Do You Want Fries With That? Friday, Aug 28 2015 

TW K10

When the McDonald’s opened on Judge Perez in Chalmette in May 2012 I was pretty excited (especially for an environmentalist). To me it represented growth, change and recovery. In fact, you could say that McDonald’s represented hope to me:

  • It was going to be open 24 hours a day in the heart of Chalmette.
  • It has free wi-fi providing access to people who can’t afford it.
  • It has “healthy” food (hey, it’s the south. McDonald’s has salad and yogurt!)
  • It was the third location to open in da parish.

It was the last point that was most important to me. I can’t imagine a multi-national corporation investing capital/supporting a franchisee to build a new location if they didn’t think it would be sustaining. The large number of other fast food chains popping up support this logic too.  Sandwiched as it is between the Lower 9th ward — which has almost nothing by way of groceries/restaurants — and New Orleans East — which is also a food desert, St. Bernard is experiencing a recovery of sorts economically, even when on a personal level people are still suffering.

St. Bernard Parish was about 50% returned as of the last census, maybe 55-60% now. It’s a changed community. Lots more green space — where houses used to be — and not everyone is home.


So many people have moved across the lake to St. Tammany Parish that its nickname is now St. Tamm-Bernard. So certainly, recovery does not mean restoration to a pre-Katrina state. That is, unfortunately, never going to happen.

But the McDonald’s made me think…and these are questions I’ll be asking in my dissertation research…

  • What are your signs of recovery?
  • What was the marker (or what will it be if it hasn’t happened yet) that let you know your community is in recovery/has recovered?
  • What makes you feel like your home is back?

Because I feel like we have a lot of “fake signs of recovery“. Take this “lovely” social housing project for example.


Known as Marrero Commons, these houses, just a few blocks away from me on Martin Luther King Blvd are supposed to replace BW Cooper/Calliope. Until Katrina there were 1,550 units. Construction started in 2008 and people moved in four years later. According to the HANO website there are 250 units, of which 143 are public housing. Phase One cost of $158 million. Even assuming that the website is out of date, there were over 4,000 residents pre-Katrina and less then 1,000 at the 2010 census.

Or what about this lovely patch of green grass and fresh mulch on the neutral ground on Claiborne in the Lower 9th. I was workers out laying this on August 19th and 20th 2015…just in time for the President and all the media that is descending for K10.


I guess it’s important that the L9 looks good this week, but it doesn’t matter how the community feels about it the rest of the year. Are they not important enough for nice grass?

So tell me GNO folks. Have you a personal marker of recovery? What is it?


Taste of a Hurricane Wednesday, Jun 29 2011 

Taste of a Hurricane

 The sky is believe blue

and I am running

the taste of a hurricane

lots and lots of vacant lots

and glowing cat eyes dawn

through city streets gone wild

tall grass and empty space

cut short.


Sweating in Cynthia’s house

masked, air close, like a tomb

we scale ladders, balance the beams

Up, down, and side to side

circle, circle, cut the pie

scraping away the dead

skin of this place

attic, kitchen, closet,

leaving our hearts behind.


Running in the night

street-corner celebration

urine, vomit, beads, dance

to the jazz parade playing,

trombones long.

Band in a van

drum beat pounding

the taste of a hurricane.


Miss Josephine feeds us

jambalaya, bread pudding,

sweet and thick.

Thirty-six months to get back

to her kitchen

but she made it all

with thanks for her life, and us

and in one lunch she gives more

than we could ever return.


Juan carries pirate

in his blood, struggling.

His disappearing land: water, palmetto, silt.

Fish and oil, scarce and spilled

with recklessness.

He will work on the rig

once the shrimp and crabs are caught

running tours and calling:

Viens ici, cher bayou,

Viens ici!


We are running on the beach

like in Baywatch

diving in water and sand

after a lopsided ball

we will get sunburned

and see stars

bring home the Gulf shore, in our shoes

and sleep sound, through the snoring.


Mississippi rising

behind the sugar plant, too close to home.

and Tanya worries

the taste of a hurricane.

Sorting boards in the lumberyard,

muddy smell of cypress in the heat

No pools to cool kids in summer

and Joby has the car packed, just in case

he would swim, if he had to

because this is home.


May Day rain at Magnolia, students blooming

playing Duck, Duck Goose with Justin

and the beanbag toss, the dunk-tank.

Robert paints teeth, asks us to write

while Adam flips the bird, grins.

