Sunday, February 26, 2012

One of the reasons we are here

Hello friends,

The weather has gotten better - cool at night, warm during the day - at least if you put it into "perspective" of north vs. south.

Our week continued in building the handicap ramp, which is now complete.  Ken and Tom put the ballisters on the ramp while Deb and Barry trimmed out the porch.  Yes, it would have been nice to have enhanced the railing with spindles and be able to use metal brackets and bar for the handicap rail, BUT, all of those things would have cost an extra $$$ which we could use elsewhere.  They made it work with what we had.  The American Disabilities Act code is very specific as to the height and spacing.  Using discarded pieces of 2×4 for blocks to hold the railing along the sides and applying liquid nails and screws to secure together.  It met the code, so Ken, Tom and Barry’s job was done.

Completed handicapped ramp
Ken built an extra shelf for me inside the UMCOR trailer to help keep it organized.  Of course, everyone must bend down to see it - it is at my level - OOPS.

Ken adding shelf
Inside the house there was sanding and mudding of the walls and ceilings left to do before paint was to be applied.  I had done a little too much sanding and floating that my right arm was paining me and it was difficult to do a lot of things because of the brace I was wearing.  I felt totally useless because I could not help inside, and UMCOR had no groups scheduled this week, but at the last moment we were blessed to have a crew of ten from outside of Cleveland, OH to help with this.  They were so eager, that we let them sand, prime and paint the ceilings and walls.  Now it is looking like a house and closer to moving into.

One of the volunteers from Ohio
One day a road crew was ripping and tarring the road.  A few volunteers were standing in a circle talking when one of the men drove up and yelled out his window, “Do y’all take prayer requests?”  I know I, as well as the group looked at him quizzically, but one of the mission organizers (Paul) told him, “Come on! Park that truck and come over here.” Paul said that there was no reason they couldn’t pray for him right here and now.  The truck driver parked his truck and came over for prayer.  Apparently, he and his girlfriend were having some difficulties and they had been praying for  guidance in their lives.  The group prayed for him and after thanking them, he put his truck in reverse and drove back to his job of dumping asphalt.   He stopped in the next day and said that the prayer gave him a peace he had never felt before and he was ready for what God had in store for him.  This is one of the reasons we are here!  You never know when you can touch someone.  The driver said that he had asked another group at a previous house to pray for him and they wanted to have him make an appointment.  Our group was in the right place at the right time.

On Friday, the local Police officer who has been patrolling the area stopped in to see the house and talk and thank the volunteers.  He spent about half an hour talking about what had happened before, during and after the storm.  The volunteers had many questions for him and he was very obliging about talking about the storm.

Local Police from Tuscaloosa giving encouragement to volunteers
There are times when you are on a job site that you must make the most of a moment.  As I was helping Ken with the railing, I noticed a pattern in the wood – to me it looked like a woman.  Of course, Ken and a few others said that it was ‘KNOT’ a person nor was the other one an angel – I saw it with my artistic mind.  Can’t you see it?
Woman in the knot of the wood
Angel in the knot of the wood
Deloris stopped by prior to completion of her ramp and made her initial walk. She was so elated as she walked up the ramp, clutching onto Deb (volunteer from York, PA) and exclaiming through tears, how wonderful it was, and that she had never seen anything so beautiful.  I think her joy made her move faster than I have seen her move in the past. 

We ventured out on Saturday for a tour of the area and some of the architectural highlights:  Bama Theatre, one of the oldest operating theaters in Tuscaloosa decorated in the Moorish style of Renaissance Spain; the Battle-Friedman House and Gardens which has an elaborate architectural detail built in the early 1800’s built with brick 18” thick.  Another house we saw was the Maxwell Peters Home built in the 1860’s with its English architecture – so much architecture from so many areas.

The First Presbyterian Church is a neo-Gothic church built in 1921.  There are a variety of antiques consisting of a 15th century German and Flemish stained glass and a 16th century Italian baptismal font.

Baptismal font

One of the stained glass windows
Another stained glass window
University of AL had a Round House built in 1860 to shelter sentinels serving guard duty at the University as part of the military system to preserve order among the students during the Civil War.

Round House
The Gorgas House is the oldest building on the campus.  This was one of the buildings spared when Croxton’s soldiers burned structures on the campus in 1865.

Gorgas House
Of course, I gravitated towards the Arts & Sciences Department and Ken felt it had some ‘interesting’ statuary.  This one caught my eye.  It looks like a fallen robot.

We drove up to an area that was hard hit and throughout our drive you see “stars” scattered all over the area of Holt and are called “Stars for Holt”. The children from the local elementary school painted the stars. Holt has come together stating (with these stars) that they will return and restore their neighborhood.  One looks at all the debris and wonder how much time it will take – but it is also a reminder of all that still needs to be done.

Star of Hope

This says it all!
There was a lone red door in the middle of the field as we were touring and we stopped and got out to check it out.  It was a ‘safe fallout shelter’ that made it through the storm, as I am sure did the people.  Ken went down to take pictures, and there were still  remnants of what had been left behind.

