Monday, August 31, 2009

A Changing Landscape

I just finished my sixth visit to the New Orleans area. As I visited with residents, town leaders, and St. Bernard Project staff, a couple of things came up in the conversation over and over again.

First, of course, is the gratitude the residents and town leaders have for the staff of St. Bernard Project (SBP) and the volunteers who have traveled from across the globe to rebuild the community. One parish council member credits SBP with "having an outstanding role in helping people get back into housing that far surpasses the work of any other organization working in the area." SBP has built 230 homes to date.

Another common thread within each conversation is the changing culture and dynamics within each neighborhood. These good people who have struggled for so hard for so long to get home, are now dealing with the fact that St. Bernard Parish will never again be the same as it once was. People yearn for the close-knit neighborhoods they remembered before Katrina. Yet many neighbors have not returned. Many homes were bulldozed to the ground. Renters have moved in where there were once homeowners. The neighborhoods are now more diverse. The intergenerational friendships they treasured have, in many cases, been permanently dismantled by Katrina.

I have no doubt, though, that these people who endured so much to return home have the courage and generosity of spirit to rebuild the camaraderie and sense of community they so love.

Update: People of the Parish - Kenneth and Barbara

I was privileged to work on Kenneth and Barbara's home in May 2009. This was the first home rebuilt by St. Bernard Project as they expand into Orleans Parish.

Kenneth is the full-time caretaker for Barbara, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Kenneth's gratitude to St. Bernard Project is evident as he credits them being his "angels" by "putting my mind at ease because now I have a home. . .they gave me a light at the end of a long tunnel."

St. Bernard Project put Kenneth and Barbara's home on a fast track rebuild. Kenneth and Barbara had inadvertently purchased and installed Chinese drywall (see Chief Stone's story below), which causes health problems and erodes electrical wires and components. The drywall needed to come down, and a new rebuild begun. Because of St. Bernard Project, they were back in their home within just a few weeks.

Update: People of the Parish - Fire Chief Thomas Stone

April 2009: Fire Chief Stone with Tumwater Teens, a volunteer work group

Fire Chief Thomas Stone is a well-respected leader within the St. Bernard Parish community. In fact, he and his firefighters were instrumental in rescuing and caring for the St. Bernard Parish residents who were stranded by floodwaters for a week post-Katrina. If you'd like to find out more, a book has been written about this, entitled The St. Bernard Fire Department in Hurricane Katrina by Michelle Mahl Buuck.

Chief Stone took the time to meet with me on two occasions. Once, he spoke with a volunteer group of teenagers I chaperoned. The second time was a few weeks ago, when I was gathering information about the current state of recovery in the parish.

All of the fire stations were flooded during Katrina. Chief Stone is still focused on getting the fire stations and staff level back to pre-Katrina standards. The department has applied for a federal grant, and he is hoping that will come through to provide the department with much-needed funding.

Chief Stone views St. Bernard Project as a "community leader," and states the community would not have survived without them and the thousands of volunteers from all over the country.

Sadly, there is a new threat facing the homeowners of St. Bernard Parish. Many homeowners, including Chief Stone, purchased Chinese drywall - a product known to pose health hazards and erode electrical wires and equipment. Having just finished their homes, many are without the tens of thousands of dollars to tear down this toxic drywall and replace it.

Update: People of the Parish - Miss Joan

I met Miss Joan in April 2009 when I chaperoned a group of high school students who worked on the flooring in Miss Joan's house. It was rewarding to see the beautiful work the teens did when I toured her finished home!

Miss Joan misses her pre-Katrina neighborhood, where all the neighbors knew each other. Only one-half of her original neighbors are back. She also misses the local church, was has not been rebuilt.

When asked about the community's most pressing needs, Miss Joan echoes those of the other homeowners I spoke with. Number one on her list was a hospital - she has health problems and has to travel to either Slidell or Covington for care. Her personal physician has not returned to the parish. She also wishes there was a grocery store in Violet, along with a place to purchase clothes (like a Wal-Mart).

Update: People of the Parish - William and Sharon

Happy News! After more than three years in a FEMA trailer, St. Bernard project finished the home of William and Sharon last fall. Their dream came true - they were in their home in time for the holidays.

William and Sharon report that the majority of their neighbors were able to move back. Some homes were torn down, or sold. The neighborhood has become more diverse, which William and Sharon stated gave them a chance to "open up our eyes. . .and learn the world is not just one color."

They appreciate the school leadership that protected their public school system - one they believe is the best in the area.

William and Sharon are concerned about the need for a local hospital, and opportunities for jobs for local citizens. They also mentioned the high rental rates, and the high cost to insure a home - at times 5% of the home's value for a homeowner's policy.

Update: People of the Parish - Miss Melanie

Miss Melanie with granddaughter, Alayna

I met Miss Melanie in May 2007 when my brother, David, and I worked on her house during a volunteer trip for St. Bernard Project. It was wonderful to walk in and see her in her beautiful home with her granddaughter, Alayna.

Miss Melanie stated St. Bernard Project helped her and many of her friends. Her family has lived in her home since 1952, and she can't imagine living anywhere else.

When asked about St. Bernard Parish post-Katrina, Miss Melanie mentioned there is more crime in the parish than before Katrina, and the children do not go out after dark. Before Katrina, "you knew where the crime was - now it could be anywhere." There is a larger transient population. She also stated there is greater diversity. She believes many people arrived in the community seeking work.

Miss Melanie feels the most pressing need in the community is for a hospital and a store like Wall-Mart, where residents can buy clothes and other items at reasonable prices.

