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As some of you know, I had the opportunity to kick off 2018 in St. Thomas. I was working with the community to help as they recover from the impact of Hurricane Irma (category 5 on 9/6/17) and Hurricane Maria (category 4 on 9/20/17). The organization I worked with, All Hands and Hearts, delivers post-disaster recovery assistance, primarily to high-need homes in partnership with volunteers from across the globe. 

These households belong to people in a variety of situations – everything from lacking insurance (or enough insurance) to individuals with disabilities or income-based needs. An assessment team from All Hands goes out and meets with anyone who applies to determine how long the job will take and how many people the site needs. All costs are covered by the organization (except for dumpsters to haul away debris), saving the average homeowner roughly $28,000.

Before the rebuilding can begin, structures need to be cleared of debris (wet, organic and damaged dry materials) and items showing the presence of mold. After that, sanitation takes place which consists of lumber (mostly) being treated and scrubbed with bleach to remove and stop the spread of mold. After those two stages, rebuilding can begin.

When I arrived the day off had been shifted, so my first day of work was actually our one-day weekend. So, a bunch of volunteers headed to Magens Bay for some swimming and sun. Referred to as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, it was featured in the movie The Twilight Saga – Breaking Dawn Part I. 

It was nice to see a little bit of the island, but all the broken palm trees were sad. This field was once a forest. A cruise ship company has since replanted a bunch of saplings to bring the beach feel back to their guests.

After beach day, it was time to get to work. I donned my Carhart’s and a hardhat and found my name on the board – muck and guts were my week. Mucking is removing anything wet and gutting is removing the debris (sheetrock, tile, furniture, appliances, carpet, roofing materials, screws). We also removed downed trees and roof debris from the yards.

This was a work order for my second day. The family has been displaced since the storms as their house is missing the roof and two exterior walls. You could tell from what was left how much care and pride they had put into their home. It was very sobering to see what was left.

Standard gear for the trip – kept me nice and safe!

Stats on the team’s progress from when I arrived to when I left. Some of the jobs can take a half day and others can last a week. There were about 70 of us (10 staff and 60 volunteers) working on the project when I was there. Everyone worked incredibly hard and earned their sleep!

As we worked, we saw a lot of critters running around. The iguanas were my favorite.

Even though it was difficult to see people’s houses torn apart, there was hope in the air about things to come. We learned about trauma recovery and some ways to make sure we were helping more than hurting. In trauma recovery, it is especially hard in communities because your support systems are also likely to be effected by the disaster as well. The two hurricanes effected 100% of the residents of St. Thomas and there is still a lot of work to be done. 

If you have any time that you want to use to pitch in, check out the organization’s website. Most meals, lodging, worksite transportation, tools, etc. are covered by the organization – you just need to get there.

I am still processing the whole trip and have other things to share but wanted to get my thoughts started. Thanks for stopping by!

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