Chicago Deacons' 4th Trip to New Orleans - A Cold Effort

(Second from right )Deacon James W. Swiler, Director, New Orleans Diaconate congratulates Deacon Sal Lema (far right) project manager of Project Hope for the crews efforts at Dwight’s home. Behind the team is the completed main electrical panel in the entranceway of the Alexander Home. From left, Deacon Dwight Alexander, Richard Rybski, Deacon Dan Troy, Jim Walz, Deacon James Swiler and Deacon Sal Lema.

By: Sal Lema

We left Chicago and its frozen temperatures, January 27th to begin our fourth mission of Project Hope. You expect it to be cold in Chicago; but not in New Orleans. Yet this year it was cold! The temperatures in New Orleans hovered around the freezing mark. The team of 13 came to complete a week of service in buildings that hardly reached the 50 degree mark. We came prepared to do more painting, more ceramic floor tiling and a new project, the installation of a furnace and air conditioner, and two, two-hundred amp service boxes and all the wiring of the entire first floor of the home of Deacon Dwight and his wife Patricia Alexander. All of this work completed in buildings that were cold and stayed cold the entire week.

No time to stop for a picture. Linda Rybski, (left) and Donna Littleton stir what they hope will be the last five gallon bucket of paint that they will see on this trip.

“I think it was the soup,” said Deacon Joe Winblad, “that made all the difference for us at Dwight’s House.” Our team this week was fortunate to have Larry and Peg Beaudin of Homer Glen, Illinois, along with us. Larry and Peg served up and delivered lunches to the two crews each afternoon. Hot soup and sandwiches are just the right combination when you are cold. Their help on this week as cook and bottle washers was invaluable to the health and support of this team.

The Motherhouse of the Congregation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was still without permanent power, hot water, and heat while we were there.(They have since received these to the joy of the sisters living there.) The sisters had gone through quite a lot. First the disaster of Hurricane  Katrina and now this after affect without utilities for over 18 months. It was wearing them down to the point of total exhaustion. Yet there was hope.

Bless this house. Forming a cross and blessing each direction of the home, Deacon’s Dwight Alexander, Sal Lema, Joseph Winblad and Dan Troy ask for God’s blessing that his structure may be rebuilt and become the Alexander’s home once again.

We divided into two crews. Half to the motherhouse and half to the Alexander home. Those working at the motherhouse continued the needed work on several floors. The painting crews painted walls, trim, and closets. The tiling crews removed linoleum in the third floor kitchen and replaced it with ceramic tile. They also completed the backsplash over the countertop behind the stove for the second floor commercial kitchen that had been installed on mission three in October of 2006.

At Dwight and Patricia’s house, with the walls gutted, the crew began the first steps towards bringing them home again. Our loaded step van from Chicago brought the donated materials, furnace, AC unit and breaker panels necessary to rewire his home. It was a daunting job, hampered by the traces of mold that permeated through the home. That required the rotation of some of the crew members who became sick because of the contaminants. The work was accomplished through long days of steady work. In the end, both two-hundred amp service boxes had been installed and wire run just short of the pole. The furnace was assembled and the AC unit was left inside for safe keeping until it could be permanently set. The wiring throughout the first floor was installed and the ground firmly established.


Where’s the beef? This was the cry of the first three teams who enjoyed the seafood cuisine of New Orleans but also missed Chicago’s pizza, beef sandwiches and barbequed delights. To create a balance of palates, the team brought along meals fully cooked that three team members volunteered to cook and prepare for the team.

Peg Beaudin helping Sal with Tuesday’s pasta dinner.

The first night after what seemed like an extremely long day, we arrived at the bed and breakfast where we were staying to the scrumptious aroma of steaks and spuds on the Barbie. Thanks to Nancy and Donna who greeted us dressed in chef hat and apron, our first evening with wine, steak, potatoes and desert was heavenly.

That first dinner was a hard act to follow but Sal had brought his wife’s homemade Italian spaghetti sauce and meatballs, along with a tossed salad, and an antipasto tray of cheeses, sausage and olives. The meal included a little red wine, Italian cookies, cakes and coffee…everything except the checkered table cloth.

Wednesday, Linda and Richard teamed up to prepare Teriyaki chicken with rice. More wine, more deserts.

Both Thursday and Friday we dined out. On Thursday, we were treated to wonderful Chinese cuisine at the Express Inn. Complements of Peter and Ruby Verhoeven the inn keepers of Rose Manor, Bed and Breakfast who were our hosts. Peter and Ruby have allowed us to stay at their place for the last three times. We are very indebted to them for their generosity. Without their help we would never have been able to make these visits.

Above, Lopez brothers, Richardini and Deacon Al show off their work on the second floor tile job.

In the darkness of early Saturday morning on February 3rd we loaded up the tools and luggage, gassed up the vehicles and headed back to sweet home Chicago. Tired, worn out with a few more aches and pains than when we left, the team of Project Hope said so long for now, and promised that we would return again and again until the day will come when we will come to celebrate the greatness of God among us all.


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