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More Dispatches from the Gulf Coast: Building Places for Total Health

Editor’s note: Kyra Nead is a senior communications consultant in Kaiser Permanente’s Community Benefit organization. Since 2006, the organization has led Kaiser Permanente volunteer teams to the Gulf Coast to repair or replace homes and buildings destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. A team has just arrived in Biloxi, Mississippi. We coaxed Nead into sharing her perspectives on the experience — including how it connects to the total health of Gulf Coast residents. Her first post was on Tuesday.  Here is her second post of the week.

Earlier this week, 30 of the Kaiser Permanente volunteers working in the Gulf Coast gathered into a meeting room to discuss the day’s work.

Remarkably, the energy was still high after more than 8 hours of intense physical work, as was the scent, since several hadn’t gotten their turn to use the dorm showers.

“On Wednesday the true personalities come out, “ warned Jackie Jones, a Gulf Coast volunteer project leader.

Being the grateful communications tag-along for this trip and not a true “volunteer,” I didn’t attend any of the volunteer orientation sessions. What did I miss? What on earth happens on Wednesday?

“I’ll tell you what happens,” Jones said. “The soreness kicks in. Sleeping in a dorm with 10 other people kicks in. And you’ll see how confident the volunteers have become with their work.”

They guard their rice bowl, she says. They want to finish what they’ve come here to do. If you try and pull them off a project to work on something else, chances are they might just bite.

If it wasn’t for her booming voice and knowing she’s been on this Gulf Coast trip seven times before, I’m not sure I would take her seriously. After all she’s decked out in bright pink camouflage pants (and wasn’t that a pink helmet covered in gemstones I saw her wearing earlier?). Besides, these are truly the kindest people I’ve ever met.

But on Wednesday, I was smart enough to arrive at the work site with a bit of wariness.

The morning started off normal enough: the same jokes about the breakfast or who snored the loudest; the same scramble of finding their work gloves, helmets and bandanas.

I cautiously approached the all-female team I’d been working with. The team is led by the fearless Maritza Castro (a lead optical dispenser, at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California). It didn’t take long before

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