Built to Last

Strength is not a characteristic unfamiliar to the Avila family. Having survived yet another hurricane, Isaac Avila warmly welcomed the All Hands Volunteers crew that was onsite removing tree debris from his family’s home post Hurricane Harvey.

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Isaac offered water, and coffee, and introduced the volunteers to his dancing, music-loving bird, who also survived the hurricane.

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This day, however, was different. This was Isaac’s birthday, and his uplifting spirit – despite the storm, infused the volunteer crew with positivity.

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Isaac, who lives together with his sister, Norma Castillo, and their 93-year-old mother, Cecilia Avila, came from a strong foundation. Having welcomed volunteers from other organizations in the past due to prior hurricanes, Isaac was protective of his home and of his family. His family’s home, a symbol of their resilience, strength and love, was built by Isaac’s grandfather years ago. Isaac believes their home, much like their family, is still standing after numerous hurricanes because his grandfather built it with bolts, instead of nails.

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The All Hands Volunteers crew spent the day with the Avila family, entertained by Isaac’s dancing bird, but more moved by the strength and resilience of his family, and the story behind the nuts and bolts that housed and protected them. After a job well done, and approved by Isaac himself, the crew headed off to the next home. But as they loaded their gear into the truck, they walked a little taller and smiled a little wider – thanks to one kind family that is clearly built to last.

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Please help us stay for as long as we are needed and donate today. 100% of your donation will go to those impacted by Harvey. We are currently in Houston and the Gulf Coast.

 

Make a Difference in Louisiana

2016 proved to be a difficult year for me.  Following my parents’ passing, I took a leave of absence from the company where I’d been working for the past 17 years.  My journey of grieving eventually took me to Louisiana. It’s in a New Orleans hostel that I first came across the All Hands Volunteers organization, spotting a flyer that had been placed there at the end of my stay.

I talked to my manager about getting extra time off – an additional five months – so I could join the Louisiana Rebuild project.  I had never heard of All Hands Volunteers but I committed to joining them without even having set foot on the project.  Something about it felt right.  On April 10, 2017, two days after I was originally scheduled to be back at work in Florida, I arrived at the All Hands base in Denham Springs.

This experience has humbled me. Like many others, I had heard about last August’s floods but I was not aware of the extent of the devastation.   still struggle with witnessing the homeowners’ emotions, watching them part with their belongings as though one would throw away a piece of their lives. It’s really dramatic and sad. Most of us don’t think that water, something that helps you live, can also kill you.

As a new volunteer, I did not know what to expect when I came to Denham Springs. The mucking and gutting activities were mostly completed, and so much work had already been accomplished. Yet there is still lots to do. I really enjoy being a part of this project, which tackles the finishing stages of rebuilding so people can move back into their homes.

All Hands has been a great platform for me. Within weeks of my arrival, I was able to start leading teams of volunteers on job sites. The skills and construction knowledge I’ve picked up during my time with All Hands Volunteers so far are invaluable. In the wake of a difficult time in my personal life, the work is soothing in many ways, and I feel fulfilled walking away from local homes day after day, knowing my team and I have made a difference. Everywhere we go as a group, someone recognizes us and thanks us. I’m happy and proud to be a part of this.

Working Side by Side with Resilience | Louisiana

Brent was on his way back home to secure his personal items as the water was rising. When the Sheriff Department asked if anyone knew the area and could assist with boat rescues, Brent did not hesitate.  Leaving his belongings in his flooding house, he only grabbed 8 life jackets that a neighbor had given him some time ago, and joined boats that rescued a total of 600 to 700 people.  These life jackets were instrumental, he explains, as the currents were so strong that when he got out of the boat to rescue a lady who was stranded on top of her car, the water took a shoe right out of his foot.

Following the floods, Brent, who had been in the construction industry since 1985, helped pressure-wash and sanitize flooded homes in the area.  He did not charge anyone. Sadly, he was infected with MRSA 4 times as a result of germs and pathogens from the floods, landing him in the hospital.  

Brent used to train home builders and inspectors, and was excited to work closely with the volunteers as they helped rebuild his home.  “I was really disheartened.  And then you guys came and lifted my spirits and I appreciate that”, he says.

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HOW TO HELP:

All Hands Volunteers remains in Louisiana,  repairing and bringing damaged households, institutions, and daycare centers back to full recovery in collaboration with long-term recovery partners to help. Hundreds of volunteers are still urgently needed to lend their hands to these rebuild efforts. For further information, go to www.hands.org/ or apply to volunteer

Something We Can Do

I returned to All Hands Volunteers after working in Bogalusa, LA as an AmeriCorps NCCC member during the 2016 flood response. I had been mucking and gutting homes, as well as performing sanitations, when I was offered the opportunity to learn how to conduct assessments. This was the first time I was able to interact closely with homeowners.

