Monday, May 17, 2010

May 17, 2010, Meet SBP Homeowners Kwame and Dominique

Kwame and Dominique, originally uploaded by St. Bernard Project.

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

May 14, 2010, SBP celebrates the completion of Ms. Elzey's home and AmeriCorps Week

Yesterday, St. Bernard Project celebrated the completion of Amelia Elzey’s home at 2518 Deers St. New Orleans, LA in honor of AmeriCorps week. Throughout the week, AmeriCorps members, alumni, program partners and volunteers from across the country have united in service by volunteering with St. Bernard Project. St. Bernard Project contribute more than 1,000 hours of service to national AmeriCorps Week!

Check out pics from the Elzey Welcome Home Party:

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

May 7, 2010, Toronto2NOLA is 4 NOLA

by Tanya Gulliver

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, 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 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

May 04, 2010, Dear NOLA by Anna Lynne McCord

When most people think of New Orleans they think of good Cajun food and Jazz music. When I think of NOLA I think resilience, spirit, survivors, strong family ties AND good Cajun food and Jazz! This amazing city and its surrounding areas are home to some of the most incredibly beautiful people I've ever met! Their beauty is not surface level. It runs deep within their cores as well as the big, over-flowing hearts of these truly southern and always hospitable people.

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!

Love, AnnaLynne