Today started with something pretty important – acknowledging that today is Jake’s sixteenth birthday! I pulled him into the middle of our circle of thirty-four people and he spun around as we all sang happy birthday to him. We were soon joined by local help. Connie and Alex have family living in Cedar Rapids and Alex’s two cousins, Brianna and Michelle, and their friends, Becca and Ellie, joined us as we worked all day. Four crews divided and went to their respective locations: Josh’s house, Mack’s house, and the Piano Store again as well as a new location, Carol’s house.
Our work today saw quite a few accomplishments and moments of progress. At Mack’s house, a new crew of Pat, Jordan, Sam, Holly, Jenna, Olivia, and Katie finished the entire paint job of the house interior. Every gray cement brick was coated with the thick white paint and Mack was pleased with the job the team did. In fact, the team finished early in the work day and were able to trek over to Carol’s house to join a crew of Kent, Bob, Barney, Alex O., Trevor, Brianna, Michelle, Becca, Ellie, and more (sorry, I don’t have the roster on me right now). Carol’s house was on the same street as Josh’s and the Piano Store, just the next block down from the Piano Store, in fact. There’s a large pile of debris piled in the front lawn including some brand-new sheetrock that unfortunately had to be pulled only three days after it was put up due to a leaky roof ruining some of the great work that was done earlier in the week. The crew put up wall installation, mudded some drywall, put up new sheetrock, and had a special team working on a precise measurement.
Turns out a new doorframe was less than level; one end stuck up by three-quarters of an inch. That meant using the sawzaw to cut out a chunk of doorframe, pulling out some sheetrock, lowering the overhead doorframe boarding, and then reinstalling the whole sh-bang properly. As the group at Josh’s house had to do yesterday, some of the work volunteer crews have to do is not repair or construction but correction work do undo something not quite kosher from other volunteer crews. It’s a bummer and one hopes the next crew in doesn’t have too much correction work because of what we did. Instead, we’re hoping our work ends up being the kind of work that has Iowa UMCOR calling us to find out when we’re coming back to do more.
Meanwhile, Josh’s house was busy with a crew consisting of Ron, Nick, Nathan, Brett, Alex and more. Everyone was in high spirits to return to the home after having done so much work on it the day before, plus Josh tossed in an added bonus. He turned on the air conditioning. It’s amazing how a little gesture like that can not only help one’s physical stamina stay strong during a hard work day but also boost crew spirits. Dry wall was still at the top of the list at Josh’s house and the crew worked diligently to get their work done. Over at the Piano Store, a slightly-altered-from-yesterday crew of Jerry, Bobbi, Marcus, Jacob B., and Jake continued to gut the building. Jake was excited to smash sledgehammers into walls and pry up floorboards with a crowbar for his birthday and we weren’t about to stop him. They worked with another crew from northeast Missouri who was finishing up their final day of work after a week in town, first on the ground floor and then also in the basement. I was witness to a large truck coming to haul away the giant dumpster and it gave me better perspective on how truly big it was – essentially, it’s the size of a truck trailer and it was filled to the brim. The truck hauled it away, dumped its contents, and came back later that day to receive more moldy wood, rusty nails, and other assorted bits of junk.
I went on a solo adventure for a little while today, as usual. I ventured out to the new home of the Cedar Rapids Library… in the mall. “Library” is not necessarily synonymous with “mall” for me, but there I was, posting yesterday’s blog and photos in the library computer center, a former Steve & Barry’s Clothing Store space next door to Yonkers. The mall was dead with what seemed to be a lot more empty store fronts than occupied. I asked the librarian if this was a result of the flood or recent economic woes and apparently those were factors but the mall was already on the decline. The hollow shell of what was once a vibrant area for so many people, however, seemed to really fit in with the neighborhood we’re working in this week. Some houses look great, others are boarded up tight. Some are having work done on them while others are likely abandoned forever. The parallel imagery wasn’t lost on me as I walked past empty, gated shop space in the mall to see the new library. It’s a broad, open space that reminds me of a miniature Barnes & Noble only without the charm and selection. I can’t think about that entire library collection getting wiped out without getting sad about it. Still, it’s wonderful to see the county doing their best to get such an important community aspect back up and running, and there’s even something poetic about them putting it in a location where less and less people were coming recently. Perhaps the library can help the mall revive a little bit, who knows.
We had a mishap or two today. We misplaced the key to Loretta’s van and had to run to the dealer for a new one at a bummer of a price tag (it was high to begin with but made higher due to weekend pricing). We also found that Matt had also had skin piercing from stepping on a nail yesterday. When it went through his shoe, he didn’t feel like it hit his foot at all but after closer examination right before bed, sure enough there was a small mark. Like Kaitlin and Jack before him, Connie took him to the ER for antibiotics and he was eventually able to return to work, joining the Piano Store crew. At the end of the night, Jacob S. said he had a sore knee. Sensing nothing immediately wrong, Connie and Louann have asked Jacob to let them know if anything comes of it and he intends to do some work sitting to take weight of it tomorrow.
Leaving mishaps behind, there were plenty of funny and uplifting stories today. Mack’s praise of the crew who painted his house simply never stopped. Jake got into a light argument with a gas station clerk about whether or not Dr. Pepper qualified as a Pepsi product and thus for the sale price (it’s made by Cadbury and possibly not distributed by Pepsi in Iowa is our guess). Pat finally got to leave painting behind and get a start on drywall only to be disappointed when it was time to clean-up only thirty minutes into his new job. Youth and adults alike laughed and danced during LYFE Camp favorite song, Ah-La-La-La-La-La-Lei-Lu-Ia (Ah-La-La-La-La-La-Lei-Lu [Hey!]), including verses like “pinch a neighbor’s cheek,” “squeeze another knee,” and “bump another rump.” And people took time during the evening worship service to share their observations of the positive things members of our group have done this week, as well as look inward and discuss what they have done that surprised themselves this week. This reflection was done in small groups and the intimacy lent itself to some excellent sharing and complimenting all-around.
Lucky us, Connie’s brother, Brian, and his wife, Carol, invited us to their home for dinner and relaxation. Brian was the grill man and we gobbled up burgers and hot dogs and then lounged on lawn chairs, played pool in the basement, jumped on the trampoline, and sang songs as Alex O. and I pulled out our guitar and ukulele, respectively. At the end of dinner, I watched Connie carry out a beautiful white sheet cake for Jake’s birthday. Someone gave him a celebratory do-rag (I don’t think it’s an actual “celebratory” do-rag, it just ended up that way)… but then I got one, too, and Kelsey got a Happy Birthday princess crown. Turns out the birthday cake was in honor of all three of us, with Jake turning sixteen today of course, and then on Monday, the last day of our trip, Kelsey turns sixteen and I… turn… um… older. Maybe thirty, I couldn’t say for sure… At any rate, the gesture was a nice surprise and the ice cream cake was delicious. All in all, the evening was a nice reprieve from the hot work day we’d had and it put us in a mood of gratitude for Brian and Carol’s hospitality. After dinner, we returned to the church for the aforementioned worship service, some conversation, a game or two, and then bed.
I’m exhausted so I’m leaving it at that, dear reader. Thank you for your comments and for reading!
P.S. Kelsey and Loretta took some great snapshots after the work day at dinner and evening worship. Take a look!