One morning, we received a call about a flooded mobile-home park, where an elderly couple hadn’t received any help. We drove to where the couple lived and found their home had been flooded with at least 4 feet of water. The husband was suffering from severe health issues and when the door was opened, the stench of mold was overwhelming. They didn’t have electricity, running water or an alternative place to live; this was at least 2 months after the flooding had happened.

Due to health issues, the husband was unemployed and required a day-nurse.  The nurse warned the couple that if they continued living in their house another month, he wouldn’t make it through the summer.

This really struck me.  I could see how easily that could have been one of my loved ones. It showed me how easily people fall through the cracks and ignited a fire within me to create change.

I was truly inspired by Brandon, one of the staff members. Although All Hands Volunteers couldn’t do anything to save the mobile home, Brandon made phone calls to anybody that could potentially help. He was determined to find a solution and by the following day had identified a new trailer for the couple.

This was a truly moving moment for me. I was so desperate to help those people and to see how hard Brandon worked to try find a solution, made me realize there is always something we can do to help.

Having had this realization, we visited an elderly woman who hadn’t received any assistance. As soon as we entered the home we could see and smell mold. The owner told us there was one room which was particularly bad and when she opened the door there, mold hung from the ceiling. She didn’t know how bad her living conditions were and the effects this mold could have on her health. As we explained the dangers of her living there and what we could do to help, she immediately started crying, saying she wouldn’t be able to pay us.

That moment gave me chills because she was so distraught thinking she had to give something to us; being able to tell her that we didn’t want any of her money and just wanted to help her was such a humbling experience.  It reinforced why I want to continue this work.

From Son to Father

We are told you are never too old to learn, but for most of us it is a parent who teaches their child, the old hopefully passing on wisdom to those younger and less experienced than themselves. For me however the roles have reversed.

In late 2014 my younger son, Dom Bryant gave up his career as a journalist to volunteer with AHV in Tacloban, Philippines, rebuilding after the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan the previous year. He had heard about All Hands from a friend who themselves had volunteered. Dom went for three months, and stayed for nearly a year such was the positive impact of the work being done on both the local population and the volunteers themselves. He returned briefly in November 2015, before moving to Berlin with fellow volunteer Evelyn Maria Kallas They both worked hard and almost a year later headed to Nepal to volunteer with All Hands again following the earthquakes of April 2015, this time staying six months to see the end of the Bachchhala school project completed.

As any father might do I researched AHV when Dom first spoke about volunteering and learnt more from his experiences once in the Philippines. Linked with his comments, I was impressed by an organisation that seeks to harness goodwill not just into financial contributions but by enabling individuals to use their time and labour for the benefit of others less fortunate. I went to Tacloban for a few days in 2015 and saw for myself the combined efforts of volunteers and the local community. I even gave a limited hand on one site. What was being delivered in Tacloban was inspiring and positively changing lives.

Back home, still working I did what I could do to support both my son and AHV through contributions. I spoke to anyone who would listen, and still do about this organisation that responds to natural disasters throughout the world. In 2017, I ventured to Nepal to see Dom and Evelyn, and spent a few days working with All Hands on two new school buildings where I again met individuals from all parts the world united by a common purpose – ‘good people, doing good things’ as I am fond of saying.

A father naturally has pride in a son’s achievements. For me however, this pride is not about material gain or a position of authority achieved, it is the content I feel inside for what All Hands has enabled my son to demonstrate. He always had empathy, he always cared about others. He has now had the opportunity to demonstrate this in a practical way with his hands and his heart, and this life changing process has impacted on me as well as him.

All Hands Volunteers speaks of rebuilding hope. For me it has helped build a son into a good man, and it has given me hope that I can use my remaining years to help others.

Ian Bryant

Full Circle

Check out this inspiring #ShareTheGood message from Sabine Thompson in Montaigu France!

“People helped my family when I was younger, and I’m now in a position to help others. Life comes full circle. Like many, I’ve experienced hardship and painful episodes of loss over the years, but volunteering has always put things in perspective for me. Such is the beauty of giving: the realization that in the end, the intangibles one receives go way beyond what one gives.” – Sabine Thompson
Read her full story here and #ShareTheGood.

Like many of the people I now support when I volunteer, I come from humble beginnings.  From early childhood to my late teens, my limited wardrobe consisted of either donations from charities or clothes that my mother, who had left her home country of Vietnam during the war, would sew for me.  I learned very early on to find joy in the simple things in life and have always believed, maybe naively so, that people are intrinsically good.

It is those humble beginnings that paved the way for my passion for volunteering.  People have helped me and my family when I was younger, and I am now in a position to help others.  Life comes full circle.  Like many, I’ve experienced hardship and painful episodes of loss over the years, but volunteering has always put things in perspective for me.  Such is the beauty of giving: the realization that in the end, the intangibles one receives go way beyond what one gives.

