Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pics from our trip. . .

The staff of St. Bernard Project

During our short visit, we were fortunate to talk with many of the dedicated staff members and volunteers of St. Bernard Project. Here are some of their pictures:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Zack Rosenburg and Liz McCartney: Founders of St. Bernard Project

Left: Zack Rosenburg, co-founder of St. Bernard Project
Right: Liz McCartney, co-founder of St. Bernard Project, with Caitlin and Lindsey

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina totally eradicated St. Bernard Parish, a county adjacent to New Orleans Lower 9th Ward. The eye of Katrina passed over the county that day, pushing a 25-foot storm surge into the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet. The parish levees failed, and 100% of the homes were flooded and left uninhabitable. Within fifteen minutes, a vibrant, hard-working population of 65,000 residents suddenly found themselves displaced when 6-20 feet of floodwater nundated their homes and businesses and stayed for two weeks.

Two people made their way from Washington D.C. to St. Bernard Parish in the spring of 2006. Their intent was to lend their hands to the rebuilding efforts in the region. They were shocked to discover there was no aid for the families who yearned to return home. No one was there to help the thousands displaced by the storm.

He was a criminal defense attorney. She was a teacher. Both gave up their jobs, moved to St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, and founded a non-profit organization called St. Bernard Project to rebuild homes. Their names are Zack Rosenburg and Liz McCartney. As of July 2008, over 140 homes have been rebuilt by St. Bernard Project.

There is still more work to do - thousands of homes still need to be rebuilt. Because St. Bernard Project uses volunteer labor, they can rebuild a home for $12,000-$15,000.

If you'd like to help, please contact Cindy or go to the St. Bernard Project website:
Cindy's email:
St. Bernard Project's website:

Friday, July 11, 2008

Wherever we go. . .

Caitlin and Lindsey with Liz McCartney, co-founder of St. Bernard Project
Caitlin interviews Zack Rosenburg, co-founder of St. Bernard Project

Coming soon: Blogs on the staff and volunteers of St. Bernard Project

We were in the Houston airport late last night, proudly wearing our St. Bernard Project t-shirts. An airline employee left his post and boarded our plane to let us know St. Bernard Project rebuilt his aunt's home. He wanted us to know how thankful he was that his aunt received assistance. "Good work!," he said. We were astounded to be in Houston and receive acknowledgement of St. Bernard Project's efforts similar to those we received throughout their local community of St. Bernard Parish.

Obviously, the credit for the "good work" goes to the staff and volunteers of St. Bernard Project who helped the good people of St. Bernard Parish when they had exhausted all efforts to help themselves.

St. Bernard Project is a small, grass-roots organization created by two individuals (Zack Rosenburg and Liz McCartney) to rebuild homes for St. Bernard Parish families devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

They use volunteer labor and donated funds to rebuild a home for approximately $12,000-$15,000. They also provide housing assistance to senior citizens. True to form, they are expanding their organization to meet the needs of the residents by opening a mental health clinic by the end of 2008.

Basically, St. Bernard Project needs two types of help to continue their amazing efforts to help the residents of St. Bernard Parish:
1. Funds (donations are tax-deductible)
2. Volunteers

The needs are pressing. Approximately one-half of the 65,000 residents of the county have returned to the community they call home, but the task of rebuilding with limited funds is daunting. Many are faced with eviction from their FEMA trailers. With funding and volunteers, St. Bernard Project can help the courageous people of St. Bernard Parish.

If you'd like to be part of one of our upcoming volunteer work groups going to St. Bernard Parish to help in the rebuilding effort, contact Cindy at . If you'd like additional information about St. Bernard Project, visit their website at

To make a donation, see the website for St. Bernard Project's address or contact Cindy for upcoming fundraising/community outreach events in the Olympia area.

Obstacles Remaining

The elderly owners of this residence have been unable to return home. Neighbors pulled together to do the required gutting of the house and have saved salvageable items that Katrina did not destroy.

Thieves are vandalizing abandoned houses.

The "x" notes a house targeted for demolition this week - even though a neighbor wishes to purchase it.

After spending 9 days rescuing his neighbors from attics and rooftops and searching for food and water supplies for them, this resident is fighting eviction from his FEMA trailer. He's awaiting a promised insurance payment before he can rebuild and states he'll make a home out of the two storage sheds if necessary.