After the talent show we pick

out art to pack in our suitcases

learning like we never learned

at school before:

how the most valuable things

are packed up on the inside.


We are running along the levee

to the shore of the industrial canal

to see the ships, the shore

lifting with the bridge

climbing concrete in the sun.

If we could keep running

away from home

we would run to here

to find out what it means,

New Orleans, already missing

the taste of a hurricane.


-Daphne Paszterko, June 2011.

I wrote this poem as a series of flashes of our experience in NOLA – the different places we worked and some of the amazing people that we met during the trip.  I also wanted to capture how I think we were captivated by New Orleans, and how so many of us want to go back.

Grateful to Be in New Orleans Friday, May 6 2011 

Haiku for NOLA
Fire hydrant hides
Wading in a sea of grass
No house to put out

Our hearts stand in rows
Hammers ringing in a line
Notes to bring you home

– Daphne, May 2011

So we have been in NOLA for almost a full week — hard to believe, the time has flown by so quickly– I have already had so many amazing experiences and met some unbelievably kind people. I have been working with the group on a house being rebuilt by the St.Bernard project, where we’ve installed hurricane straps, hacked away at tile floor and its stubborn grout and worked on mold remediation. I must admit to finding some of this work — especially the mold remediation– challenging and at times tedious, but what has kept me going is knowing that the homeowner and her family, who currently live in Mississipi, will be able to come home one day soon, and they need help from volunteers to get here. One afternoon I was poking around in the back yard near the edge of the property line, framed by an old swing set (minus the swings), and my eye was caught by a patch of white. Looking more closely I realized this was actually an old soccor ball. I wondered if this ball belonged to the homeower’s son, or grandchildren, pictured them having a game on this patch of grass, and thought of the day they could kick the ball around again, in their own back yard. It is thoughts like this that helped to keep me going as I pounded, chiselled and brushed away.

I have also been moved by the unbeatable spirit and generosity of folks down here. We were lucky enough to be invited to a volunteer lunch hosted by a homeowner who had some work done on her home by St. Bernard Project Volunteers. As she told us her story, I was most struck with how fortunate and grateful she felt to have survived Katrina and to have volunteers help her rebuild her home, how she wanted to express her appreciation to us and give back to the communities that had supported her. How amazing, and inspiring that after the incredible struggle she has been though she is grateful and feels blessed. And so for the past couple of days I have been thinking a lot about gratitude, and have worked to open this up in my own heart. Gratitude for all my blessings in this life– my friends and family back home, incredible new friends I am making here, and gratidute for just being here and having the chance to experience New Orleans and its great people.

On the theme of gratitude, I have to thank our new poet friend, Tristan, who we met writing on Frenchman street tonight that I give him a plug and post his poem on the subject on my blog:

Who’s to say the great
middle man, the great sad
counter of Promethean
pebbles —

stolen fire, returned in
pain, the grateful giant
in perpetual being slain.

Grateful for the sun and
rain an all the pleasures
only for the living.

Tristan Bennet (May 5, 2011)

What’s new with St. Bernard Project? Thursday, Nov 4 2010 

As regular readers know the St. Bernard Project is one of my favourite organizations here in NOLA.  When my parents were visiting in September I took them to the 312th Welcome Home Party for Glenda Ceaser. It was catered by top chefs from across the US including President Obama’s own chef, Cris Comerford.  This picture shows Chef Comerford speaking as the Ceasar family looks on.

They have recently launched a Home for the Holidays campaign. Or if you are on Facebook you can see the Facebook event listing here to spread the word.

You can help give the gift of home to 15 deserving families by raising funds for St. Bernard Project’s “Home for the Holidays” campaign. SBP’s goal is to raise $300,000 by January 7 to fund the rebuilding of 15 deserving families’ homes so they can begin making lasting memories together once more.



In other news, the St. Bernard Project was named one of 10 American Groups making a difference by US News.

The article summarizes the work that they do and the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of their work.

They even made the cover!!




Finally, the St. Bernard Project is engaged in another vote-getting contest on Facebook. Their last effort with the Pepsi Refresh the Gulf contest resulted in $250K to support their work with the oil spill.

This one is with Entergy and is called “Power to Care”. You can vote twice a month on Facebook. You’ll find St Bernard Project under Louisiana (not New Orleans). They can win $25000!!