Lone red door in open field

Inside the fallout shelter

Inside of fallout shelter

This is our last week here in Tuscaloosa and we will be anticipating the swarm of 50 people blessing us with their help this week.  We will be painting trim, hanging doors, and  hopefully installing flooring and cabinetry.  Deloris will be so excited when she comes in this week.

The friends we have made from our onset here are leaving us.  Tom from Iowa left on Saturday, Barry and Deb from York, PA will be leaving us on Monday. Barry and Deb have been working here since Jan., Tom started in Oct.  It has been a pleasure working with them and becoming friends.   These are people you do not forget as they are – DISASTER RECOVERY JUNKIES!  Just like us.

Barry & Deb from York, PA

Ken and Tom from Iowa

Stay tuned.

Monday, February 20, 2012



This has been a very productive week.  We had a team from IN who professed to be drywallers.  Drywallers is what we needed!  However, only about two of the 17 people knew how to hang drywall correctly.  But with a bit of instruction from Ken & Marv, they were doing good.  They hung all the drywall in a day and half and then began floating and taping and sanding.  By the end of the week, we have two coats of sheet rock mud on on and need one more coat, then final sanding, and then we can paint.

Drywall being delivered


One of the team members was a college student from Purdue
 and she was a very enthusiastic and wanting to learn type of girl.  She learned how to hang drywall (she was the youngest so it was easier for her to climb on the scaffolding), drill and screw into the drywall, cut and measure drywall, tape and float and sand.  One day she was sanding and she told me she would rather be outside.  The men were digging holes for the posts for the handicap ramp with a jack hammer and I asked her if she would like to give it a try.  Her eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.  She was catching on quite well and enjoyed it – so much so that Marvin had her bust up concrete to put a small drain in the driveway.  Then she helped assemble the slats on the ramp with Ken’s trusty driver.  She was like a sponge.  She told us that she had never done any of this type of construction and was excited to learn – she was a good student.

Danielle - our eager college student running the jack hammer

We had an accident on our last day where my first aid training came in handy.  One of the elderly ladies Carolyn, (late 70’s) was on a scaffold and it wasn’t fastened securely and she fell off, gouging her hand in several places – blood EVERYWHERE!  I doctored her up and encouraged her to go to the hospital to get a couple of stitches in her hand and she flatly refused.  So I taped her gash where she had lost the skin tightly and put a bandage tightly over the section that needed a stitch or two.  Later that evening when we were at the play, the pastor (a paramedic/EMS) said I did a good job and she had agreed that she should have gone for stitches, but she said that I had pulled the skin tightly together that it looked like it would heal back together.  Carolyn sat next to me and she said her hand throbbed, so I gave her an Excedrin and about an hour later she said it had stopped.  I am sure she is gong to be quite sore, she has bruising on her arm and back where we think she had fallen..  She doesn’t remember how she fell or where – just remembers falling.

First United Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa encourages mission teams to share Wednesday night family night with them each week.  Meals are free and are quite good – grilled cod, chicken over rice, mixed veggies, yeast rolls – there were over 150 church members there.  This week there will be an Ash
Wednesday service after the dinner.

There was also another small team of five that were from York, PA that worked on a double wide trailer’s roof.  Shirley, the homeowner, had brought her whole family into the house (25 people living in a double wide!).  The storm damaged the roof and it was leaking onto where the children were sleeping on the couch.  She had no stove so she was using a George Foreman grill.  She currently has 17 family members living with her who have been displaced.  She is handicapped and depressed.  One of the other team leaders just sat and talked with her – sometimes that is all that they want – someone they can talk to – this is a process of healing for them. 

The team from IN had invited us to dinner on Thursday and we gave a presentation of behind the scenes of UMCOR and how they determine who gets what and what the process is.  Fortunately, I had done some intake and case management at Galveston and some in MS so I was able to give them a bit more information than they came in with.  Ken filled in the gaps where I was not able to answer.  We make a great team!  I spoke with one of the Case Managers on Thursday and his assistant is going to CA to visit her grandbaby and when he found out I had done some case management, he said he would be checking with my “bosses” to see if they would release me to help him out for the remainder of the month.  I hope so.

Deloris (the homeowner) came with her grandson, BoBo, and she was in tears to see what had been accomplished.  The last time she had been in the house it had only the studs in.  She is so very happy to see it coming to completion.  We are hoping to be here when she does move in.  We are shooting for the end of the month.  In two weeks we are to have 50 people here, so it looks like it might be close.

Julie, Doloris, BoBo
Ken has worked on the handicap ramp extension – it is beautiful.

Ken checking over the drawing

Ken coming down his almost completed ramp

We went to a play with the group from IN called “Noises”.  It was about behind the scenes of flubs of a play.  It was hysterical. 