Although signs of rebirth are evident throughout St. Bernard Parish, residents are still encountering roadblocks in their efforts to rebuild and re-establish their community:

· many residents await aid, but find themselves mired in the procedures, red tape and bureaucracy of programs created to help them such as FEMA, Road Home (federal money provided to each state for Katrina victims), and insurance companies
· many residents face immediate eviction from their FEMA trailers, to be replaced with six-month rental vouchers - yet after six months, they would be faced with rent double the pre-Katrina rates
· in many cases, the aid received was minuscule, and cannot cover the cost to rebuild their homes
· many residents have symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression
· many homes marked with a red “x” are set for demolition – even though neighbors have expressed an interest in buying the home and property
· copper wiring and other valuables are being stolen from abandoned homes
· K-Mart and Walmart have not returned to the community – limiting local access for the purchase of clothes and other necessities

Signs of Life in St. Bernard Parish

A playground now stands in a park formerly filled with FEMA trailers.

Approximately one-half of the business are now open.

Sheriff sub-stations housed in temporary trailers sit throughout the county. One sheriff told us he was present when the first outside aid reached the county after six days: the Royal Canadian Mounties.

Volunteers from around the country help St. Bernard Project rebuild homes.

The public library re-opened in temporary quarters in January 2008.

A local restaurant showcases a picture taken of the establishment after it was flooded post-Katrina. Lindsey and Caitlin stand under an oval plaque noting the water line of the flood waters.

I was last in St. Bernard Parish in May 2007. Happily, I witnessed many signs of rebirth this year that were absent during my last visit:

· street signs were up
· a playground was in a park that formerly contained hundreds of occupied FEMA trailers
· a library has been opened since January 2008- housed in a temporary trailer
· several sheriff substations were housed in similar trailers throughout the county
· more than half the homeowners have returned - compared to approximately 25% last year
· more homes were owner occupied
· approximately half the business were open - many with pictures of the Katrina damage prominently displayed

People of the Parish: Sharon and William - there's more to the story

Sharon, Reanna, and William are fighting eviction from their FEMA trailer while St. Bernard Project works on their home. The sign was still standing when they returned home after Katrina.

We heard there was more to the story of the "you gotta have FAITH sign", so we went back to revisit William, Sharon, and their daughter Reanna.

They once again welcomed us into their FEMA trailer and their home being rebuilt with the help of St. Bernard Project. William described coming back to find his home destroyed, and witnessed homes throughout his neighborhood pushed off their foundations and scattered throughout the streets. He wondered how to go about breaking this news to Sharon, who was staying with friends in the Lower Ninth Ward. "How do you go about telling someone her life as she knew it was washed away?", he wondered with anguish.

As he looked around, what he found still standing was the "you gotta have FAITH sign." Although the sign was put in the yard to show support for the New Orleans Saints football team, it took on new meaning post-Katrina. They advised there were many instances of religious artifacts surviving in areas where all else was destroyed.

So, this family believes their faith brought St. Bernard Project and volunteers from around the country to their aid as they were faced with a deadline from FEMA to leave their trailer by August 1. They view each nail hammered into the wall as one step closer to reclaiming their home and filling it with the sounds of children and grandchildren celebrating life's moments. They hugged us, waved good-bye, and once again invited us to Thanksgiving dinner.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Local Hero: Randy

Randy spent over a week rescuing his neighbors from rooftops and attics. He faces eviction from his FEMA trailer while he awaits a promised insurance payment.

Randy was loading his truck, ready to evacuate, when the water appeared around his feet. Within seconds, the water was up to his thighs. He quickly climbed to a roof. Shortly thereafter, he realized his elderly neighbor may need help, and Randy almost drowned trying to reach him.

Luckily, Randy survived and he evacuated the neighbor by boat to a local shelter. That was the beginning of Randy's rescues. He spent the next nine days taking a boat throughout the county to assist his neighbors - evacuating them to shelters and finding food and water to ensure their survival.

Randy's mother was in St. Rita's Nursing Home when Katrina hit. She was one of the last residents evacuated via Blackhawk helicopter. Many elderly residents of St. Rita's perished in the floodwaters.

For more than nine days, the people of St. Bernard Parish were left to fend for themselves with no outside aid. Randy was part of the local effort to take care of their own. Then volunteers started arriving to lend a helping hand.

He wants all the people throughout the country to know how grateful he is that they care enough to give their time, money, and help to the people of St. Bernard Parish.

People of the Parish: Les and Joyce

Les and Joyce have lived in their home since 1963. St. Bernard Project helped them rebuild their home.

Les and Joyce opened their home to us to conduct interviews.

"For a long time we were tearing down, and now we're building up."

Les and his wife Joyce have lived in their home since 1963. When Hurricane Betsy hit Louisiana in 1965, Les helped his wife and four children (the youngest just a few days old) climb through a window to the safety of the second floor of his neighbor's home.

When Les and Joyce returned to St. Bernard Parish post-Katrina, they were faced with rebuilding their home for the second time. St. Bernard Project came to the rescue, and Les was so grateful for their assistance that he started assisting the organization on a part-time basis.