Wanna go to New Orleans? Monday, Nov 1 2010 

It’s that time again…we’re accepting applications for the 2011 New Orleans trip. Deadline is Nov 12th 2010. Leave a comment if you would like more information.

Students at any university in Ontario – and anyone interested who is not a student – are welcome to join the trip (non-students still need to register for the course and pay tuition, attend classes etc),

‘Community Development: International Field Experience’ CINT912 provides an
opportunity for students to deepen their understanding of development issues,
and to experience part of their learning in an interdisciplinary, international, and
intercultural setting. For May 2011, Canadian students will work with organizations
in New Orleans, Louisiana. Following a brief in-class orientation at Ryerson, the
field experience portion of the course takes place in New Orleans. Canadian
students will work with local residents, NGOs, and other volunteers on specific
projects related to post-Katrina recovery work.

This course is based on principles of experiential learning, namely that in addition to the classroom, learning also occurs through individual and collective critical reflection and analyses of practice. Through this process, students are expected to acquire skills essential for change and lifelong learning.

Continuous reflection on the learning process itself and on its objectives will help students develop skills in critical analysis, appreciation for interdisciplinary and intercultural perspectives, as well as awareness of their roles as professionals and world citizens.

The course will provide opportunity to experience the following:

•     Learn about community development in a unique socio-political setting

•     Build relations within lower-income neighbourhoods

•     Gain an understanding of the interconnections between class and race

•     Participate in small inter-disciplinary teams while gaining professional experience and

5 things to do times 2 Friday, Aug 20 2010 

Hard to believe it’s just 9 days to the 5th anniversary of Katrina.  My ongoing back problems (pinched nerve) has made writing at the computer challenging…but I think I am well enough to start playing catch-up.  So expect a few posts in the next few days…

Today’s post is about the initiatives the great folks at the St Bernard Project have going on for the anniversary. There are 5 things they are doing and 5 things you can do from home!

As regular readers of this blog know, SBP is one of my favourite organizations to volunteer with. My students and I have volunteered on all three trips and my partner and I have volunteered a few additional times as well.

These folks work hard with great results. More importantly, they “get it” – they use locals in their work, listen to locals and understand the needs of the community.

There are also 5 ways you can be a part of SBP’s team from home and help solve these solvable problems:

1. Vote for SBP to win $250,000 in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge – It’s easy. You can vote once a day from each email that you may have…they’re in third and the top 2 win $250,000 – help push them over the edge. The money goes to expand mental health services and to provide jobs for people affected by the oil spill.

2. Host a fundraiser in your community for SBP – This doesn’t have to be elaborate. Bring together a group of people to watch When the Levees Broke or Trouble the Water or any of the other amazing Katrina-films. Share a supper at home instead of going out and donate the money  you would have spent. Skip your coffees and lattes for the next 9 days…every penny counts.

3. Commit to volunteer in New Orleans in the coming 12 months – If you’re a friend of mine, don’t forget, I provide a free couch or futon or floorspace for folks who are coming to volunteer. I can also help you obtain cheap housing in the community. New Orleans is a wonderful town to visit – but give of yourself while you’re here!

4. Spread the word; 1,000+ families are still living in FEMA trailers because they own homes
they can not afford to rebuild, thousands of uninsured residents suffer from mental health problems related to the oil spill and Katrina. Tell your family, friends and community these stats and SBP’s solutions. Use Facebook, Twitter, blog, email, newspaper and other outlets and ask them to do 5 for 5.

5. Donate directly to SBP or via text by sending NOLA to 50555 – The texting  only works in the US. Tell all your American friends about this great opportunity to send $5 to NOLA. Otherwise, send a US money order or you can paypal/email transfer me the money and I will take it over to them. Don’t let a border be an excuse!!


It’s easy to forget, when you’re not here, just how much devastation occured, and continues. So we’ll end with a few photos…of loss and of hope…

Picture your school gymnasium. Ceilings of at least 20 ft. This is how high the water reached at a school (now Camp Hope for volunteers) on Aycock Street in Arabi, St. Bernard Parish, May 2010.

Inside the townhouses on Florida…social housing…neglected and mostly torn down (July 2010).

A stuffed animal in the mailbox of a house in Gentilly, July 2010.

Not quite straight, in the Lower Ninth Ward, May 2009.

My partner Michael building a home for seniors on Serpas St. (Oct 2009) with the St. Bernard Project.

