Published: October 24, 2017
Original text and interview by James Le Barrie
The skydiving summer season is full-on, and professional skydiver Lawrence deLaubadere did something that was unexpected. He canceled many events he was to load organize and hit the road to volunteer with All Hands Volunteers.
THE SEASON WAS IN FULL SWING WITH NATIONALS, THE MOAB BOOGIE AND UPCOMING BOOGIES WITH YOU ORGANIZING AT MANY OF THEM.
WHAT INSPIRED A CHANGE OF HEART TO HANG UP YOUR RIG AND HEAD DOWN TO HELP THOSE IN NEED AFTER THE HURRICANES?
My teammate Trevor Thompson told me he'd received an email the night before our first day of training asking for 10 ex-Navy SEALS with field experience so he said he might go. I replied, "hell yeah, would be amazing, you go if you have/want to!". He replied, "of course you're the only teammate who'd respond like that." (which is probably not true but I appreciate the sentiment:-).
That night I followed Irma's progress into FL, but after already seeing the devastation it had brought to many islands and that of Harvey as well. I decided at first to help anywhere I could when I next had time. The next day we did three jumps and we just couldn't handle it. I was somehow in a bad mood (which is rare for me, to put it mildly!!;-) seeing people so happy training and jumping (not to blame others for enjoying and living their passion, it's on me, but just expressing what I felt) while people were dying and their lives were, to put it in the mildest of terms, being completely uplifted and/or destroyed, and both Trevor and I decided to stop training and go help. Skydiving will stay. People's lives and homes will not.
Trevor got a flight to Atlanta the next day then to Turks and Caicos the day after. I drove home to pack my car to the brim and took off 48hrs later. I'd also seen that Keith Creedy had "bailed" on the Moab boogie to be part of a disaster response team which was also a massive inspiration and wake-up call for me. Thank you, Keith, for indirectly and unknowingly inspiring me.
Finally, I had been feeling a lack of my impact on society, despite being told otherwise by many friends, and I've been feeling the need since my United Nations and Coalition for the Homeless years to do something, something bigger, something beyond myself, something to affect others, affect planet earth, even if the smallest of ways.
THIS MUST HAVE BEEN A HARD DECISION AS YOU HAVE SPONSORS, WERE SCHEDULED TO LO AT UPCOMING BOOGIES, AND HAD OTHER OBLIGATIONS.
HOW DID EVERYONE REACT WHEN YOU SAID YOU WERE HEADED TO HOUSTON?
It was hard but it also wasn't. Going was just a feeling I had in my gut and it was almost as if it wasn't a choice. It just felt like what I had to do. What my heart and mind were telling me to do. In my original post I actually said I hoped my sponsors would understand. Funny thing is I didn't hear from them. But... they say no news is good news right?;-) I've heard from some of them now but I suspect the rest also support my decision. As far as my community, friends, family, sky/BASE, and others, they have been overwhelmingly supportive sending me emails, Facebook messages, and unbelievably generous in terms of my personal All Hands Volunteers (AHV) fundraising page donating up to $6,300 in 8 days!!
WHAT ORGANIZATION ARE YOU WORKING WITH AND HOW DID YOU FIND THEM?
The name of the organization I chose to work with is All Hands Volunteers - AHV. I simply Googled "how to volunteer to help with disaster relief" and boom! I applied to Peru within minutes, Nepal an hour or two later, and Houston the day after that.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WORK WITH THIS PARTICULAR ONE?
After finding them online I checked out reviews on a third party website which were all extremely positive.
AHV is a volunteer-driven organization with minimal staff. They don't charge you anything to volunteer (which believe it or not, many do - I know, sounds crazy, but true!) and they provide a place for lodging if needed and three meals a day for the 6 days of work.
Your day off is your responsibility food wise. All Hands Volunteers also separates itself from others with their objective and length of stay on the ground. Most organizations stay for the short term, first time responding, try to get things back to "normal" but then leave. AHV stays for the long term. Their commitment to Houston is 2 years. That's huge!
Step 1: Muck & Gut homes which means take down drywall, appliances, insulation, appliances, anything affected by the water, mold, and mildew.
Step 2: Sanitization. We use very specific procedures to sanitize against mold and mildew to the best of our ability with very strict guidelines and rules.
Step 3: Rebuild. Nationally AHV can only, for the most part, start rebuild with putting back new insulation and putting in drywall. This brings the homeowners to the point of being able to start painting and then bringing/buying new furniture, appliances and finally making their home livable again.
WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE BEING ON THE FRONT LINES OF THE AFTERMATH OF THESE NATURAL DISASTERS?
Many thoughts run through my head but one highly interesting one to me is what I'm calling the leveling out of the social strata. We're walking in and out of houses carrying trash/drywall/shelving/whatever the case may be and we nod our heads/say hi-and-chat with the garbage truck guys, or maybe the guy draining the pool next door, or the group of contractors working on the house next door. Should we not clearly be workers/volunteers helping to muck&gut a house wearing our protective gear, the feeling/relation to these other humans would be very different. Hopefully, that makes sense? Kind of an "the earth is flat" sentiment.
