Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
|Whitney (far left) and John meeting with soldiers |
volunteering for the day
So when the opportunity came along to work on Ms. Mona Lisa Payne's home with veterans and Secretary Chu, I was so pumped! Several of my family members have served in various branches of the military, so respect and honor for the men and women who live to serve our country was instilled in me early in life. These folks do so much for us, our country and our safety. Having the chance to shake hands with a woman who has nursed so many wounded soldiers back to health and teach a man who built camps in Afghanistan how to tape and mud a corner seam - How could one not be moved by such an honor?
|Whitney teaching the Secretary |
how to mud
Each piece of insulation stapled, each sheet of drywall hung, every glob of mud, every beautifully taped seam and each coat of paint helps move a family one step closer to moving home. At lunch time, we welcomed the 320th family home – Mr. Kwame and Mrs. Dominique Adansi-Bona. The welcome home party was filled with volunteers, SBP staff, veterans, Sec. Chu and staff from the U.S. Department of Energy.
At one point, they asked all the vets to come to the front of the crowd. There was even a vet from the neighborhood who simply wanted to welcome his neighbor’s home – Sgt. Johnson called him forward too. Then, in true SBP style, the ribbon was cut.
Before volunteers ate their cake and toured the home, Ms. Dominique stepped up to the microphone and led the crowd in singing “America the Beautiful.” The feeling amidst the crowd was one of honor, joy and gratitude. We honored our soldiers, veterans, and country with that song together. We shared in the Adansi-Bona’s joy of coming home after 5 long and challenging years. The whole group shared the gratitude they had for all the volunteers to help get them home, and the gratefulness to all the people who have come to lend their helping hands, and end up connecting to other human hearts.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
From now until Thanskgiving, take your best shot! Email photos to email@example.com or tweet them to @stbernardproj. To enter a "draw off" with a Marketing Coordinator/drawer extraordinaire, enter "Challenge" in the subject line...
|Bridget Nolan, Maryland, SBP Marketing Team (Reppin')|
|Matt, NY, Age: 9|
|Kevin, Virginia, SBP Marketing Dept (#1!)|
|Laura, New Jersey, SBP Volunteer Coordinator|
|Ben, Massachusetts, Age: 22|
|Molly, SBP Volunteer Coordinator|
|Kate, Wisconsin, SBP Development Coordinator|
Monday, November 15, 2010
There is no stress of having to give gifts. There is also no stress of having to fake your love for Aunt Sadie’s knitted Christmas sweaters, with matching scarf for the dog (oh, only me?). Thanksgiving is about being thankful for the moment. The time spent with family and friends is enough of a gift; and so are those cranberries.
There is no religious attachment. Thanksgiving does not care what your religious beliefs are. You can be Jewish, Christian, Muslim…etc, and you can all call it Thanksgiving, and you can all celebrate it in the same way-- eating till you pass out.
The weather is better. Okay, maybe this doesn’t go for NOLA climate, but back in the real world Thanksgiving is much safer than the winter holiday season. Family members can fly, drive, and even walk to the festivities without the fear of ice, snow, or whatever else might kill them along the way. Winter holiday season, not so much.
Lastly, thanksgiving is the best holiday because it represents togetherness. In the true spirit of American eating habits, our wonderful thanksgiving founders knew how to do it right: good friends, good food, and good times. I hope that you all have a wonderful thanksgiving, and are able to enjoy it with friends and/or family. Small cheer and great welcome makes a merry feast. - William Shakespeare
As a lover of thanksgiving, I would love to know what your holiday views are! What do you love about Thanksgiving? Or do you like the winter holiday season better? Please respond!
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Welcome to the official kickoff of SBP's Home for the Holidays campaign! From now until January 7, 2011 we here at SBP will be working towards our goal of returning 25 families home in time for this holiday season and raising $300,000 to give 15 more families the gift of home and begin their reconstruction.
For five long years, thousands of families throughout the Greater New Orleans area have been in a housing flux. Stripped of their homes after Hurricane Katrina, these families have bounced from FEMA trailers to overcrowded relatives’ homes to rental housing where prices have doubled. They have made so many sacrifices to stay in their beloved New Orleans, with adequate housing usually getting little priority.
