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  • Asher Wertheimer

Spring Break Service Trip 2022

I participated in the service trip to Mississippi from March 11 to March 19, which consisted of 22 students and two chaperones, the Rev. Mike Fales and Jacob Richards.

Aside from the actual work, two noteworthy experiences are worth recounting. First, the group stopped at the Lorraine Motel where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The motel’s façade has been maintained over the years, but the inside has been converted into the National Civil Rights museum. The space was massive and followed the progress of the Civil Rights Movement from the arrival of the first slaves to the modern day. It was a compelling, moving, and enlightening experience.

Secondly, the group spent a day in New Orleans. Aside from experiencing the culture, a few of us accompanied Fales and Richards around areas of the city which were completely submerged after Hurricane Katrina. I can still remember the aftermath of that disaster, so it was fascinating to see the city that had become almost mythologized in my mind.

The work we did in Mississippi was through the organization, R3SM, a non-profit which focuses on rebuilding damaged buildings in Mississippi. We were tasked with repairing a private residence in Hattiesburg. The roof of the house and of the garage had been damaged. We were divided into two teams: one team focused on the house and the other on the garage, which was an extension of the roof that covered a parking space.

The roofers installed two-by-fours with impact drivers. Next, metal sheets were attached to these struts, providing more stability and insulation to the house. Shingles are apt to be carried off in heavy wind, allowing water to leak in through the ceiling. Interlocking metal sheets are sturdier and less likely to blow off. The students were responsible for all of the installation, with the site supervisor cutting most of the pieces they would need. The minutia and importance of this task meant it took the entire time we were there, but we were able to finish before our departure.

The ground team had to deconstruct the overhang that served as a garage. Fales and Richards served as managers of the ground crews. To begin, we cut holes through the ceiling, made of plywood, shingles, and tarp. We cut sections out with a reciprocating saw, and then used pry-bars and hammers to take the plywood out in chunks. Several of the trusses had been damaged and needed replacing. To do this, we had to cut through them with the saw. This was particularly difficult, due to the precariousness of working with a saw on a ladder. We separated the trusses from their neighbors, so they didn’t take the whole structure when they fell. One of the trusses was totally splintered and could be tossed to the ground. The other two needed one person on the ground to take the lower end and the person on the ladder to take the higher. The two then lowered it gently. Unfortunately, we could not finish the garage until the roof was done, so we did not get to see the finished project, but we completed the entire deconstruction aspect of the job.

The homeowner made extensive use of a wheelchair, and one of the ramps into his home was severely damaged. The ground crew’s final day of work was spent deconstructing and then rebuilding the ramp. We pried the old boards up, leaving only the trusses and railing posts. We worked as a team, one part taking measurements, the other making cuts. Some cuts were complicated, requiring anything from a 45-degree angle on the handrail to a notch to fit around the post. The biggest problem we ran into was when we moved from the landing to the ramp. The sudden difference in incline meant that the transition was rough. We worked as a team to decide the best solution. Ultimately, we attached offcut pieces of wood to the sides of the trusses. These pieces were at slightly different angles than the base supports. With the first board of the ramp attached to this, the transition was much smoother. We also added supportive structure to one of the rail posts which had rotted out, so that it wouldn’t give under pressure.

I chose to do this project because it is similar to what I did over the summer. I had volunteered to rebuild schools in the Bahamas, and I loved the work. After the tornados that hit the south this winter, I wanted to do something to help, but was unable to. I felt this service trip was a way to do what I’d been unable to during the winter. The work is rewarding, and you get to see the progress at the end of each day.

For four days of work, I am proud of the amount of work we accomplished. The roof was entirely finished, the garage covering was ready for the next step, and the front ramp was totally repaired. It is important to remember that only a handful of the students had any experience with construction. For a bunch of inexperienced college students to show up and accomplish what we did is fantastic.

In the Bahamas, we always had a superior around who was able to answer any of the questions we had. This was the first time I was working without that safety net. There were other, more experienced people around, but we had to do a lot of the problem solving ourselves. I found that I absorbed a lot from my previous experience. I was usually able to come up with a solution to most hiccups we encountered. For the more difficult tasks, we could come up with an answer as a group. This trip showed me how far I have come from before traveling to the Bahamas. I am proud of the work we did in Mississippi. Beyond the work, it was also a wonderful experience to visit the Civil Rights Museum. I could easily have spent the entire day there. It is a surreal experience to see hundreds of years of struggle laid out in room after room. I am grateful for the opportunity to go on this trip.

Photos provided by Asher Wertheimer.


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