Lending a Hand: Rebuilding a Katrina House in New Orleans
One of the priorities during our week-long stay in New Orleans was to give our kids a hands-on education about Hurricane Katrina. They were pretty young back on 2005 when it hit the Gulf Coast, and our intention was for them to understand that it wasn’t just a news headline, but an event that’s still impacting the region even today.
Early in the week we went on a driving tour of where the levees broke and also ventured into the Lower 9th Ward where many areas are still blighted and not rebuilt. We drove down the streets where Brad Pitt has built some futuristic, energy efficient new homes with his Make It Right partners.
These field trips led up to our family spending a day at the end of the week giving back to the community. We had such a good time in New Orleans that volunteering for a day seemed like the perfect thank you. We called Project Homecoming and they happily assigned us to assisting the clean up and finishing touches on Walter’s home.
Walter is a 72 year old man who’s been displaced from his home for the past 7 years. He’s currently in Atlanta and his health is failing. His sister came by on the day we were working on his home and she said that he’s heartbroken that it’s taken so long to get back in his home and to the neighborhood where his family lives. She was so grateful for the work we and the college students working alongside us were doing to finish up the construction and get the house ready for his return.
Knowing Walter’s back story made the project that much more meaningful, and we were excited to get to work. The main work on the house had been completed, so we focused on paint touch ups, installing appliances, putting in mirrors and hardware on faucets, and yard clean up. The work went quickly because we were joined by a group of college students from New England. They’d chosen to spend their Spring Break driving in a bus down from Maine to work on Katrina homes for a week, and then drive back. They were friendly and fun and a great example to my kids of how young adults can make a difference.
After five hours our day’s work came to a close. We’d made great progress towards the goal of final completion by the end of the week. Walter was supposed to be moving in the following Monday. Unfortunately we wouldn’t be around to experience his homecoming, but we can see it in our mind’s eye, and that’s reward enough.
As we pulled out of the Lower 9th ward, and passed by hundreds of other homes needing repair, it’d be easy to feel like our days work was just a drop in the ocean – that it wasn’t significant or splashy enough for anybody to notice, so why bother? Yet when that thought flashed through my mind, I’m immediately reminded of Theodore Roosevelt and his admonition during difficult times to “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” And that sums up our family mission, and our day in New Orleans, perfectly.