This holiday season, you can help put an end to these sacrifices. With your help and donations, when we reach our goal of $300,000, we can ensure that 15 families will soon have a place to call home. This will be the last holiday season they will be forced to spend away from their home.
To find out how to get involved:
- Head to our Home for the Holidays page on www.stbernardproject.org
- Follow us on Twitter for our “Holiday Question of the Week”
- Follow us on our Facebook Fan page or Profile page and
- Check us out on YouTube as we will be posting Holiday videos throughout the campaign.
Let’s make this a fun and successful holiday season.
Want to get involved? Have a cool Holiday Question of the Week? Want to write a guest blog? All your questions can be answered by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, October 1, 2010
Thursday, September 2, 2010
|Watch the last video here!|
Pepsi has done just that with their Refresh Everything campaign. Instead of spending millions to parade Britney Spears through a Pepsi bottling factory (which was staffed by some very talented dancers, I must say) for billions of Super Bowl viewers, Pepsi will donate this money to causes much more worthwhile.
I, thankfully, work at an organization that provided me the opportunity to participate in such a novel advertising campaign.
Somehow, I was chosen to be the whipping boy and go on a month long journey, to find something “more refreshing” than the St. Bernard Project’s big idea. I had water thrown on me, ice dumped down my shirt, 3 FULL SLUSHEES thrown in my face… and I couldn’t have enjoyed it anymore.
How could I not have? I was given a chance to combine two of my favorite things: making people laugh and helping people out. If getting a door slammed in my face made 10-15 more people vote for SBP and bring us closer to funding our mental health center’s expansion…then slam away.
And now, here I sit, the day after the polls closed and we are in 1st. We did it. I got a lot of the credit for this, but a lot of it was undeserved. If the videos are what put us in first, then Amanda Catalani deserves more credit. The music, the cuts, the edits…it was all her. If Zack and Liz knew how much time she put into these videos… they would’ve been cut a long time ago. (Sorry, Zack and Liz, but they worked. Can’t be too upset).
If getting the vote out among St. Bernard parish residents got us in first, then Drea Groner and Bob Strauss deserve more credit. Drea sat threw the mad dash lunch hours at St. Bernard hot spots, Rocky and Carlo’s and Tony’s. (Think about what your local Barnes and Nobel looks like when the new Twilight book comes out… except everyday… but no vampires.) She talked it up with complete strangers and got them to vote and pass it along to family and friends. Bob Strauss got all of Trist Middle School behind us. Once we visited Trist, we rocketed into first place and never looked back.
And finally, to our staff. Thank you for not maiming me, Amanda or Matt Haines due to our plethora of “Get out the Vote” emails. You guys and girls are truly an incredible bunch of co-workers and our past, present and future clients are better off thanks to your dedication to the cause.
I don’t think one thing put us over the top. It was just your traditional “grind it out” team effort. And thanks to the participation of so many supporters and voters across the nation and the world, we now have “250,000 grants falling on our head”… and it feels good.
Check out our video series here.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
|Our very own YouTube sensation, Kevin, and grant-writing phenom, Kate, who both were NCCC site supervisors for SBP, helping mark the spots for the new office desks|
|Our jack-of-all-trades government liaison, Matt taking care of some desktop sanding.|
|Case manager extraordinaire Kathleen and marketing coordinating dynamo Drea stain the new worktops.|
|Development coordinating sensation Catherine taking on the sander|
|The office staff giving the warehouse a run for its money...?|
Monday, August 2, 2010
Our office, always looking for new ways to keep things interesting, has decided to spend the next 30 days searching for something more refreshing than our proposal. To capture this bold idea, we will be turning it into a youtube video journal where our resident scheduler, Kevin Albrecht, will be testing the various ideas we come up with to see if they are truly on par with SBP.
For the first video, Kevin thought we should take the idea of "refreshing" literally. Though the stifling Louisiana heat may be the one to credit this idea to, one 10 minute break to wait for the business next door to stop mowing their lawn, a near fall off an unstable crate that our intern videographer Mollie was standing on, and three practice takes later, Lisa, one of SBP's case managers, Heidi, a site supervisor, and Amanda, the marketing coordinator, were ready to soak Kevin for the cause. You can check out our first entry here to see how he was willing to literally make a splash for SBP!
