Laura Barbieri of LG Electronics recently volunteered with a group of fellow LGE employees at the Houston Rebuild and she had a lot to share about her first experience with Team Rubicon.
If you know anything about the Lone Star State, you know the phrase “Don’t Mess With Texas.” This famous epithet definitely rings true for Team Rubicon’s Houston rebuild program.
Team Rubicon has embarked on a massive undertaking to rebuild homes affected by Hurricane Harvey. It’s been more than two years since floodwaters receded and the camera crews left, but many residents are still struggling to get back on their feet. I had the honor of playing a small role in Team Rubicon’s program, and I’m still searching for the right words to do the experience the justice it deserves. Here goes nothing:
As I step off the plane at George Bush Airport, a wave of anxiety washes over me, and I can’t help but wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. The reality of the situation finally dawns on me: I’ve signed up to spend the next four days living and working with a bunch of strangers. The real kicker is that I am leading five of my LG Electronics coworkers into this experience, and I have no idea what to expect. Talk about the blind leading the blind. We awkwardly hug each other at the airport and engage in small talk—what department do you work for, where do you live? We continue to cover all of the polite niceties as we load into an Uber and depart for Team Rubicon’s headquarters.
My anxiety starts to dissipate when we arrive at the Team Rubicon office and are greeted by a pack of dogs. We are taken on a tour of the facility, which includes a giant room with 30+ beds, a kitchen, six bathrooms, and weathered mauve couches. We receive the coveted grey shirts, unpack, and prepare for our first team brief.
The barracks buzz with energy. With more than 20 people staying onsite, we get the rundown from veteran Greyshirts on what to expect over the next few days. During the briefing, we also get some additional insight into the history of the program, the rules, and the work. The volunteer coordinators recognize LG for “walking the walk.” Team Rubicon has plenty of corporate partners who volunteer. Still, LG is the first to sleep in the barracks—which earns us immediate street cred and the opportunity to be fully submerged in the culture. Exhausted from traveling, I crawl into my sleeping bag and drift into dreamland.
Lights are on at 6 a.m., and we receive our work assignments for the week. My group is assigned to the ‘Lo House’ and will be working on mudding and sanding. The Lo House belongs to an Army veteran; he has been living with his wife, children, and grandchildren in a trailer for the past two years. To him, home is ‘all I got. All my family has.’ I cannot think of someone more deserving of having their home rebuilt.
Feeling inspired by the story of the Lo House, we roll up our sleeves and get to mudding (aka spackling). As we work on the walls of the house, I notice my own metaphorical walls coming down, and I get acquainted with my LG colleagues and fellow Greyshirts. After a long day of manual labor, we head back to the barracks for cold showers and warm food.
The LG team commences a game of ‘salad bowl’ which is essentially charades on steroids. In many ways, it acts as a great equalizer for the group. People from all walks of life—civilian or veteran, young or old—are able to rally around this game and flex their creativity and competitiveness. The entire FOB—forward operating base—plays until lights out. I climb into my bunk with a smile on my face and a newfound respect for manual labor.
My takeaways from the rebuild were significant, and volunteering with Team Rubicon on this rebuild changed me more than I could have ever imagined. This experience has indeed been a labor of love filled with mudding, sanding, and barracks living. Somewhat unexpectedly, it was also teeming with deep belly laughs, emotional stories, and lifelong friendships.