Last Tuesday, New Orleans Saints player Roman Harper came out to visit the Julien family, whose Lower Ninth Ward home he is helping SBP rebuild. Homeowner Yolanda Julien greeted Harper with her two youngest children, eleven-year-old Justin and eight-year-old Janiel. Several neighbors, a film crew, the Times Picayune, volunteers from Olivet College and Lindsey Wilson College, and a number of St. Bernard Project team members (yours truly) were all in attendance. Harper is funding Yolanda’s house in partnership with United Way and SBP and wanted to see the construction progress made so far.
Before the storm, single mother Yolanda raised her three children while working at a local hospital. They couldn't afford to leave during Katrina and were trapped at their house as floodwaters rose before eventually being rescued by helicopter. The family has been trying ever since to rebuild. Now with the help of the Saints, United Way, and SBP, Yolanda is realizing her dream to go home.
Harper’s visit took place as part of the Hope for the Holidays campaign, a collaboration between several Saints players, the United Way, Phoenix of New Orleans, and SBP. The campaign is raising funds to bring more families home during the holiday season and to raise awareness about the enduring need in New Orleans. Hope for the Holidays began last year with Harper and former Saints player Darren Sharper sponsoring the rebuilding of two families’ homes. This year’s campaign to bring another three families home kicked off on September 25th with Harper and Sharper now joined by three other Saints players: Jahri Evans, Malcolm Jenkins, and Lance Moore.
As the day wound down our SBP AmeriCorps member and site supervisor, Leisl Soergel, orchestrated final construction activities and clean-up. Student volunteers scrambled to tidy up, while the crowd waited and chatted in the unusually warm December evening. Harper arrived just after sunset…
And was immediately set upon by the crowd. But little Janiel won. She grabbed Harper by the hand and led him in the house, excitedly pointing at each room saying, “This is where my brother’s going to sleep. That’s going to be the living room. And this is going to be my room!” Harper asked her if she was going to decorate it. Janiel explained that her room would have a Justin Bieber theme. Someone suggested that the front room be made into a “Saints Room,” and Harper laughingly supported the idea.
After the tour, Harper did a brief interview with the film crew – the video will be aired this Friday during the Gala celebrating the Hope for the Holidays campaign, and possibly at other Saints events later in the season as well. He spoke with and signed autographs for volunteers. Toward the end of the evening, Justin Julien, timidly at first, and then with more insistence, began asking challenging questions about football technique. Finally, Harper and the Juliens thanked the volunteers and each other, for the others generosity and for the opportunity to help rebuild our city.
About an hour after he arrived, Roman Harper left for another campaign event, and the crowd followed. The last people at the site were Leisl and her team of volunteers, cleaning up for tomorrow’s work day.
--Sam, SBP Development Department