Never fear, Kevin didn't melt and will be back tomorrow with our refreshing idea #2. Have an idea for him to try out? Leave a comment and it could be in our next video!
Don't forget to vote for us once a day at www.refresheverything.com/sbp and to reach out to your networks to help lead the charge for $250,000 to help victims of the oil spill. We can't do it without you!
From the Center of Refreshing,
Friday, July 30, 2010
Through the N.O. Place Like Home campaign, United Way Worldwide is donating funds to rebuild 16 homes, and is conducting an online engagement initiative to get their supporters and contributors to join the effort. The are also working with their corporate sponsors to get companies to sign on to the campaign and sponsor a home.
The first to join the ranks is none other than UPS, who sent more than 50 local volunteers to help work on the Caillouet, Toledo, Williams, and LaGrange family homes this weekend. Together, the group totaled more than 800 service hours!
The Welcome Home party for the Treaudos was a heartfelt meeting between donor, volunteers and homeowner. Yes, UPS funded the entire rebuilding of the Treaudo family home and a few UPS employees helped AmeriCorps member and site supervisor Kim Benty put the final touches on the home on Saturday. Now, nearly 5 years after the storm, the Treaudos are finally back into their home, and their UPS was there to commemorate the event.
Standing on the lawn enjoying the celebration, the crowd was in for a surprise when an unexpected UPS truck pulled up. Thinking it was a coincidence at first, it quickly became evident that we were seeing both UPS's fun side and continued generosity as they delivered a washer, drier, and hamper full of detergent for the Treaudos.
Without UPS, the Treaudos would likely still waiting to return home. They used assistance received to hire a contractor, but ran out of funds. They family -- Royce, Vernon, and their daughter and grandson have been living in the FEMA trailer since 2007.
When case manager Lisa met them, Vernon kept talking about one day having a barbecue at his home again.
In welcome the Treaudos home, Lisa said, "Well, here were are just a few months later and we're having a barbecue. I could not be happier to welcome the Treaudos home."
On behalf of the Treaudos, SBP thanks United Way and UPS for their incredible generosity, hard work and for proving that there's truly no place like home.
Click to see more photos on Flickr
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
July 13, 2010, Annie Williams, member of the Blessed Sacrament Parish youth group in DC, blogs about her volunteer experience
Listening to the stories of homeowners gave us a better feel of what they have gone through since August 26, 2005, when Katrina struck. As we listened to Gary Bierria tell us his story on the dilapidated front porch of his home, overlooking the FEMA trailer parked in his driveway where he and his family have lived since the storm, we were struck by the enormity of Katrina and the marks it left. Despite all that has happened to the city of New Orleans the cheerful atmosphere still prevails. From the amazing French Quarter to the extremely friendly people we were privileged to be guests of their beautiful city.
We quickly found that New Orleans is a great place to be; with every corner you turn downtown there is a place to feast on seafood, marvel at the unique architecture and the creative street artists, and listen to music galore. After touring the miles of city on foot we enjoyed the respite of the breezy street cars as we made our way to the Loyola University dorms where we stayed. We also enjoyed a swamp tour where we saw alligators, fed them marshmallows, and enjoyed being on the famous Louisiana marshes. Whether it was landscaping in City Park, painting houses and warehouses, chipping paint, hanging dry wall, or touring this fantastic city this trip was an all around great experience.
We will all carry these memories with us and look forward to returning to the city ready to work again. Though there is much work to be done, there are obvious signs of recovery. Starting with the Saints claiming their first Super Bowl title to the numbers of houses that have been repaired, the status of New Orleans is looking up.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010
To get things started, this afternoon was an eventful day around the project and the Meshell home. As a result of our exciting new partnership with Stanley, Black & Decker and DeWalt tools, Deek De
We at SBP love the rare occasions when we get to celebrate with our three SBP MVPs, if you will: our homeowners, volunteers, and donors. We love to have opportunities like this to show both our sponsors and volunteers the amazing progress that results from a bit of hard work and generosity, and we definitely love great parish food and giving more to our homeowners.
