Music Among the Mold and Muck
by Kelly J. Larson
KATY, Texas–Cleanup efforts provided by thousands of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have helped save numerous homes within a critical timeframe before dangerous black molds make it nearly impossible to salvage properties. Mormon Helping Hands volunteers have been dispatched into well-organized teams in the last two weeks.
Scott Baldwin, a software engineer from Austin, Texas, was among those who drove to Katy to assist mucking out flooded homes on September 10. In addition to hauling mounds of garbage created by the storm, Baldwin gave one homeowner whom he was helping, an impromptu piano performance.
“I walked up Big Canyon Drive to join my crew for our last assignment of the day. I saw piles and piles of debris lining the streets and felt an overwhelming sense of sadness for all that these homeowners would be dealing with tomorrow, next week, and the months to come,” Baldwin said.
He had spotted a piano alongside the mounds of furniture, appliances and sheetrock. “I felt awful seeing such a beautiful instrument ruined,” he said.
Austin resident, Adam Peterson, had also spent the weekend as part of the Helping Hands group, and was walking down the crowded street, lined with cars exiting the neighborhood. “A lady rolled down her window and asked if I was a volunteer,” Peterson said. She then told him about her cousin, who was at home alone and did not want to ask for help.
Peterson responded and walked further down the road to the home of the woman’s cousin. “I walked in and met Noushin Yousefi, the most kind and friendly Iranian lady. I asked if she had help.”
Yousefi told Peterson that she had been contacted by people from Austin who had offered service, but told them to go help others around her that needed it.
Peterson told Yousefi to give him fifteen minutes and that he would round up a crew to help her, and also instruct her how to spray walls in her home to kill mold and keep it from growing back.
Baldwin was one who had been summoned for help. When he arrived at Yousefi’s house, he saw another piano discarded in a heap of rubble. “I had the feeling that I should play something and I knew exactly what. Lines from the Broadway musical, “Les Miserables,” came to mind.” Rather than play the piano then, Baldwin joined his crew and got to work.
Inside the house he met the owner, Yousefi, who warmly welcomed the volunteers. After working a while sweeping and pulling out nails from waterlogged studs, Baldwin asked her, “Who’s the piano player around here?”
Yousefi told him that her daughters, ages 7 and 10, play the piano. She also told Baldwin about how they had to wade through chest-deep water for more than an hour to get out of their neighborhood.
Yousefi’s daughters stayed at her husband’s workplace while she helped the volunteers work at their house.
As Baldwin hauled debris out to the curb, he stopped at the piano and was curious how it would sound. He had a feeling that if he played the song he had thought of earlier, the teenaged girls who were there working, might start singing along.
He was right. Baldwin played a few measures of “I Dreamed a Dream” before the girls, Olivia and Laurel Hanson, Audrey Baldwin, Gwen Turner and Ocean Peterson, all from Austin, gathered around the piano, each whom was exhausted from working hard all day to clean up the flooded homes, started to sing during a brief break.
As the young women began singing, the remaining crew gathered around the piano with Yousefi. “It seemed to me as if time stood still for those two minutes and escaped the sorrow of these ruined houses. The lyrics of the song seemed to describe the scene before us,” Baldwin recounted.
“There are storms we cannot weather,” and “I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living,” and “Now life has killed the dream I dreamed,” the song lyrics resonated.
Yousefi, with tears streaming down her face, told the volunteers that “I Dreamed a Dream” is her favorite song and that she has it on her cell phone.
Baldwin said, “That’s when it all became clear to me why I knew earlier exactly what song I was supposed to play.” He felt compassion for each of the flood victims, including Yousefi, and was glad to have been an instrument in providing helping hands.
“I don’t know anyone besides Scott who could walk up to a piano and play that song. I don’t know anyone but those girls who could sing that song on a whim,” Peterson said.
Peterson continued, “That was not coincidence. That was a gentle, guiding hand leading us to someone who needed to know there was hope and others who cared about her.”
Volunteer efforts will continue over the months ahead as crisiscleanup.org has thousands of homes on the waiting list with homeowners in the path of Harvey who have requested help.