Good Morning. I was on the Rebuild project with George Thomas, Lorraine Dee, and Jim Sasso. The rebuild program began as a volunteer house gutting operation by the Episcopal diocese of LA. In 2007, the rebuild phase was launched and so far 60 homes for families have been rebuilt. All work except electrical and plumbing is done by volunteers. Work includes insulation, sheet rocking, painting, flooring, and installing trim and cabinets.
We were assigned a house in the Gentilly section of New Orleans. It was owned by a family of 6 who were displaced to Little Rock Arkansas. The father died from cancer while in Little Rock so 5 will be returning to the house. From the stories we heard, health care costs made it impossible for them to return to their home. Eventually, a social worker brought their case to the rebuild program. We also heard there may have been some contractor fraud with this house which was (and is) quite common.
I didn’t know what to expect arriving at our site. Water was at the 10 ft. mark in this neighborhood and the yellow mark above the door and windows still remains on the house. I would say that about 50% of the homes in the area have been rebuilt. This particular house was nearing completion. George and Jim were assigned the light carpentry work while Lorraine and I were the painters. Building closets were the priority for the week.
Two supervisors were at our site. They were just out of college and they had been there for about a year. The program is currently working on 15 houses and has 20 supervisors. At the end of the program, we met with Liz who is one of the managers of the program. She told us how funding has been cut back for this year and there are great concerns about funding going forward. They did receive a grant from the state which will allow them to finish the homes started (about 15) and do a few additional homes. The name of the organization has actually changed from “disaster response” to Episcopal Community Services”. As she said…“How long can a disaster response be?” I look at the neighborhoods and I wonder if the remaining people will ever come back to their homes? How many people want to come back but can’t due to financial issues? What will happen to these gutted out homes? Will the govt. eventually take them over?
All these questions went thru my mind as I was painting but now I think a lot about what Liz talked about….FUTURE FUNDING. She’s worried because she just knows there are more families that want to come back but can’t due to financial constraints. Although it has been 5 years, there is just so much more work that needs to be done. I also hope and pray that the funding continues….. ECS is really doing some good work!!
For myself, I got to know Lorraine, George, and Jim at a much deeper level and I’m grateful for that. We were together every day! I’ve never met such a meticulous person with the paint brush as Lorraine. I’m also grateful for the chance to help restore one house for one family so that they may finally come home. Thank you St. Michael’s for your support to make this happen.
Today’s Gospel lesson from Luke tells us that “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness”. The Mission Trip to New Orleans was also full of and led by the Holy Spirit in so many ways, from the moment we received the parish blessing from Sam and the passing on of the Superman T shirt from Sheila to our trip home as we flew safely above the storm accompanied by Bishop Harris.
Each member of the group offered their own unique gifts, not only to the people of New Orleans but also to the group itself. I think of Anne who after lugging all our sleeping bags and pillows and driving 13 hours straight to miss the snow storm went right to the grocery store so everyone else would have food for breakfast the next day. I think of the Rebuild Group of Lorraine, George, John, and Jim who arose early every morning to spend the day building and painting a homeowner’s closet and returned to do dishes after dinner every evening. I think of the Beacon of Hope group including Lana, Cece, and Fred who painted all week both inside and out and entertained us with their humor and stories.
I think of homeowner Bev and her dog Sweetie who graciously welcomed us into her home and her life and were so thrilled that Will was able to put 3 bookcases together for them. I think of Barb and Marilyn who spent countless trips going back and forth to the paint stores with Bev to decide on the color of her house and who also spear headed our delicious and creative dinners. I think of Mary who each evening took it upon herself to get both pictures and write-ups on the blog so that all our supporters could be involved in what was going on while we were there.
I think of Bill who organized the Bayou Rebirth project of repotting trees and got us all interested in how important the issue of restoring the Bayou is. I think of Patti’s cousin Nick who not only welcomed us with his red dress and cookies but also brought a few of us out on a trip to actually see the Bayou. I think of going out with Patti, Mary, and Will to feed other volunteer groups rebuilding homes throughout the city as well as a community of people living with HIV/AIDS, the working poor, and the homeless and the privilege of listening to the stories of all who we met.
But most of all I think of the people of New Orleans – how despite all their struggles of the past 5 years and before are able to maintain an incredible spirit of hope and love. Despite the poverty, violence, little progress in rebuilding, and lack of resources they continue on, believing in the spirit of their community. We were fortunate to have been there at a time when not only Mardi Gras but also the Superbowl was coming up. The excitement was everywhere and the love of the people of New Orleans for their city was overwhelming. I was struck by how happy they were just to have made it to the Superbowl and how if the Saints won it would only be “icing on the cake”. That sense of appreciation was extended to us as well by every single person we met, who thanked us not only for coming down but for most importantly, continuing to remember them. Thank you St. Michael’s for making that possible once again.
A fellow parishioner suggested that we put the names of those who went on the Mission Trip on the blog since he didn’t know who had actually gone (and I’m sure he isn’t the only one!) – good suggestion. Stay tuned for the group homily (don’t worry, not all of us will be speaking!) on Feb 21st.
Jim Sasso (friend of the Thomases)
Today’s Loaves and Fishes lunch delivery went to two places. One was to Project Lazarus, a supportive housing community for 24 men and women with HIV/AIDS. www.projectlazarus.net. The home is located in the 7 ward and was severely damaged by Katrina. The house has been restored and is surrounded by beautiful gardens ands and water fountains.
In addition, the group delivered 75 lunches to volunteers who were doing rebuild work through Rhino and Habitat for Humanity.
These houses have been built since last year’s St. Michael’s group delivered lunch to volunteers on this street. Patty and Judy were thrilled to see the progress!
The last two Habitat for Humanity houses that will complete the street of 10+ houses.
Will, Mary, Marilyn, Judy and Patty – today’s Loaves and Fishes crew!
Some of the Rhino volunteers (from upstate New York) getting specific instructions on using a circular saw!
During the afternoon, Patty’s cousin, Nick, took some of us 45 minutes south to the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.
At the preserve we walked a raised boardwalk and saw exhibits about the vanishing bayou habitats and a wonderful movie about the unique bayou culture.