I have spent the last couple of days manning tables at colleges in and around Minot (and by around I mean four hours away, this is a BIG place!). This, combined with two front page pieces in the local newspaper, has resulted in a flurry of people contacted us to arrange trips for volunteers. Click on the names to read about volunteer visits by Senator John Hoeven and Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley, who was also joined by the First Lady of the state, Betsy Dalrymple.
This is great news for the hundreds of home owners who still desperately need assistance but has left me little time to post updates here. Bare with me as I get all these people slotted into place and rest assured that teams are growing and have managed to finish up sites every day this week!
Shanna informs me that, when bowling, if you score a strike three times in a row its called a turkey and tonight All Hands is descending en masse on North Hill Bowl for a bit of pin-smashing action. Yes, after spending all day on their feet, hauling bins full of soggy drywall, and shovelling sewage out of basements, what everybody wants to do is hurl heavy balls around and wear previously worn, ill-fitting shoes. Sounds great guys but I have a pressing appointment with the shower, followed by an early night with my thoroughly thrilling, amazingly crappy spy novel.
In other news, a team of twenty accountants came out today and both team leaders reported that they totally rocked it! Not just number crunchers in this state, Brady Martz showed that the usually desk-bound can give even the most hardened volunteers a run for their money when it comes to mucking and gutting in Minot. Thanks for all your help guys.
Project Minot is now host to five more of All Hands finest. We’ve had a good number of alum through the doors and yesterday we were joined by Jiella, Jeremey, Andrew, Alejandro and the newest member of the team, HR Manager Shelly. Not only will they be schmoozing with the town’s big wigs and leading members of US disaster management agencies but, of course, they’re all looking forward to getting their hands dirty again. With the vast majority of our staff coming up from the ranks of volunteers we all love to get back to what made us fall in love with the organization; the hands on field work that so obviously and profoundly impacts the communities we go to.
It can be hard to see the little picture from your desk at the office, booking volunteers, finding and scheduling jobs, coordinating with national and international groups. It’s working alongside a homeowner, helping them prepare their ruined homes for rebuilding, seeing a house go from soggy mess to bare studs, empty but clean, that reminds you what your desk bound efforts help to achieve – one family that much closer to recovery. And one more family after that.
Creating a system for booking, tracking and storing volunteer information on Project Minot I was about to head off in search of suitable stationary and organisational devices when Clare asked me if my plan for the mountain of paperwork registration generates was “dropable”. This was something I has not considered and a feature I’m not sure most people have need of but here at All Hands, in the world of disaster response, the dropable office is a lifesaver.
Consider today. We have been working out of the Municipal Auditorium in Minot. Initially many services and organisations maintained a presence here; FEMA, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, SBA. Now it is just us and the teachers making hasty preparations to hold school here in September for students flooded out of their old one. Today we turned up to find locked doors. The Auditorium is now closed on Sundays. The Recovery Coordination Centre that we run out of the Auditorium is open on Sundays. So here we are sitting at a trestle table under a folding gazebo running a fifty person project out of boxes. Nobody missed a beat. Paperwork can be grabbed in an instant, flung into the back of a minivan and transported across the city only for the logistics to continue uninterrupted on arrival. Things can blow over, get knocked off tables, be righted and still hold all of their precious contents in easy to browse folders, organised alphabetically by first name. Genius.
Technology plays its part too of course. The four of us are merrily browsing the internet (as evidenced by this post) through a portable mifi device which can run off a battery for hours. We also have ipads that use mobile phone networks to connect and chargers that will plug into car cigarette lighters if anyone should run low on juice.
The dropable office has shown itself to be not just dropable but portable, not just wind-proof but change-of-plan-proof. Perfect, therefore, for the topsy-turvy, changes-every-second world that I seem to find myself in so often and have grown to love. Three cheers for Clare and her non-stop innovation!
