February at Hendry’s Sabal Palms Campground in Palmdale, Florida, was a continuation of January’s fun generated by our gang (Rich, Linda, Harry, Marie, Karen, Galen, Bill, Jane and the two of us.) We kicked off the month with a trip to nearby Gatorama, just a few miles south of Palmdale on US 27. What a wonderful afternoon we had there and surprisingly so – we thought it would be a touristy, goofy kind of place but it was interesting as well as educational. Did you know alligators have tongues but crocodiles don’t? And that the ridges on the back of a gator are its ‘solar panels’ from which it gets energy? When you see alligators on the banks in the sunshine, they are recharging their batteries. These little ridges have an official name but all we can remember is their nickname – scoots.
After paying the admission, we entered the park through a boardwalk spanning two large ponds. Alligators and crocodiles were on both sides and some even swimming underneath the boardwalk. It was awesome to see so many critters, most of which were sunning themselves on the banks or mini-islands on the ponds. By the way, the boardwalk is enclosed with chain link sides to keep spectators from getting too up and close and personal with the ponds’ inhabitants.
After crossing the ponds, the boardwalk continued on with large concrete pools on either side. Each pool was filled with similar-sized gators and crocs, with the critters getting progressively larger as we walked on – the largest ones may have been five feet. Once they get bigger than that, they probably graduate to one of the many larger ponds on the premises.
Ben, part of the family that has run Gatorama since 1957, conducted a program at the boardwalk, throwing pieces of raw chicken to the gators as he filled us with facts.
Gatorama also has bobcats, river otters, raccoons, an ostrich, turtles…and lots of black vultures.
From Gatorama, we drove to Ortona Indian Mounds – what a disappointment! We only found one Indian mound and it was overgrown with weeds and shrubs. A lack of funding was probably the reason it wasn’t maintained. We did have a nice picnic lunch in one of the pavilions overlooking a lake. We backtracked a bit and visited the Ortona Cemetery with its hodge podge of graves and gravestones and plots. Several of the gravestones appeared to be hand made with supplies that probably came from a hardware/lumber store. Some of the concrete headstones had crude lettering stating the names and dates of the deceased. This cemetery was unusual but functional.
One afternoon, fulltime RVing friends Ron and Penny dropped in for a quick visit on their way to see friends nearby – what a great lifestyle we have to cross paths with friends as we all travel our respective routes.
One Saturday, we took off to Tamarac to visit with Lucille’s two aunts and her cousin Marcel, in town on a business trip. We had a great visit together and a fun lunch at Mario’s, an Italian restaurant – our Greek waiter was a hoot.
In the meantime, our daily walks are always interesting. One day, spider webs on the trees, shrubs and
barbed wire fences were prominent because of early morning fog – so many unique and unusual patterns. Our eyes were sometimes keen enough to spot our resident gator’s tracks as he crossed from one pond to the next, and always alongside Karen and Galen’s rig. Karen’s ears were pretty keen too – a couple of times she heard Scooter, our nickname for the gator, crawling across the dry grasses. Most impressive was the fogbow we spotted early one morning during heavy fog before the sun had time to burn it off – awesome!
All too soon, our five weeks in Palmdale had come to an end – time to move on to our next adventure. We said our goodbyes and headed north to Richmond Hill, Georgia, our home for the next several weeks, where we’d be doing our first volunteer work with the NOMADS.
But first, a little history on the NOMADS, taken from their information sheet: “NOMADS is a mission outreach ministry of the United Methodist Church. The NOMADS program is specific to individuals and couples with RVs wishing to be involved in Christian service. There are also occasional opportunities for individuals and couples who do not have RVs. The United Methodist NOMADS (Nomads On a Mission Active in Divine Service) took its initial RV journey on October 1988 with just one couple. By March 1989, 24 workers finished five projects in Oklahoma and Texas. There are now approximately 1,500 members participating in NOMADS projects throughout the U.S. and internationally.
