Alum News

In Good Company Experience: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Eric headed to post-Katrina New Orleans for In Good Company and found out that through all the hard work and tough conditions, it’s often the subtle things that are most rewarding. Then he signed up for more…  

My friend and co-worker, Tom, had participated in In Good Company’s inaugural New Orleans project, working to restore natural habitat, rebuilding a house, and lending a hand to a Lower Ninth Ward community garden, all in Hurricane Katrina’s wake. He came back to the office raving about the experience: the camaraderie, the commitment, passion, and satisfaction. Working hard had never felt so good! He strongly encouraged me to apply for the project the following year. 

I trust Tom some of the time, so when the opportunity to volunteer came around again, I applied. And, in the fall of 2009, by some amazing stroke of good luck, I found myself sweating and covered in dust as I crawled through the dark in a miserably hot and humid attic. While I removed countless shovelfuls of rock and debris that the powerful storm had left behind, my knees teetering painfully on the joists, one thought kept going through my head…how will I get back at Tom?

But, an IGC project can be a slow burn. Sometimes the rewards are hidden and only reveal themselves throughout the week as you work shoulder to shoulder with other volunteers. Relationships change and evolve, and you learn new things about people you may have worked with for years. When I see a fellow CLIF employee skillfully using a hammer or power tool, it always makes me wonder what that employee did in life before they decided to settle in behind a desk. And, on the job at an IGC project, those conversations are possible…even natural. The office hierarchy is removed and the nature of repetitive work stimulates conversations that are often meaningful and personal, going far beyond everyday business strategy and tactics. For me, this was the biggest reward (among many), and I still reap the benefits of those moments today. 

As we finished up work on Alice Cousin’s house in the Hollygrove neighborhood, I figured that was the end of my In Good Company experience. But, in the early spring of 2017, I had the opportunity to participate in another trip, this time as a photographer on the Stanislaus National Forest fire restoration project. It amazed me to hear the conversations as I weaved my way through the volunteers, capturing images and sharing laughs as they planted thousands of tiny trees. Eight years later, the work had changed but the spirit of the program lived on. 

As the temperature dropped and rain turned to snow, my fingers froze, making it difficult to operate the shutter on my now-malfunctioning camera. After a few hours, water ran straight from my saturated pants into my boots, my feet joining my hands in frozen solidarity as I shivered uncontrollably in the woods. Thanks, Tom.

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