I hear it often said, but it always surprises me when I witness it happening. Over the years at Camp Restore, I have met volunteers who are brothers, sisters, moms, dads and other extended family members of previous volunteers. I can’t even begin to list the many church family members that are connected to NOLA and Camp Restore.
But, as common as this has become in my life, meeting Earl Sires and learning how he came to live in NOLA took me by surprise.
Earlier this year, I went to City Park to see if there was a need for volunteers. After the winter y’all experienced up north, I wanted to find more outdoor worksites. Our beloved City Park’s 1,300 acres were seriously damaged by Katrina. Camp Restore’s volunteers removed non-indigenous plants, planted marsh grasses, cut back overgrown trails and even fished in the bayous and lagoons to remove non-indigenous fish.
I used to schedule many volunteers to work in City Park and became close to their staff, but as our community-project sites increased, fewer volunteers were placed there to work. Recently, I walked into the volunteer coordinator’s office and realized I did not know this young man. Earl introduced himself and said he was new to the position. As I explained where I worked, Earl said, “I know Camp Restore, I stayed there in 2011 with Rebuilding Together.”
Earl was in his third year of AmeriCorps, a national service program. The previous years he served in Nashville and California and served his last year in NOLA. He first visited New Orleans in 2009, loved the city and was impressed with the dedication that the city had to rebuild after Katrina. This is what he says drew him back to New Orleans. He was hired as the volunteer coordinator at City Park and says, “I can work with volunteers who are generous enough to donate their time to the park. It’s a beautiful place and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to keep improving the park!”
How cool is it that Earl and I work to schedule volunteers in the city we both love!
God’s journey for Earl included a brief stay at Camp Restore as he found his way back to NOLA. On Monday mornings, I tell the volunteers to daily pray and ask God how they are being used. Perhaps, maybe they are not here for someone in NOLA, but maybe it’s for someone they know or may never know. God’s plan may not be revealed to them until they are a long way from NOLA. As it says in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
If you would like to come to Camp Restore and join Earl in his efforts at City Park, below is a description of one of his many projects.
The bioswale is a manmade wetlands area that serves as a natural method of processing the drainage for the park’s biggest parking lot. By planting native plants like swamp grasses and cypress trees in the central, lowest point of the lot, we’re able to filter out pollutants before the runoff returns to the underground water. The water sifts through layers of gravel and sand on its way down, so what comes out is much cleaner than if it went straight down a storm drain.