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An SBP AmeriCorps Member shares his Hurricane Ida experience

Evan Wampler-Collins is a first-term AmeriCorps member serving Hurricane Ida-impacted communities with SBP.

I often think about how, in a matter of days, we went from working on our new build projects in New Orleans to going straight out into the field to help those in need. One day we were framing, siding, and painting new houses, and the next we were taking sentimental furniture and belongings covered in mold to the curb for Hurricane Ida survivors.

Hurricane Ida damage in southeast Louisiana.

The first moment (and there have been many now) that I remember knowing this storm had really changed lives in devastating ways, was when a few other Project Leads and I were out in LaPlace doing damage assessments a few days after the storm. We pulled up to an address, and as soon as we got out, a woman came running over to our truck. She asked how much we would charge to fix her house. We told her we were a nonprofit, but we could come do an assessment of her house.

Once we got finished later that day, she started telling us how she had not just been impacted by Ida, but she had also sustained a lot of damage from Hurricane Issac in 2012, and a house fire just a few years ago. As she told us her story, she started to break down and sob. At this moment I understood we needed to help not just her, but as many people as we could, and I was 100% ready to work the long hours with not much sleep or relaxation time.

To a lot of people across the country, this storm was just another hurricane that they would hear about for a few days on the news. I have been that unknowing person in the past. Growing up in Lexington, Kentucky we never got hit by any kind of devastation like this.

A gutted home in Houma, La.

I have been able to work alongside many great volunteers, my fellow Project Leads, and SBP staff to get a lot of work done in affected communities. I have comforted homeowners as we removed sentimental furniture from their homes. I reunited others with their children’s hand-painted portraits they thought had been destroyed. I met a 79-year-old Vietnam war veteran who held his door closed against 150-mile-per-hour winds, and a jazz musician who built his home by hand. Every person we help has a story. I wish I could share them all.

While there are many houses where we meet the owners, there are others where we never do. Sometimes a family member lets us into the homes where we’re working. Often this is because the owner is elderly and needs to stay somewhere else because of the condition of their home. Other times it is because they can’t handle seeing their homes in such poor condition and they would rather just have us take care of it. I try to think about how I would react if my home was so severely damaged by a natural disaster, but it’s just unimaginable.

A survivor camps out in his garage after Ida.

Some days between pulling drywall and managing volunteer groups, I try to snap a few photos to record the work we are doing here. This is important to me because I feel that not a lot of people get to see what we see on a daily basis, and I love being able to give a glimpse of what we can make happen. Sometimes I get shots of volunteers or other project leads working well together on a big section of the house, or I might capture a homeowner sitting amongst their salvaged belongings in the garage. Capturing these images is my way of telling the stories of those whose lives are changed by these powerful storms and the importance of the work we are doing.

You can follow Evan’s photos here.