Despite the blazing New Orleans heat-as well as the seemingly 100% humidity that our Head Runner, Chris Conley, jokes one could swim through-the event was a complete success. Deek reminded us of DeWalt's the homegrown roots and the Meshells moved one step closer to getting into their home. Believe us, the event was as fun as it looks. Hope to see some of you out at the next one!
From the office,
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
I expected to see a city similar to that in which I just came from. I mean, we spent all week leading up to the trip discussing the similarities between DC and New Orleans; I just assumed they wouldn’t be that much different. We discussed how ethnicity was similar, how the economy was similar, and more things of that nature. I could not imagine what I saw when the day finally came when I would be going to this grand city. I asked myself, “Am I at the right place?” A storm had devastated New Orleans, but at the same time, I have never seen a livelier city. The market, the quarter: they all presented a sort of vibrant aura to them.
It soon hit me that what I believed to be this great, happing city, actually still had a great deal of pain to hold to its name. We rode down to the most affected part in New Orleans, the lower 9th ward, realizing just how much more still needed to be done. People think New Orleans is all taken care of, but they only feel this way because it’s not mentioned in the news much anymore. That doesn’t mean the issue has been resolved though. Many of the people down here are scared to death that people outside the city have forgotten. That would mean there would be less and less people to help.
I can’t imagine what these people down here must’ve gone through. They must truly be a strong group not only to endure the storm and its affects, but also to not give up on their home. The people in New Orleans haven’t even considered to leave their past behind to look for a new house, because their home is too valuable for them to let go. I remember hearing a man talk about his experience post-Katrina; his house was destroyed, yet he was fortunate enough to have volunteers build him a house somewhere else. Then, a man asked him “how does it feel to be home again?” The victim replied “I’m not home. I have a very beautiful house, but I will never be home.” In leaving his previous house, he also left behind many beloved neighbors and friends that he won’t get to see anymore. A house is an essential need for living because of shelter, but someone will never be complete without a home.
As someone who’s been to New Orleans to help before, my reason for coming back is simple: I wanted to put a face on those that I help. I personally hate being forgotten myself, so I can fully grasp why someone would fear the chance of being left to suffer. My hope is by the year 2015 or so, New Orleans would be restored by more than 90%. It’s getting there thanks to all the great people at St. Bernard and all the volunteers. I want to see this town as it was in its glory days-in a time when it wasn’t scarred by nature. It’s a long, long road, but we’ll get there. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about this city, it is that it has heart.
Coming here I never would’ve suspected a place could change me this much. Working on all these different homes, I’ve learned to develop a leader in myself, but even more so, I have learned to connect with others and value everyone’s background and story. I have opened myself up and learned to accept everyone for who they are. I guess that is what living in a community is all about, a lesson that a city like New Orleans teaches quite well.
Friday, June 11, 2010
As a student from the University of North Carolina, I came down to New Orleans this summer not having any idea what to expect. I thought I would see some areas still evidently recovering from Katrina, but that’s the only thing that crossed my mind. In reality, the vastness of these areas blew my mind, but I was equally, if not more, disturbed by the sudden realization that this oil spill is also destroying lives. Far too many lives.
The media really doesn’t talk much about the impact that the oil spill is having and will continue to have on the people who inhabit this area. I heard about how this spill was dangerous for our oceans and our beaches, and while not to discredit the seriousness of these, the primary issue is the danger and destruction it is bringing to the people. I don’t think America has any idea what these people in New Orleans are going through. I know I didn’t. And while I will never be able to say that I completely understand their pain, I now have seen a glimpse.
I have been humbled as I have had the privilege to speak with families who are fighting this very issue. To so many, the water is their livelihood. Not only is it a place where many find their income, but it is the place their families go for fun, where they go to escape. Some know nothing else but how to fish and some don’t feel comfortable anywhere but on the boat. These people are the most resilient people I have ever met. Katrina is still an issue for everyone here, one that they deal with every day, but at least there is a foreseeable end to recovery. This oil spill is unpredictable. People have not yet been able to consider what recovery looks like because they are still experiencing the disaster. It is this unpredictability of daily life in the midst of disaster that will stay with me and motivate me to continue to help the people of New Orleans even after I return to my safe, predictable life.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Every once in a while, you meet homeowners that really touch your heart. That is not to say that the stories of every other homeowner is any less meaningful nor important, but the situation of Kwame and Dominique really resonated with me.