Tonight, Jewish Disaster Response organisation Nechama, will be running a three hour training course for all of our volunteers on how to safely and effectively manage teams in the field. As our volunteer base continues to grow those volunteers who chose to stay longer can gain new skills and mentor the new recruits, ensuring that quality work continues here on Project Minot. One the most important aspects, to me, of All Hands, is their tradition of providing opportunities for unskilled and inexperienced volunteers. It is also one of the more controversial. I have spoken before of the dangers of unaffiliated volunteers spontaneously descending on a disaster zone. While intentions are (usually) benevolent, people unfamiliar with disaster response and the affected area, may inadvertently be a drain on already stretched supply lines and may find it difficult to access opportunities to help.
Here on Project Minot we are providing a drop in desk for people to volunteer spontaneously and are working to coordinate this effort to ensure that volunteers can get involved with meaningful work and not be a burden on the community they want to help. Even more exciting is that through collaborations like the one this evening with Nechama, our volunteers will head out from this project with new skills and experiences, helping them to continue to affect disaster-impacted communities in the future in bigger and better ways. Happy days. Oh, and the icing on the cake is literally icing on cakes! In order to compensate people for the extra they’ll be putting in today Amelia will be returning to base laden down with delicious treats, including my new-found favourite; anything with cream cheese frosting. English people take note, sounds weird, tastes amazing.
Jen’s phone is ringing constantly. Home owners who have seen our volunteers busily and expertly clearing and gutting homes want the same for their own properties. Just like in Japan, the dedication of our volunteers and their visibility in the community goes a long way towards fostering an atmosphere of trust. It means a lot to a disaster-impacted community that people would come from all over the country to help them. More than the psychological gains, people have heard that we finish the jobs we start, that we come when we say we will and that we’ll work hard all day with smiles on our faces. “They are just troopers!” one lady exclaimed to me yesterday after seeing our volunteers on her neighbour’s house. It does seem like we need to make the logo bigger on our shirts though as most people call to request help from those wonderful “Helping Hands” people!
Our Project Minot flood response shirts finally turned up last night so hopefully with four crews out today in brand new, clean (for the first five minutes, perhaps) All Hands t-shirts, a few more people will know the good name of All Hands Volunteers!
People are just starting to trickle back to base from a lovely BBQ laid on for us by two local families who wanted to thank everyone for their hard work. Mark and Pam brought out a five gallon bucket of steak and Isaac his Lindsay brought five cases of beer – needless to say the volunteers felt thoroughly appreciated! It was the perfect occasion to kick back and unwind, get to know each other and interact with the local community in a less emotional setting. Lest we forget why we all came to Minot, the get-together was held in the shell of Mark and Pam’s home, which volunteers had stripped back to the studs over the past week.
The fact that this small part of the work needed to make the home inhabitable again was done without cost to the homeowners is the silver lining that keeps you from getting depressed constantly working in disaster zones. The generosity and openness and friendliness of the people you meet, some of whom have just lost everything, is what keeps you doing it.
Minot is not the most accessible place in this country. There is an airport but you’re looking at $600+ for a round trip and it will involve multiple legs unless you’re coming from Seattle, Denver or Minneapolis. Greyhound buses run to Bismarck (costs obviously vary by departure point, but again you are looking at multiple stops) which then transfer to a local service to Minot which costs $25. Once here your costs will be minimal. Meals are not provided on Mondays as it is our day off but there are a couple of cheap options in Berthold itself and more in Minot. Beyond personal expenses for snacks or drinks outside of the provided meals there is not much else to spend your money on. Remember that if you stay more than 30 days you will have to organize a three night break away from the project and fund this yourself. There is camping available, which might actually be a more realistic option than a hotel as many are full to capacity with evacuees.
All in all, considering the cost of other volunteer programs, Project Minot remains an affordable choice. Don’t forget that you can fund raise towards the cost of your trip. People who don’t have the time to come themselves are often happy to contribute to enable someone else to be able to help others. Start saving your pennies and lets get some more boots on the ground in North Dakota.