But of course, there is also the tears and hugs with homeowners who are devastated at the loss and seeing most of their belongings from shelving to kitchen cabinets to beds, carpeting, to knick-knacks to books to everything being thrown out and most importantly being subjected to the eyes of total strangers. Sometimes entire first floor level of homes, everything has to go. One house had water up to 6 feet. That's taller than I am!! Ok... I'm a tiny little Frenchman but still... you hopefully get the drift (pun not intended).
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT THING WHILE YOU HAVE BEEN THERE?
Honestly? I can't really think of any. I say this because of the team, whether staff or volunteers are all welcoming, hard-working, positive people. The homeowners are so thankful and grateful for the work we do and even if distraught to incomprehensible levels, they tend to try and remain positive, hopeful and look forward to the future even if some dwelling on the past will inevitably happen.
Moreover, the Houston community at large is soooo supportive of us, putting on events on our behalf, feeding us, giving us free rounds (and I mean... sometimes lots of free rounds!;-). Ok.. wait got it... coming from a skydiver/BASE background, I guess the hardest might be living in bunk beds with 30 people in the same room (4 or 5 rooms at base), and having a curfew of lights out at 10pm and locked doors to the base at midnight... hum hum... know what I mean?!;-)
But somehow the imposed discipline, believe it or not, is actually kind of nice! See... again, turning it into a positive! ahahah:)
HOW LONG DO YOU PLAN ON VOLUNTEERING AND WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS AFTER HOUSTON?
I am staying in Houston until December 10th so basically close to three months. I will then take a week solo vacation (much needed!:) then close to three weeks in Florida to stay with my parents for my sister Alexia's birthday on Dec 17th and Christmas, then off to Nepal for two months (Jan/Feb) to Volunteer to rebuild schools after two earthquakes that hit back in 2015, killing close to 9,000, injured double that number, and tore down innumerable homes, schools, and other infrastructure. After that, I'll return to skydiving, LO-ing in Panama, then coaching at FlajFlaj and will retain my skydiving gigs moving forward but the rest of the time will travel around to volunteer at any of the various locations AHV is invested in.
Wouldn't say a change of career but certainly, an adjustment doing half skydiving/BASE and half volunteering with AHV throughout the country and the world year round.
AHV is a volunteer driven organization and accepts financial and material donations from companies but also strongly encourages its volunteers to create their own individual fundraising pages (linked to AHV) in order to support the organization in general but also the $25/per day/per volunteer it costs to support us. My page can be located here: https://give.hands.org/fundraiser/1128423.
It's unfortunately difficult to accept/coordinate/disseminate material donations from individuals in a way that remains effective or fair so financial is the best way. The money raised helps support the volunteers but it also helps the organization purchase equipment, big or small, protective gear, pay its' staff (in very moderate ways, and trust me I know this first-hand! Or you can look it up as it's all public information), among other necessary expenses.
The other way people can help is to ask their employers to match donations and/or have their employers donate in the form of giving paid leave to their employees for them to come volunteer. I've seen many companies doing this and met many of their volunteers who will come help from 2 days to a week as groups of 5 to 10 or even as individuals on behalf of the company. It's rather heartwarming to see the private sector taking matters into their own hands like that.
As a final note on this topic, I will not create a fundraiser for Nepal as it's so close to this Houston one and I don't want to bug/beg people again and as a result I'm promising to personally match 10% of my fundraiser if we can meet my goal of my Houston fundraiser of 10K by 10 December. That's a $1,000, and the purchasing power of $1,000 in Nepal is waaaaay more than $10,000 in the US so that would be huge!
ANY OTHER THOUGHTS YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE?
I want to the thank Trevor Thompson for being a similarly minded teammate. I want to thank Keith Creedy for being a silent and unknowing inspiration. I want to thank Flyiing Riton for donating a TV to our base in Houston (trust me, may seem small but very appreciated by the entire team!;-)
Finally, it seems that I have found my second-second family... My first-second family is clearly that of skydiving and BASE jumping but the AHV/Volunteering family reminds me of it in way too stark of ways.
More importantly, I seem to be certain of it as I tend to tear up on a regular basis here. I am empathetic, and tear up easily, even at stupid romantic comedies (my favorite kind of movies, which skews the hell out of my understanding of relationships but hey, it is what it is!:), but in this case, it's a different kind of getting emotional/reaction/empathy.
It's very real. It's hard. It's enduring. But it's also wonderful. It's a community. It's a family. We muck&gut. We sanitize. We rebuild. We also dance. We hug. We cry. We drink. We stay strong. We try to make others stronger. We Rebuild Hope. But let's be honest, we also help ourselves. And I think that's ok. Stay true to yourself and do what you believe in. Well... unless what you believe in is some crazy ass destructive shit!!;-)
Finally, much love, hugs, and flying badass unicorns!!;-)
LDL, you're a inspiration.