Maybe it was the way that Dominique, a vivacious, incredibly friendly young woman greeted me on her lawn. It was hot outside, so I didn't expect her to come meet me outside, but she did anyway-- and by 'hot' I mean Louisiana-sticky-humid-I-never-want-to-leave-my-house hot. I wouldn't even meet myself outside. But here she was, standing on her lawn at midday. She brought me into her home, mostly gutted, with light fixtures tenuously hanging by a few wires, two large pitbulls, chains taut, staring right into my face.
Dominique deftly assured the dogs that I was no threat, and they quickly came to my smell my shoes, welcoming me into their home, as their master had. Dominique kindly offered me some cold water before introducing me to Kwame, her husband.
Meet Kwame. He's laying in his neatly made bed, dressed in comfortable New Orleans-themed attire, fleur-de-lis and all. The room was dark, but cool. He shook my hand from his laying position. He was unable to easily get up.
Kwame suffered a devastating stroke in 2008. The night the Dominique went to pick up Kwame from the hospital, their car was totaled by in an automobile wreck. The stroke left him essentially immobile and dependent on Dominique for his every need.
Here he was laying there in his bed. House gutted. No floors, shoddy electrical work, a barely functioning kitchen, at the mercy of nature. Through it all, his effervescent and loving wife, Dominique lays next to him, hand in hand.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Check out pics from the Elzey Welcome Home Party: http://bit.ly/ddgWEf.
St. Bernard Project is one of many Louisiana nonprofit organizations that has made a significant impact in the community thanks to our partnership with AmeriCorps programs. Since 2006, SBP has hosted more than 21,000 dedicated volunteers who have molded, mudded, drywalled, floored and painted 276 homes for families of the New Orleans area. Many of these volunteers have been supervised and trained by AmeriCorps members at SBP. In addition, more than 35 AmeriCorps NCCC teams have worked with SBP, many of whom decided to come back and stay at St. Bernard Project as an AmeriCorps VISTA or State member. Overall, more than 130 AmeriCorps State and VISTA members have dedicated their time and tireless efforts to rebuilding families’ homes at SBP.
Friday, May 7, 2010
This is my fifth trip to New Orleans and my fourth time working with St. Bernard Project (including once in Ottawa at BluesFest). Every time I visit I fall more in love with the city. So much in fact that that I have rearranged my life, packed my bags, and relocated to Arabi in St. Bernard Parish. I’ll be living on what one of the locals refers to as “volunteer row,” a street where numerous volunteers and others working to rebuild New Orleans live.
I am doing my PhD in Environmental Studies at York University studying issues related to post-Katrina recovery and environmental disasters. The longer I am here the more my ideas change about what I might study, but I know I want it to be useful to this community. My enthusiasm for New Orleans is contagious. Last year I managed to convince the university that I work at, Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, to allow me to create a field-based course on New Orleans entitled “Community Development: International Perspectives – New Orleans Field Trip”.
Twenty-three students traveled to New Orleans to volutneer with me and we worked with St. Bernard Project Common Ground, Lower Nine.org, and Bayou Rebirth. The students fell madly in love with Southeast Louisiana and want to come back as soon as they can! This year the contagion spread. I brought on a co-instructor and we now have two classes who are working with St. Bernard Project.
Some excerpted thoughts from their blog: Toronto2NOLA
From Femi (Criminal Justice student): “So today is day , and I feel like I could call New Orleans home already. …I really enjoyed the bus tour; I was pretty amazed that I was actually in the same place that we once watched get destroyed on every major media station. It was really humbling and satisfying to know that indeed we were here to make a difference and I’m glad I am going to be a part of that cause. The people living here are pretty cool folk, and now I truly know the real meaning of southern hospitality.”
From Joanie (Social Work student): “Okay so today is day 4 of the trip and day 1 for volunteering with St. Bernard project. Today we were assigned to do demolition work at an elementary school that had up to 12 feet of water! While working in this school I had a mixture of emotions which included discomfort, excitement and concern. I was discomforted by the fact that this was once a place where students in the community attended where they made friends, did crafts read books and had teachers to look up to as role models. After Katrina hit the school, everything was destroyed physically and emotionally for the children and families and associated with this elementary school.”
