NOTE: From time to time, other bloggers may be posted to this page. This week, we are featuring a guest blogger, who is a member of our Board of Directors. --Mark
Last week, the newspapers and media were filled with stories about the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, especially in New Orleans. Often lost in stories about New Orleans is the devastation the storm wreaked on the entire Gulf Coast, but a look at NOLA brings it into focus, I think, for most people. That is what we saw on the television. The images were truly frightening.
Habitat for Humanity was on the ground in New Orleans and surrounding parishes. (What we here in Western Pa call “counties” are called “parishes” in Louisiana.) I know Habitat was there because I was there with Habitat, with one of my closest friends in June of 2008 and with my son in 2009. We worked both times with a group of Habitat volunteers from New Jersey.
The storm surge put over 90% of the properties in St. Bernard Parish, south of NOLA, under water. We worked on a house in Violet, Louisiana, on just such a property.
The family’s story was, that they were preparing to move a mobile home onto the newly accquired property when Katrina hit. The family consisted of a man and wife, a daughter, and their grand kids. They had been living in various places, and the husband had been staying on the property in one of the notorious “FEMA trailers” after the waters receded. The homeowner worked at a nearby NASA facility, and needed to be close to his job.
When my friend and I arrived that morning in June, there was only a foundation and framing. At the end of the week, it looked like a house! We put the plywood sheeting on the walls and wrapped them in vapor sheeting (donated by Washington County’s 84 Lumber). We raised the roof trusses and did some addditional framing inside the house.
We often took refuge under the house from the Louisiana summer sun, yet still accomplished so much.
There were three groups working at the site, for a total of about 30—a Canadian church group from Ontario, another church group from Ohio and our little bunch. The progress in just 5 days was truly a wonder, and a testimony to what can be done by people working together. We gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “boots on the ground.”
I have to add that the Habitat site supervisor, a young man named Aaron, was awesome in his ability to teach some of us, who had never swung a hammer in earnest, how to do what we were doing, and to keep things moving along.
What happened that week is truly a testimony to what can be done when people volunteer their time, muscle and resources to rebuilding lives. The President was right this week when he said that the recovery in NOLA is a testimony to the human spirit.
In 2009, with my son, I returned to the home in Violet, after a 100+ degree day working in NOLA's Westbank suburb, just to see how far that home had come. The homeowner was there with her grandkids. The grass was littered with toys and a wading pool. I introduced myself and my son and asked if we could look around. She graciously welcomed me into her home, and told me that I could take pictures if I wanted.
I cannot describe to a reader what it feels like to know that you have had a part in building a new life for a family, and to see that new life first hand.
I been told that I have a pretty extensive vocabulary, but I simply do not have the words to describe how good that feels. You just have to experience it for yourself.