Visit with my brother, Butch and his family
Melissa, Butch,  Jeremy, Julie & Jessica
That's all from Tuscaloosa this week.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Another week on the job site.  It rained three days last week which hampered doing any work outside, however, we did try to get some stuff done in between raindrops.

Ken has been working on installing the steps to the front of the house, which has been a bit tough.  The specs were a little off (1/2”) and they had to redo them for it to pass the inspector's scrupulous eyes.

The infamous steps and railing Ken has been working on

I have been nicknamed “Cage Room Queen”.  The Site Manager wanted to have the UMCOR trailer organized, so I put in screws to hang hoses on, nails to put other tools off the floor.  Then I took inventory of all that was in the trailer.  I made sure the people on site returned everything at the end of the day.  One of the things I had to do was put the nuts, bolts and screws that were just thrown on a table into the correct box.  Betsy where are you when I need you – I know you would know the names of these blasted things.  (Betsy & Gregg owned Fairview Hardware a few years back and Betsy was always doing inventory and could identify everything!)

Julie after organizing the UMCOR trailer

The mish-mosh of nails and screws to be sorted
We had a team from York, PA come down for the week and they worked on a roof and picking up debris.  Their last day, they began hanging sheet rock on the ceilings.  Ken sheet rocked a closet while waiting for the rain to stop.

Team from York, PA and Ken & Julie
Ken found an aerial picture of the subdivision we are working in that was taken 3 days after the storm.  The arrow points to the house we are rebuilding. Compare this to the Google picture of this same subdivision before the Tornado.

Before the tornado at 122 Juanita Drive

After the tornado at 122 Juanita - note house is next to arrow - this is the house we are working on
 We were invited to the Construction Supervisor’s lake home.  He told us it was a “pole house”.  To me a “pole house” is a like a “pole barn”.  Was I surprised!  It took him four years to build it and the “poles” were telephone poles that support the house.  The largest pole was 45’ tall.

Our hosts:  BeBe & Marvin McKinley

Inside the "pole house" - notice
the poles along the wall

Of course, you don’t have a great view of Lake Tuscaloosa without going through logging roads and dirt roads.  In fact, the road to his house was quite steep (see picture).  We had to take a running start to get up the other side.  But, very worth it!

The long, 45 degree slope road
 The weather here turned out to be quite chilly…27 degrees when we woke up this morning (Sunday).  They are predicting snow flurries for tomorrow morning and rain the rest of the week.  We went to First United Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa this morning for their 11:00 Contemporary service.  The service is called “The Bridge”.  They have an awesome praise band and an amazing sound and projection system.

Praise Band at FUMC - The Bridge

 Here is a picture of our “home away from home” and our construction vehicle complete with Asbury Mission sign - more updates next week.   K & J

Home away from home aka
our rolling condo

Proud to be part of a Mission Team from

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Update from Tuscaloosa, AL

Hello to all,

We arrived in Tuscaloosa, AL and began to work on Wednesday.  We are at a campground about ten miles from our job site.  The area we are working is a subdivision called Druid Hills.  All the homes in this subdivision were completely destroyed.  Most of the debris has been removed, and all that is left of the homes is the concrete slabs.  The house we are working on belongs to an elderly woman, handicapped and very sweet.  This house is nearing completion, most of the exterior work is done, all that remains is some siding, the porch steps, railing, and a handicap ramp.  The interior is all studded out, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC are installed. We are currently waiting for the HVAC inspection before we can start insulating and putting up dry wall.

Ken and I were initially assigned to building a set of exterior steps for the front porch.  It took Ken and I
two days to complete from measuring to cutting to nailing, etc.  My first set of steps – Ken has done this before.  Ken and another worker started to attach them to the porch and got rained out.  While Ken was working with the steps, I worked with 3 other women wrapping siding around a window and nailing into place.  I worked on organizing the UMCOR  Construction trailer…it was quite a mess…but I will get it in order.  My other task has been keeping the work site cleaned up.

Ken cutting steps

Ken adjusting step

Julie admiring the steps they made together


More devastation
The house next door is very close to completion, it is a project that volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse are working on.  This week there was a team of 15 from Northeast/Harborcreek, PA!  It was quite a surprise to find another team from our area.  When we met the team, we also found out that a team from Weis Library in Erie was working with Samaritan’s Purse just last week!  On Friday, there were putting final touches on this house and will have an open house and dedication next week.

This Sunday we went to  the First United Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa contemporary service, called “The Bridge” – it was the youth program – WOW! What energy!  They even had fog machines.  We have been asked to come to Wednesday night activities:  dinner, Bible study, etc.  It is a buffet and they charge $6 per person, but we will be the pastor’s guests on Wednesday. 

Contemporary Service ("The Bridge") - note fog machine

Praise band - note 'living room' furniture

Next week a team of 7 from York, PA will be here to help insulate and start sheetrock work.  Ken will be working on the deck railing and maybe start working on a 37’ handicap ramp.  I will also be picking out the flooring and tile next week.

More pictures and update coming next weekend.

Blessings to all,
julie & ken