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  • Zac woke up with a sore throat and his forehead felt warm to me. He was rubbing his eyes at the breakfast table, barely eating any of his cereal. I told him he didn’t have to go to school that day. It would be better to stay home. Alex, his twin brother, could walk by himself. Zac’s eyes got wide and in unexpected protest he said “But Dad, I can’t stay home today! I’m in that drama class and today she’s giving out the parts.”

    In sixth grade they had a class called “The Wheel.” It exposed the students in six-week sessions to drama, art, home economics, and keyboarding.

    “I have to be there to make sure she doesn’t give me a speaking part.” Zac said in a plaintive but hoarse voice.

    “Zac, you’re sick. You’re probably contagious too.”

    “Dad, you don’t understand.”

    “Zac, there’s no way she’d give you a big part. She knows you’re shy. She’s going to choose the kids that talk a lot for the big speaking parts. They’ll be raising their hands and begging for those parts.”
    So Zac watched TV while I worked from home that day. Two days later when I picked them up from after-school daycare, they clambered into the car with their overloaded daypacks. Before we even said hello, Zac exclaimed, “Thanks a lot Dad! You were totally wrong about the drama teacher. Now I’m Jack in “Jack and the Beanstalk!”

    “Oooops. Sorry Zac.”

    The weeks passed until the night of the performance. What we saw from our seats in the multipurpose room was a scrawny, elfin Jack who used every ounce of energy to project and inflect his voice. The monster was booming and scary for sure and at least a head taller than Jack. But Jack was the kind of urchin-kid you wanted to scoop up and run away with. Even Alex was proud of his brother as we waited for the actors to emerge from the dressing room. Zac came out all flushed and spent. He had a splitting headache and wanted to go home immediately to rest. While the other young thespians reveled in their successful debut and planned a milkshake excursion to the Creamery, Zac’s biggest emotion was relief that it was a one-performance show.

    Fast-forward past the drama of high school and then a year of training in home construction with Habitat for Humanity in Georgia. Fast-forward past college graduation in May of 2005…and then the nation’s eyes are fixed on the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. Zac goes to volunteer in the rebuilding of New Orleans. He is noticed right away for his calm know-how and skills. Habitat hires him to oversee all their construction sites and the Americorps volunteers. His office is in a narrow portable at the “Musicians’ Village” an area where 85 colorful homes would be constructed for displaced musicians.

    In December, we head out to visit for a few days – Alex, myself, his mother Deborah and her partner Jan. The first morning we gather with a hundred other volunteers at the Musician’s Village. Zac told us that sometimes as many as 400 volunteers show up from churches and corporations all around the country. He told us he’d be there to greet us when we arrived.

    We see him emerge from his makeshift office and climb a ladder onto the top of a truck. He greets all of us volunteers and thanks us for coming to New Orleans. He walks back and forth along the narrow truck-bed roof and describes the different sites and projects we will soon be divided up to work on. He introduces our Americorps trainers. He has a smile that warms us from 30 yards back. His voice projects across the field and inspires us all.
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