The “boys” of CINT 912 – May 2009 – rebuilding with Common Ground in the Lower Ninth ward.

A Welcome Home party with the St. Bernard Project, May 2010.

Who Dat?! Michelle Dat! Tuesday, Apr 13 2010 

Ok, Just had my first actual class being the late starter that I am…and WOW lots to take in and ponder. For now, I play catch up for a little bit and then we’re off to the BIG EASY!!! So…a bit about me just to get started…34 and Fabulous! I have worked full time in the non-profit field for the past 10 years. My background is in Early Childhood Education, my work is with young single mothers and families with children 0-6 years old. I enjoy writing, playing sports (am a tomboy) and spending time with my family, I have a nephew and a niece whom I adore. I am looking forward to New Orleans and I know this will be an amazing life experience. I hope to help out in every possible way and to take in all that is New Orleans. The people, the culture and the music! 35 more days and group #2 we are there!

P.S You think it would be hard to meet one of the New Orleans Saints???


Louise says “hello” Wednesday, Apr 7 2010 


In case you are not a Facebook geek like myself, I would love to update you all (y’all, please someone fill me in on this joke…. hahaha) on the fundraising that happened a few weeks ago!

BAKE SALE! Went amazing, we made over $400 and Mr. Ryerson President gave us an extra $100 for the trip! We also sold some bracelets and attempted to sell raffle tickets 🙂 Depending on scheduling maybe we can do another? Always good to continue to knock down the price to get there!

My hopes for this trip is CRAZYNESS! Basically I want to have the most fun possible helping out the people of New Orleans. I am pretty emotional so I am going to need your shoulder to cry on. Yes you! Besides the fun times I really hope I do get to learn how to build an actual house, would be cool to one day build a wall, you never know when it will come in handy….wall building…

I would also really love to learn more about the culture. I was talking to Hayley about how exciting it is to go, but also to experience the culture and music there! I am also ready to try some new foods and hit up a club or something.

From our last class, the scary mandatory one, I am very afraid to drink the water there now. Thank you mister presenter…. and I am also afraid of getting mugged. So buddy system it is! And probably investing in a fake wallet. Good times… good times.

I have started packing for the trip already because I have an exam literally on the same day, and if you are anything like myself, I always forget something… so it has to start now.

Let’s make it count everyone! My last day of school is the day we leave! HOORRAYY.

See you all soon !!!!


Fundraising…send a student to NOLA Wednesday, Mar 10 2010 

Hi all

This is a fundraising appeal to help send students to New Orleans this May to take part in rebuilding work. They will be rebuilding housing and replanting wetlands as well as other community participation initiatives.

Donations over $20 that require a receipt should be made out to Ryerson University. Donations that don’t require a receipt and under $20 also welcomed. You can also make a donation via PayPal using Visa or Mastercard – (If you need my mailing address for a cheque, let me know).

For my American Friends – you can donate directly to the organization on our behalf and get a tax receipt and put Ryerson University in the designation or dedication lines. This will go to their expenses but without funds there would be nothing for us to do when there 🙂

This trip is part of a course that I teach at Ryerson (co-teaching (now yay!) with Pascal Murphy). We are taking two groups of students – 20 in each class – for two weeks each. Just to give you an interesting breakdown of numbers:
* there are 5 York students, 34 Ryerson students (including continuing education) and 1 non-student.
* there are 4 male students and 36 female students (grl power!!)
* just over 1/2 have taken or are taking the homelessness course
* almost 2/3rds are students of colour (despite the racial make-up of New Orleans this is rare for volunteers).

Bios for students are on our blog at as well as info about our experience last year!

Students are available to do a presentation after the trip in the GTA area. I am able, with past students, to do a presentation before the trip if you have a potential fundraising opportunity.

There is also a video made by some of last year’s students (about thirty minutes in length total) available at:
Part 1 –

Part 2 –

Part 3 –

Part 4 –


PS Tweeters and bloggers – please spread the word!!

Pushpa Wednesday, Feb 17 2010 

Hey, so my name is Pushpa, but everyone who knows me calls me SANDY! I am a second year student at Ryerson and I am very honoured to be one of the very few students who were given this opportunity.

Your browser may not support display of this image.

I very much enjoy working with people and growing up I always knew that Social Work was the right career path for me. When I first heard about the New Orleans opportunity I was very excited; I’ve always wanted to do something like this, but never came across an opportunity until now. Thank to Tanya and the others who made this possible.

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