I never had the flexibility to take a year off to travel or to join projects for months on end like some of my fellow volunteers.  I had to start working as soon as I graduated from school, but I held on to the idea of giving back, and when there is a will there is a way!  I recently celebrated 20 years of volunteering activities around the world, from orphanage visits to tutoring of underprivileged children, disaster relief, or work in slum areas and refugee camps.

While helping out in Japan after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster of March 2011, a friend told me about an organization called All Hands Volunteers.  I bookmarked the website.  When they launched their response to Superstorm Sandy I expressed my interest and soon received an e-mail welcoming me to Project Long Island.  I first joined the project in March 2013 and volunteered with All Hands in New York on a total of nine different occasions that year alone.

The camaraderie with fellow volunteers coming from all walks of life but with a similar desire to help was instant and infectious.  Logistics were made easy, allowing me to focus my limited time off work on helping rather than untangling administrative details.  I had no technical knowledge but the projects were structured and I was provided with the guidance, safety measures, procedures and tools I needed.  I witnessed first-hand the long-term impact of All Hands Volunteers’ work as several disaster response projects I joined turned into rebuild activities – in New York specifically, I was given a chance to further the response work I had started in early 2013 and help rebuild homes affected by Superstorm Sandy in Long Island in late 2013, Staten Island in 2014 and Brooklyn in 2015.

It has been four years since my first AHV project. All Hands Volunteers has made it possible for me to volunteer around the world on 18 different projects to address the needs of areas struck by tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, typhoons and earthquakes.   I’ve learned a lot, made lifetime friends, and still receive occasional updates from survivors I’ve assisted.

I do not have the energy of a 20-year-old; I do not have much free time beyond weekends and vacation days; I do not have the technical know-how of a construction worker or any specialized skills outside of my office desk work; I do not have big muscles; but I have heart and a strong desire to help, and All Hands Volunteers determined that it was good enough.  I am thankful.

 

IN FOR LIFE – APRIL 2017

Story of Advocates Jeff Smith (68) and Fran Jocelyn (71) – Reisterstown, MD, USA

We found out about All Hands Volunteers through our niece, Aubrie Hornung, who was volunteering in Leogane, Haiti, after the 2010 earthquake. She had been there for several months and wanted someone from our family to come down and spend some time with her and see what she was up to. We don’t mind roughing it and enjoy hard work and volunteering. So we were the likely candidates.

We have a seasonal business and are free to travel in January every year. So that year, the 1 year anniversary of the earthquake, we were off to Haiti. After a few airplane rides, we met Aubrie at the airport and took off on a dizzying zig zag motorcycle ride through Port-au-Prince. A little hairy on the curves and hills as we were burdened with heavy backpacks full of work clothes and tools. A few bouncy bus rides and hours later we were greeted at the All Hands compound by smiling faces and big hugs and quickly became known as Aubrie’s Aunt and Uncle. That was the start of our relationship with All Hands Volunteers.

Upon arriving home from that trip we were asked by our 6 year old granddaughter’s teacher to do a slide show presentation for Jaden and her classmates. They were planning a fundraiser and chose to donate the money to All Hands. The kids made friendship pins (a safety pin filled with colourful beads) and sold them for a quarter each. Donning one of our Leogane All Hands t-shirts, Jaden worked the sales table along with her classmates. Prior to that the students had made posters and put them up in the school announcing the upcoming sale. They sent home flyers with all of the elementary school students so the parents would know why all of the kids needed to bring their quarters to school. At the end of the day, they had raised $475. That’s 1,900 friendship pins!

We explained to Jaden and her classmates how our matching funds would double their fundraising efforts to build new desks for the new schools that All Hands Volunteers were building in Haiti. Following up on that theme, the students filled pencil holder bags with pens, pencils, erasers, etc, and we had them taken to Leogane by another volunteer who was headed there a few weeks later.

It was after our experience in Haiti that we began to donate to All Hands on a monthly basis. It is a very modest amount since we are spread a little thin. But knowing that we are helping in a small way each month is rewarding in itself and a constant reminder of people around the world who are in dire need of help, especially after a disaster.

We also did another fundraiser online for All Hands, tapping into our friends and family, raising about $1,500 prior to volunteering in the Philippines in January 2016. Seeing the funds go into the materials for the schools being built there was very rewarding and fulfilling.

Copy of img_0610-8Each time we volunteer we come away with an added appreciation for all of the things we take for granted in our everyday lives. Our hearts fill up with the love expressed by the people from the communities we have worked in. We are rewarded in so many ways, especially knowing that perhaps we have made someone else’s life a little better. The smiling faces of the kids whose schools we have worked on are etched in our minds forever.

We will continue to donate to All Hands Volunteers so that we can always be a small part of the wonderful work that the staff and volunteers do in helping those in need all over the world. We look forward to when we can volunteer again and spend time working with the younger volunteers who have so much energy and commitment to the cause. They keep us feeling young! The amazing dedication of the All Hands staff at the worksites and in the office is truly inspiring and makes them a pleasure to work with. We’re in for life!

Jeff & Fran_Class and Teacher