group of volunteers arrive, this will be a larger group, approximately 40 Amish and Mennonites from Lancaster, PA .

We are working closely with Denny and Sandy, another husband/wife team from Michigan, They will be leaving at the end of the month and they are showing us all the things they have learned so we can continue when they leave.  Denny and Sandy have been here since early January.

The weather since Monday has been cold, rainy, and windy.   On Wednesday, we even had a little sleet.  We are hoping for a little sunshine this weekend, but it still will be unseasonably cold.  Tonight (Thursday) the wind is howling, and the RV is really shaking.

A note on the relief monies:  Galveston still has not seen a penny of federal disaster relief money almost 18 months after Hurricane Ike.  It is still caught up in the bureaucracy.  The latest fight is in the Texas legislature about how to distribute the money.  Instead of allotting more money to the counties that were most affected, the legislature is wanting to distribute it evenly around the state.  That means that a county in north Texas that had a couple of roofs blown off in the storm would get similar funding to Galveston County.  Crazy and illogical – but it is an election year.

On Friday, the Iowa and PA teams departed, on Sunday,  a new group will be coming in from Lancaster, PA, unless delayed by all the snow storms across the country.  

 Ken decided to help Billie Graff on Friday and Saturday.  The house he is working on is built up on piers about 10’ in the air.  Most of the drywall is completed and painted.  We are now getting ready to lay tile in the bathrooms, and kitchen.  On Friday, Ken installed a temporary toilet for use by the workers.  On Saturday, he completed the “rough-in” plumbing in the shower stall,  It is now ready for cement board and ceramic tile.

The connections here are very limited but will try to keep it updated. 

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Update for month of January 2010

Hello to all,

Since our last update, we vacationed in my friend, Janet’s condo, in Cape Canaveral, a week before the shuttle take-off. We were under thunderstorm alerts and tornado alerts. In fact, a tornado touched down a few miles south of our location.

Our son (Tim) and his wife (Kat) came over for a day before they left for CA. He has a new job that he must start on February 1 and they were driving over.

                                            Kat, Tim & Ken

Our friends (and Ken’s best friend from 4th grade), Gregg & Betsy, stayed with us at the condo. We left after a relaxing week and drove back to my brother’s in Bradenton. We were going to IL to take my mother to her new home near my sister. But plans changed- Mom decided she was not ready to go to IL, so she is currently staying with my brother, George and his wife, Sherry for a few months.

                                          Betsy, Julie, Ken, Gregg (seated)

We visited with a friend (Linda) of mine (since 1970). Linda and I worked together at Greenleaf Corp. in Saegertown.  We have so many stories we reminisced planning, dragging her daughter, Gina, everywhere with us (in a little green VW bug) seat belts and Gina is still with us!  We can never seem to get together up north (she lives in Meadville), but we do manage a few hours here in FL. It was great to see her and Tom. It is funny how you start traditions…we went to the Belleview Pizza Restaurant when we began meeting in FL and continue to do so today.

                                                    Linda & Julie

While in Moss Point, Ken built a beautiful TV cabinet for the church. A previous church member donated the TV and it had been sitting on a table,  just waiting for Ken to build a cabinet for it. I helped Sandra in the office setting up a couple database programs and inputting data. It was a great time. Dantzler will always be our family.

       Ken & Pastor David with the
       finished product.

      Ken drilling holes into cabinet

We also visited Callee and Ernest Young. They were the couple that was our last project a couple of years ago. It is always a pleasure to see them. They were so excited to see us. Ernest told us the next time we come we are to let him know ahead of time so he can deep fry a turkey for us. They are very Christian people. Callee was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and has decided not to undergo surgery or radiation or chemo. She said the good Lord will take care of her and if it is her time to go, then she will meet her Maker with open arms. Keep Callee in your prayers.

We are on our way to Galveston, with a stop over in Houston. More when we get there.

Blessings and peace,
julie & ken