I met her for the first time in August, as an AmeriCorps member at St. Bernard Project. She spoke tenderly about the rebuilding work that had been completed at her home in St. Bernard Parish. She was astonished that so many volunteers from all around the country would come down and help, just out of the kindness of their hearts.
"When I walk in to the house, I know that the walls are filled with love. I can feel it. I watched as some of the volunteers constructed the house, they come from all over, down here to help me. I saw the writing on the walls from the volunteers, and I wanted to keep it. The next time I was there they was gone, but I just know those walls are filled with love. They don't even know me."
Her brown eyes welled up and I could see the drops collect along her lashes as she wiped the tears away. She had brassy gray hair that was short and fell around her aged face. She sat in the maroon leather chair in front of me and I carefully studied her facial expression and physical responses to the emotion she felt. Each reaction left me thinking about the millions of people in New Orleans and surrounding Parishes, affected by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and Rita. Miss Evelyn was no older than 65, with so many stories in her eyes.
She apologized for crying, and I was tempted to assure her that was not needed. Instead, I gently touched the top of her hand, and she looked up. Wiping her eyes one more time, taking one large inhale as her ribcage expanded, she began to speak again.
Back to her kitchen to cook her family dinners with her large counter top. Back to the closet that connected her room and what was once her daughter's room. Back to the home that was destroyed 6 years ago by the floods of Hurricane Katrina and levee breakage.
A sanctuary where her memories were still captured in the foundation and framework. Where new celebrations could happen because people showed altruism and connection. The room that was once occupied by her daughter as she grew, would now be taken by her 1 year-old grand-son. The kitchen would be cooked in, and the dining room would host Thanksgiving and Louisiana shrimp boils with all of the family invited.
Miss Evelyn's mother died this past May. Her mother was going to stay in the house with her. Miss Evelyn planned on taking care of her mama, just as she did after Katrina.
"I know there's been angels all along the way to help me, and now my Mama's up there watching over as the last pieces to the house gets done. She'd be happy."
With a sweet smile, she waltzed in to my office to tell me her story, and to ask for my help with this last stretch of getting her home. It’s not easy hearing the stories of SBP’s clients, or for anyone in New Orleans helping with rebuilds. But, in the past 7 months, I’ve watched lives be transformed as the framework is fixed to standards, the walls are put up, houses are painted, and after 6 years, our homeowners are able to begin stabilizing their lives again.
Miss Evelyn's heartbreak, love and compassion, made me miss my home in Syracuse, NY.
Home is about family, struggles, love, laughter, hugs, conflict, smiles, donate to SBP.
--by Jessica Leigh, Client Services Coordinator (at right at an SBP Welcome Home Party)