From Rachel (Criminal Justice student): “The weekend flew by with a couple of tours: it’s a really eye-opening experience to be down here. It’s one thing to watch films and look at what was in the media, but a completely different story to be here seeing it for yourself. It’s sad to see that almost 5 years later there are still homes that are really damaged and families that can’t return home…Today was the first work day, everyone gave it everything they had and we got a lot done, which was totally worth it even if we’re feeling it now. Even with the minor injuries I got today (second group, if you’re using a shovel to take out a wall, keep a close eye for rubs on your thumbs, they aren’t fun...trust me.) I’m super stoked to see what tomorrow brings. With each day that passes I’m more and more excited I decided to extend the trip ‘til the end of the month. [Rachel will be working with Common Ground Relief, along with Amanda, one of the students from the 2009 trip for the last half of May].
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
I had the utter joy and extreme blessing of being introduced to the aforementioned qualities of these home-grown NOLA natives back in early '09 as a guest of two of my heroes, former CNN Hero of the Year winners Liz McCartney and Zack Rosenberg! I met Zack and Liz on a couple of occasions prior to my life changing trip to NOLA, and had explained to them my deep desire to support the city and remind those who lost so much during Hurricane Katrina that we remember. And perhaps more importantly, certainly for me, that "I" remember!
So in March of 2009 I first learned how to build a house with St. Bernard Project. There was spackling, also known as 'mudding', dry wall, patching and painting. On later trips, I would go on to learn finishing techniques such as caulking, trim, base boards, etc. But I have to say, it was not building a house which resonated so clearly with me. It was when I learned the meaning of making that house a home that I finally understood the way of the incredible and beautiful New Orleans people!
I learned that in these survivors darkest hours, and by hours I mean years, they still manage to make gutted homes, campers, FEMA trailers, alternative and shared housing "home" because they have family. This is one of the truest testaments to the resilience of these fine people! I've been told stories by survivors of laying their water hoses out in the sun in order to have warm water with which to wash themselves. I was told by one survivor that she had a family of six living in one FEMA trailer for more than three years! I have, over the course of my five or six trips to NOLA, been told numerous, similar and even more appalling stories and yet every single time, no matter how bad the circumstance, every story I've heard was told with a smile!
One thing is for certain, if you EVER get to experience New Orleans the way I have, nothing will affect you the way just one moment with a Hurricane Katrina survivor will. You're mind will be opened, your eyes may glisten and your heart? ...Your heart will be forever changed! I love you, NOLA, I remember!
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
On March 1, 2010, I found myself navigating the roads of a familiar place—Southeast Louisiana. I lived in the area for one and a half years following Katrina, and was returning for a volunteer trip. I traveled these roads many times before; I remember distinctly the devastation that blanketed the region. I still get a lump in my throat remembering the first house I saw that had a waterline mark over my head. Still, I was happy to be there again, and to see the continued effort to rebuild. I experienced the New Orleans area for the first time with my husband and children at my side. This time, I was in the company of a friend who had never gotten to see firsthand what Hurricane Katrina left in its wake. As I drove down Judge Perez Blvd. toward Meraux, she read the story of the Barlow family; the family whose house we would be working on. I was very grateful (and pleasantly surprised) to get a background…it made it all that much more personal.
As we pulled up to the house, a thought crossed my mind. If this house could talk, what would it say? I imagine it had seen a lot. It had seen families and friends gathered. Seen children playing and parents coming home from work. It sheltered them from those afternoon pop-up thunderstorms, and kept out the humid, summer heat.
It also had darker memories. Memories of newscasts reporting on a hurricane approaching. Ones of shuttered windows, wind, and rain. Then the water came, and it saw the walls that once protected a family swell and mold.
Katrina damaged every home in St. Bernard Parish, and this home was among them.
As we worked on the house, I realized we were helping to turn the tide against those dark memories. There were new ones being made. Ones of hands from all over the country helping to build a home, and helping people get back on their feet. In our group alone, there were hands from Maryland, Alabama, Maine, and Michigan mudding the walls a family would one day hang pictures on. We laughed, learned about each other, and listened to music together as we worked. We learned new skills with the help of our team leaders and site supervisor, and it felt great to be a part of something bigger than myself.