He believes it is the help of local organizations like St. Bernard Project and the volunteers from around the country that are responsible for the spark of life now present in the community. The gutting and bulldozing is slowing down, and the community is starting to rise up from the depth of destruction.

People of the Parish: Al

Homeowners always express gratitude to the volunteers who rebuild their home. Al asked us to sign his "wall of angels" containing signatures of the "angels" who helped in the rebuilding effort.

Al was going to wait out Katrina, but the night before the massive flood, he left realizing he needed to get to a safe place to continue to undergo kidney dialysis.

Al grew up in St. Bernard Parish, and is happy to see his community slowly come back to life. He treasures each person who lends a hand to help in the rebuilding effort and wants each of them to remain a part of his home and his life. He asks each volunteer to sign a wall of his home.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The People of the Parish: Denise

Everyone has a story. Wherever we go in the community, we meet people who know someone assisted by St. Bernard Project. We stopped for a bite of pizza and began chatting with Denise. Her father, Joe, moved back into his house with the assistance of St. Bernard Project. Sadly, Joe passed away in March of this year.

Denise held up a picture of devastation in her neighborhood. Katrina lifted houses off their foundations, and displaced homes, cars, campers, and storage sheds throughout the area's streets.

The People of the Parish: Stephanie

We caught this picture of Stephanie (St. Bernard Parish homeowner) with Josh, an AmeriCorps volunteer with Saint Bernard Project, at the end of the workday. Stephanie's mobile home was destroyed during Katrina. She was able to purchase a gutted home and, with the help of St. Bernard Project volunteers, she will soon be moving in with her 14-month-old daughter. She's been living in a cabin in a campground, resulting in a lengthy commute each day to attend school.

She asked us to let everyone know that St. Bernard Project is doing what no other organization or government agency is doing in the county: helping homeowners rebuild their homes, their lives, and their community.

The People of the Parish: Ms. Leola

Ms. Leola is one of my favorite people. Last year, I had the honor of spearheading a fundraising effort to allow her to move from a FEMA trailer back into her home. Right before Katrina devastated her home, she evacuated to Beaumont, Texas, with only the clothes on her back. Only two weeks later, she was forced to evacuate to Dallas, Texas, when Hurricane Rita took aim at the Gulf Coast.

Today we had the pleasure of having a delightful visit in her beautiful home finished with the assistance of St. Bernard Project. When asked about the impact St. Bernard Project had on her life, she talked about how blessed she is to receive help from the staff and volunteers. Without them, she believes she would not be in her home today.

The People of the Parish: William and Sharon

This was the sign we saw as we pulled our car in front of William and Sharon's home today. It exemplifies the spirit of perseverance inherent in the people of St. Bernard Parish. For over two years, William and Sharon have lived in a small FEMA trailer in their front yard with their daughter and two-year-old grandchild and worked on their home as time and money allowed. They are exuberant to see volunteers from St. Bernard Project putting the finishing touches on their home - the expected move-in date is August 1.

Finding long-term housing is especially pressing for the community residents this month. Many are being evicted from their FEMA trailers. William and Sharon received a three-day eviction notice, and are pleading with FEMA to be allowed to stay until August 1.

William and Sharon exemplify the spirit of the people in this community. They are gracious and welcoming. Even those who lost everything, shared whatever they had to give - they welcomed us into their homes and told us their stories. William and Sharon even invited us over for Thanksgiving dinner. If you ever want to understand what the term "southern hospitality" means, just visit the good people of St. Bernard Parish.

Monday, July 7, 2008

First Day at St. Bernard Project

Greetings from Cindy, Caitlin, and Lindsey:

We spent the morning at St. Bernard Project, an amazing non-profit that assists St. Bernard Parish residents in rebuilding their homes post-Katrina.
We're spending four days researching the organization and gathering stories to create a community outreach and fundraising effort in the Pacific Northwest.

We interviewed:
  • Zack, the founder of St. Bernard Project
  • Colleen (office manager) and Joe (office staff member and former client)
  • Families assisted by this amazing non-profit organization (stories and pictures will be posted at later date)

Some interesting facts about the county of St. Bernard Parish:

  • Katrina destroyed 100% of the homes (27,000 residences), displacing 65,000 residents
  • 1800 families are still living in FEMA trailers
  • approximately one-half (32,000) of the 65,000 residents have returned
  • St. Bernard Project has completed 131 homes, and is currently working on 30 homes
  • 60 people are on the waiting list
  • St. Bernard Project can rebuild a house with volunteer labor for approximately $13, 500

For more information, visit St. Bernard Project's website:

Look for more information tomorrow!