NOMADS’ projects are planned for the winter (south), spring, summer and fall (in other parts of the U.S.) Each project lasts three weeks, working four days a week - Monday through Thursday. Each workday begins with devotions followed by a quick meeting to plan the day’s tasks. Host agencies provide all materials for the projects, as well as parking space with water and electrical hookups and a sewage connection or dump nearby. NOMADS furnish their own tools and meals. Some host agencies offer housing for those who don’t own an RV. NOMADS do whatever the agency requests, including maintenance, repair, office work, sewing, painting and gardening. Construction skills are helpful, but all that is really required is a willing heart. Evening and weekend fun are team highlights.”
Having said all that, we’ll tell you about our first NOMADS project – Magnolia Manor, where Lucille’s parents live. When Rich, the Manor’s director, learned we enjoy working with Habitat for Humanity, he told us about the NOMADS that make an annual visit each February. We thought that combining volunteer work with opportunities to visit with the folks would be rewarding, and it was. When we spotted the project listed online, we lucked out and got the last available slot out of the four slots needed for this project.
Jim and Mary Jo, from Marietta, Georgia, were our leaders. Rounding out the team were Bonnie and Darwin from Rockford, Illinois, and John and Eileen, fulltime RVers that had just come from leading their own NOMADS project in Jacksonville, Florida, and of course, the two of us. Jim and Mary Jo had a get-to-know-each-other gathering at their fifth wheel Sunday evening after everyone was set up. Magnolia Manor had arranged for us to stay at nearby Fort McAllister, a state historic park with a campground. More on that later…
Monday was Day One of the three-week project (we missed the first day but we’ll explain why later.) Magnolia Manor allowed the team to use one of the vacant apartments to hold our meetings and store our supplies, during the project. Our days always started at this apartment with daily devotions, with the team members voluntarily taking turns hosting the devotions. Afterwards, Jim would review what still needed to be done and we’d then get to work. The primary project Rich planned for us was to paint most of the common areas on all three floors. And boy, did we paint – by the end of the three weeks, we had used at least 50 gallons of paint among the eight of us, most of which ended up on the walls. The first two floors were done by the end of the first week – neither floor had as much wall space as did the third floor. Alan, head of the Manor’s maintenance, had prepped the walls in advance by spackling holes and gouges. He also did a fabulous job of keeping us supplied with paint, rollers, brushes, and masking tape. Bonnie photographed the walls that had artwork hung on them so we’d know where to put them back. Baseboards and other areas needed to be taped. Furniture had to be moved away from the walls – there was a lot of prep work to be done before the actual painting began.
Magnolia Manor has independent living apartments as well as assisted living quarters. Most of the residents are mobile, albeit a little unsteady at times. For those that need assistance, they use walkers, canes, or wheelchairs. Any or all of these factors created the challenge of making sure our supplies, floor coverings, ladders, etc…didn’t trip anyone. The third floor turned out to be the most challenging. All dining rooms (three plus an overflow area) are located on that floor. We could only paint the dining areas in the afternoons after the lunch crowd had dispersed. We’d try to prep the rooms as much as possible in the morning without disrupting residents or staff. I’m sure the kitchen staff was glad to see us finally finished. The laundry rooms (two per floor) were also challenging – machines had to be moved out but kept operational for as long as possible. We staggered painting these rooms so there was always one laundry room per floor open.
We worked Monday through Thursday every week, usually 8:00 am to 4:00 pm with morning and afternoon breaks and a lunch break. NOMADS projects typically do not include lunch but we were invited guests of the Manor and enjoyed great meals every work day, so much so, that we rarely fixed dinner those evenings. We were also welcome to use their laundry rooms, their wellness facility (including their heated exercise pool), and their common areas for game nights.