As I finished my last day and left my message for the Barlow family in the journal created for them, I was sad to go. It was such a blessing to work alongside a great group of people, and I wish I could have stayed to see the Barlow family welcomed into their finished home. Driving away, I hoped those good memories forged as we all worked together would continue to be built upon. I imagine they will. There will be memories of children sleeping comfortably in their own beds, and parents happy to have a place to call their own at long last. Maybe a wall will have memories of the kids measuring themselves against it to see how much they have grown. There will be memories of family get-togethers, holidays, and love. I consider myself lucky to be a part of those new memories, and am so grateful to the St. Bernard Project for allowing me to participate in one of the most important things I could ever do — helping in the recovery of a great community that was and is full of culture, love, hope, and life.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Mr. Mercadel has been blind for more than thirty years, the result of being hit by a drunk driver while he was headed home one night. As I sorted through his important documents (all enclosed in braille labeled envelopes) I became furious at the contractor who had left his home undone. As I was driving Mr. Mercadel to his apartment that evening, I discussed the possibility of perusing legal action against the contractor. Mr. Mercadel explained, "I guess I could, but I have always been taught to turn the other cheek."
A month later I had the distinct honor of accompanying Mr. Mercadel to a performance of The Color Purple. The Broadway show had been touring around the country and raising money for homeowners like Mr. Mercadel along the way. We sat in the front row, right by the orchestra pit, and it was wonderful to see a smile on Mr. Mercadel's face.
Mr. Mercadel moved into his home three weeks ago thanks to the great volunteers from Christian Aid Ministries. Last week he had his Welcome Home Party along with nearly 250 volunteers. Through the crowd of people I noticed there was someone missing - his constant companion, Jake. He explained that he had to put Jake to sleep after the doctors had told him he was suffering from arthritis. He was sad, yet hopeful as always for a bright future, just like the city he loves.
Watch a video of Mr. Mercadel and Jake.
Friday, April 9, 2010
And St. Bernard Project will be there. Right in the middle of Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral, one of New Orleans most famed landmarks. This year, SBP is a Community Partner with French Quarter Festival. We will be present with a table set up in front of the Cabildo that will showcase our deserving clients, the work we do in the New Orleans area, as well as the vast amount of work that still needs to be done.
The great thing about French Quarter Fest is that it still attracts a big local crowd, as well as tourists who come to see the amazing music and experience New Orleans most famous neighborhood. The SBP team is hoping that our presence at the festival will attract locals who want to volunteer with St. Bernard Project to rebuild New Orleans, as well as tourists who are interested in getting involved by either donating, spreading the word, or bringing down a volunteer group in the future.
This weekend, we will be talking a lot about our texting campaign. By texting NOLA to 50555, $5 will be donated to St. Bernard Project and Deborah Vita and her three grandchildren, who nearly five years later are still displaced from their home in St. Bernard Parish. Read more about Ms. Vita and her family here. We think this is a great way for festival-goers to do their part to rebuild New Orleans in one minute or less!
All SBP team members will be easily recognized by our bright blue “I Did It For New Orleans” T-shirts, with the information on what to text on the back. If you’re heading to the festival this weekend, stop by our table, say hi and learn more about St. Bernard Project and how you can help!
Happy Festival Season!
Thursday, April 8, 2010
University of Nevada, Reno
Student United Way President
Hello from the University of Nevada, Reno! I returned from volunteering in New Orleans about two weeks ago, but the memories of Alternative Spring Break spent with St. Bernard Project are fresh in my mind. I think I can speak for our whole group when I say we wish we were still there.
I am the president of a service and outreach club on campus called Student United Way, which is part of United Way of America. This spring break, I was the team leader for our Nevada group of 9 people in New Orleans. Our group stayed at Camp Hope, and our task was to mud an opportunity housing project on Mehle Street, and boy did we do just that.
It turns out that not only did our team rock at mudding, but we really enjoyed it. We realized we were mudding nerds when our team got excited about pre-made mud after two days of mixing our own. Our team spent five days mudding, laughing and helping a family move into a brand new home. By the end of each day we were covered in dust and mud and loved every second of it.
