Wade on Birmingham

Magic City Mission: Live from Biloxi


come walk in my shoes

Eight volunteers from Birmingham are working this week
to rebuild Biloxi and New Orleans.

We made it to the Gulf Coast, and we couldn’t have done it without you.

mcmlogo2.gifI’m spending the week in Biloxi with two more Birmingham residents. Our other team of five is staying in New Orleans. The eight of us are volunteering this week as part of the Magic City Mission, a partnership with nonprofit volunteer agency Hands on Birmingham.

Thanks to your generosity, we raised $1,390, which paid for our transportation costs as well as food and shelter at Camp Hope in New Orleans and Hands on Gulf Coast in Biloxi. But it also provided hundreds of dollars for both agencies plus St. Bernard Project in New Orleans, money to use at their discretion.

We’d also like to thank Curtis Palmer and TechBirmingham for donating three laptops to these agencies. And thanks also to Birmingham-Southern College for providing our parking.

So let me tell you about the trip so far …

Sunday morning, our two teams arrived on campus, loaded our cars and headed to breakfast down at Cracker Barrel in Bessemer.

After that, two cars (with Celia, John and me) headed to Biloxi while the other two cars sped off to New Orleans (look for their updates later). We arrived at Beauvoir United Methodist Church in West Biloxi early in the afternoon.

The setup for Hands on Gulf Coast is not unlike that of its sister affiliate in New Orleans. The church provides space for volunteers, including kitchen, dining area, bunks, outdoor showers, tool storage, wi-fi and even the occasional down-on-his-luck dog.

A Sunday is a quiet time during the program, but our arrival day was particularly subdued with only one other volunteer here. The rest, Americorps members, will leave Nov. 18, disbanding after their service contracts expire.

The program is in transition, and like New Orleans’ agency, will transform into a long-term community-based effort.

But for now, it’s just us and a late-arriving team from Autodesk (the makers of AutoCAD and other drafting software). Talk about heroic effort: Autodesk has sent teams here six times since October 2006. I met Julie earlier today, who went all six times.

Naturally, I insisted we visit the Pub (full name: The Pub Lounge), the bar barely a block from base camp, for a nightcap. Pool tables, country on the jukebox, and even the old drunk codger slapping us on the back — a basic joint that the volunteers favor.

Steve, who’s been volunteering with Hands on Gulf Coast for six months, and Kendall, with Americorps, wander in, and not for the first time that day. Flush with cash from two lucky spins at the slots, Steve offers up a free round.

But before John and I can take up his offer, another gentleman at the bar buys all of us a round. No reason, except other than maybe karma or something.

Meanwhile, Steve and I “argue” over country vs. hip-hop, and new country vs. old country. It’s past bedtime, but I’m glad to be enjoying my return trip to this coastal town after many years.

• • •

After breakfast this morning, Steve informs me that our drink sponsor continued to buy round after round after John and I had left for the night. Figures.

Our group is shoehorned into a construction project at the last minute. Brian, better known as Doobs to the workers, drives us under I -110 over to East Biloxi, land of casinos and our build for the day. He tells us that 80 percent of the Hands On work takes place in East Biloxi.

While the city has spared no expense in rebuilding the casinos and beaches (which, as we saw from the car, look horrific beneath the bulldozers scurrying along), he says the residents have been ignored. But he’s proud of the work they’re doing, rebuilding homes so people can stay put.

The work I did in New Orleans in April and last November was gutting and mold removal. Today, I experienced the opposite: mudding drywall. I’m further along in the process than ever before. Who knows if any of those houses I gutted will ever be restored to habitable condition?

But I know that me learning how to apply a second coat of joint compound properly — then speeding through it by afternoon despite a cramping hand — will eventually lead to a home sweet home.

And so, listening to the traditional blaring site radio (today’s offerings: classic rock and campaign commercials), I stood in a narrow closet with a light stand painstakingly applying coat after coat, ceiling to floor in each corner. By day’s end, my name really was mud.

Magic City Mission: Make it your mission to help the Gulf Coast.


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