The staff and residents were so friendly and so appreciative of our work there. When we first arrived there, each couple received a huge gift bag of goodies (snacks, drinks, personal items) – we raided the bags during our breaks. One resident made us homemade butterscotch cookies; another invited us to her apartment for our morning break – Miss Teeny laid out a selection of warm coffeecake, cheese, crackers and other munchies as well as several juices; Mona, head of housekeeping, twice brought us desserts. The Manor’s director, Rich, invited us to his home for dinner one evening; every Wednesday evening we were guests of Richmond Hill United Methodist Church for their weekly supper and program; and the day before we finished our work, the Manor hosted a thank you reception for us in their parlor with over 50 residents and staff members attending.
It is hard to describe the outpouring of gratitude and appreciativeness we experienced every day there. The third floor residents were particularly glad to see us painting the common areas up there. It seems prior NOMADS teams didn’t make it past the second floor by the end of their three-week commitment. Because we were all younger than most NOMADS groups, and also because we worked so well as a team (amazing when none of us knew any of the others), we accomplished a lot. Rich and Alan were kept busy looking for other areas that needed attention – paint or otherwise. Some of the team worked on installing a laundry tub in one of the laundry rooms; others repaired a podium in the chapel; the privacy fence around the dumpsters needed repair; the two of us handled a last minute request to paint one of the staff’s office that was a bright yellow (formerly a changing room and shower near the pool.)
As mentioned earlier, this was our first NOMADS project – between our fellow team members, the super-friendly folks at Magnolia Manor, the working environment, and the perks – we had a ball. We’ll consider doing another NOMADS project in the future when an opportunity presents itself.
Back to our home while we were in the area: Magnolia Manor arranged for and paid for our stay at Fort McAllister State Historic Park in Richmond Hill, about eight miles from the Manor. Fort McAllister is nestled between the Ogeechee River and Redbird Creek – very scenic and peaceful, plenty of room to hike, bike, and walk. The Fort also is the home of the best-preserved earthwork fortification from the Confederacy. The sand and mud earthworks were attacked seven times by Union ironclads but did not fall until General Sherman captured it in 1864 during his “March to the Sea”. It is said that General Sherman chose his attack to coincide with the sun starting to set, blinding the fort’s inhabitants. And having walked the grounds during that time of the day, it is easy to see why he was successful – the glare from the setting sun was quite blinding.
During our stay, Lucille’s sister Yvette and her husband Pat camped there one weekend. Pat prepared a traditional low country boil (shrimp, sausage, corn, potatoes, onions and spices) for the NOMADS gang. Lucille’s brother Roger flew in from Arizona to visit with the folks and joined us at our campfires. And we had fabulous campfires, thanks to the fire starting ability of our leader, Jim. Let’s not forget the marshmallow roasting and hot dogs over the fire – yum!
Getting back to the main reason we volunteered to work this project – spending time with Lucille’s parents and helping out as needed. We missed our first day because her mother was scheduled for a heart catheterization in Savannah. It was a long day but luckily, the cardiologist determined her stubbornly high blood pressure was not a result of any blockages but resistance to some of her meds. He immediately changed them and her blood pressure dropped to acceptable levels. Another day, she had a CT scan scheduled so Lucille stayed with her father at the Manor – he helped ‘supervise’ some of the painting on the third floor. Lucille also accompanied her mother on a follow up appointment with their family practice physician – it was nice meeting him in person after having talked on the phone. We got to visit with them almost on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day – another perk to working at the Manor.
February wasn’t all work – we had fun learning games in the evening with the ‘gang’, pizza at the Upper Crust, lunch at Love’s Seafood (where part of Forrest Gump was filmed), and Thursday evening get-togethers at “It’s 5’O’Clock”, a small rustic bar, restaurant and marina on the Ogeechee River just outside of the park’s boundaries.
Yet another month has rushed to a close. Coming up, meeting back up with Karen and Galen while we stay at Pat and Yvette’s for a week or so; Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina; Shaw Air Force Base’s campground near Sumter, South Carolina.