By Trisha Belbot (volunteer on the Barlow House)
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.