Although signs of rebuilding and rebirth were everywhere in St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans, I still couldn’t believe the amount of empty lots that are still there. Empty lots dyed a pinkish-red to indicate no threat of mold were everywhere in the parish, and the streets were quiet. It is unfortunate that so many people across the country don’t know about the extent of the remaining damage from Hurricane Katrina. Five years is long enough to forget Katrina ever happened. That’s why I believe so strongly in service trips like this one and organizations like St. Bernard Project. It opened our eyes to a world outside of our own lives and communities.
One of the highlights of the trip was meeting the residents. The appreciation and warm welcome we received from them was incredible. Everyone there has a story and they made our experiences and our work real. Being from Nevada, I cannot fathom experiencing a hurricane let alone one like Katrina. Coming home, my fellow students think I’m crazy for wanting to volunteer during my spring break, when truth is I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend it.
Working with St. Bernard Project this year made our trip worthwhile. The people we met and worked with were amazing and made it unforgettable. SBP made it easy to volunteer, as volunteerism should be. I loved learning about the organization and the work their team does. Thank you St. Bernard Project and we will see you next year!
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
I walk into the house and see it again as the open space it was just ten weeks ago, studs and joists with nothing in between. I think back to the first week, when my dad volunteered with me and a family from New York helped insulate the house, even the twelve-year-old child. It was also the first time I met Kenny, an incredibly generous man who worked on the house every step of the way.
The second week girls from Wheelock College found their inner Rosie the Riveters and screwed drywall to the studs and joists to create walls and ceilings.
The third week a church group from New Jersey finished drywall and began mudding. I remember the youngest volunteer as he finished Lauren’s shoe and purse closet. Another volunteer promised to raise money for furniture (and cried as she hugged Lauren). And another made phone calls to buy Lauren a washer/dryer. All of the happy faces when Kenny delivered chicken and jambalaya that Lauren and her mother had just fixed for the volunteers.
I worked on a different house during the fourth week, but I still see the work from that week in the now seamless seams between the pieces of drywall. Week five my mother and a church group from Iowa painted Tahj’s room blue and installed flooring, soffet, baseboard, and doors. On week six the Canadians volunteered working on tile, doors, and painting. The same week Church of the Brethren volunteers worked tirelessly on the exterior of the house. The seventh week a group including Jay and not-so-silent Bob installed cabinets, and finally the eighth and final week of construction more Church of the Brethren volunteers built a beautiful bar and installed appliances.
Eight weeks of songs, corny jokes, and hard work. Over fifty volunteers who dedicated themselves to finishing their part of the Lewis house.
The house sounds different now. There are children running around, Lauren’s niece making baby noises. Low, drawn-out conversation. The smells have changed, too. The beans and rice on the stove are filling the whole house with a rich aroma, and there is scented soap in the bathroom. The whole house has finally slowed from the fast pace of a construction site to the slow, comfortable tempo of daily life.
Thanks to volunteers, Lauren can now set food on the bar. Tahj can hide in the shoe and purse closet; Kenny can hopefully start fixing up his own house. The Lewis house is finished, and as I walk through at Lauren’s welcome home party I see two houses: the house that volunteers built, and the home where Lauren and Tahj live.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Monday, April 5, 2010
The facility served as a community fitness center in its life before Katrina. Because more than 60 percent of Garden of Prayers congregation was unable to return to their homes after Hurricane Katrina, the building remained virtually untouched for nearly five years.
Dried mud is caked on everything. Plastic house plants, chairs and paperwork dangle from the ceilings -- exactly where the floodwaters left them in retreat.
This building is a stark reminder of the great work left to be done in Greater New Orleans.
Not Fit for Fitness
A view of the ground floor of the Southern Athletic Club from the balcony. The white panels of the balcony still bear the waterline from the devastating flood.
The lobby of the Southern Athletic Club sees physical activity for the first time in five years since Hurricane Katrina filled the entire ground floor with raging flood water.
Bicycles sit stationary in the former spin class room. Silhouettes of Shirts Across America volunteers light up the room with activity.
Out with the old...A Shirts Across America volunteer tossing mold-infested, mud-caked carpet into a dumpster.
Learn more about SBP partner, Shirts Across America www.shirtsacrossamerica.org.
Click to see more photographs from this project.