Update: People of the Parish - Miss Leola

Miss Leola is as gracious and beautiful as ever as she takes the time to talk with us about her community. She is very grateful to St. Bernard Project for getting her back home. "I would not have known how to rebuild without them," she said.

Miss Leola still suffers from sinus headaches - an ailment that appeared after she lived in her FEMA trailer. Miss Leola also suffered a stroke in September 2007, but states she has recovered "pretty well."

One of the most pressing needs in St. Bernard Parish at this time is a hospital. The nearest facility is 45 minutes away. In addition, some of the doctors have not returned to the parish. Miss Leola states that she often waits two or three hours to see a local doctor, even though she has an appointment. Yet, her former doctor is an hour away, and she has to rely on someone to drive her there.

Miss Leola mentioned that her neighborhood has changed. Only one neighbor has returned. Most of the homes which were rebuilt have become government-subsidized rentals. She misses her neighbors and the close-knit community where everyone knew each other, and neighbor helped neighbor.

Update: People of the Parish - Les

Although Les is retired from a career as a school principal, he was so grateful to St. Bernard Project after they rebuilt his home, he decided to volunteer for them part-time. Three days a week, he stops by the St. Bernard Project building sites to thank the volunteers.

Les always takes the time to help. Each time I've visited the parish, he's been there to give me directions, or connect me to homeowners, or answer questions about the status of rebuilding in the area. I'm extremely grateful to him.

Les states the "sense of community" is starting to come back to St. Bernard Parish. "Without St. Bernard Project, the churches, and the thousands of volunteers, we would not be anywhere close to where we are today."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Look at Our Work for SBP in Gentilly, Louisiana

Julia, David, Cindy, Mary, Jackie, and Paul stand in front of Kenneth and Barbara's home

Please enjoy the slide show of our journey to Gentilly, Louisiana. We were blessed to work on the home of Kenneth and Barbara Wiltz. It was a week of hard work, laughter, and blessings.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Volunteers From Across The Country Help SBP Rebuild

Brian, Rebecca, Cindy, Mary, David, Jackie, Julie, Eric, Dean (back row)
(front row): Kenneth and Barbara Wiltz (homeowners) and Paul (c
onstruction manager)

From Alaska to Virginia, volunteers heard about the amazing efforts of St. Bernard Project and traveled from across the country to New Orleans to help rebuild a home. This week, we've become a family as we worked together sanding and mudding walls to get Kenneth and Barbara Wiltz back home in Gentilly, Louisiana. (Read Kenneth and Barbara's story in prior blog.)
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Waiting on a Roof

Caitlin Meyer and William Ansardi, a local homeowner, on a roof in St. Bernard Parish, LA

There is a house silent and empty in St. Bernard Parish. It sits untouched, exactly as it was after the floods receded in August 2009. The home still has a key in the door. The fish tank holds "Katrina" water. Clothes, and photos, and remnants of family life are scattered throughout the home, all ruined in the flood waters.

There is a cooler on the roof, still there from the homeowners who waited there with a small amount of food and water to keep them alive until rescuers arrive.

Caitlin climbed on the roof with a local resident, William Ansardi, who spoke with her of the lives torn apart by the storm. They spoke about what it was like to wait on a hot roof day after day, hoping for rescue.

Rebuilding is happening in many areas, thanks to St. Bernard Project. But this home no longer houses a family. So we have only remnants to give us clues to their former life here before the storm.

Helping Kenneth and Barbara Move Home

Cindy Meyer, David Matney, and Mary Matney with
homeowner Barbara (sitting) and Kenneth Wiltz

St. Bernard Project has expanded operations into Gentilly, Louisiana. We are are honored to work on their first house in New Orleans Parish. Kenneth and Barbara are anxiously waiting to move back home after almost four years of struggling to do just that. Kenneth describes the last few years as being "off track". He said he felt like he was floating through life, rather than being on solid ground supported by a home, community, and family.

He describes the joyful moment when Zack Rosenburg, Co-Founder of St. Bernard Project, walked in the door and declared "we can do this - we can get you back home."

This is an especially critical situation. Barbara was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease five years ago, and Kenneth spends his days providing the loving care and guidance she needs to survive in a confusing world.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Our Last Day of Work in St. Bernard Parish, LA

Lindsay Swick:
I have had such an awesome exprerience while i've been here. I had so much fun and found it so accomplishing. I loved meeting all of the wonderful people here. Everyone is so extremely friendly and im going to miss them terribly. I hope to come back to help out again as soon as possible and to raise money and awareness back in Washington state. I just wanna say thank you and that I'll miss Ms. Joan, the Ansardi's, Caitlin, Pickles :), and everyone else who I've met. You're all so wonderful!

Kaitlyn van der Velde:
Helping out with Mrs. Joan's house with St. Bernard project has been a great experince that I can't imagine living without. Meeting all of the wonderful people of St. Bernard Perish and hearing all of their life changing stories has opened my eyes to see how much these people have been neglected. I can't wait to come back down to La and see Mrs. Joan's lovely home :)

Thank you to everyone who we've met on this trip, You've made it an even better experience.

Mike Morrison:
Hearing these peoples stories has truly been eye opening for me. I did not understand the pain and struggles that they went through for so long. This trip has shown me that I can make a difference in peoples lives just by taking some time out of my day to help another. Working on Joan's house has helped me to understand the importance of helping out others in the world. She is a great lady who did not deserve what happened to her, I wish the best of luck to her.

Drew David:
Words can not explain the way I felt about this trip, I am truely inspired. I loved hearing everyones stories and their different point of views of the whole hurricane. I have been inspired so much that I want to come back this summer and continue to back till after college. Then after college I am going to move down here and continue my quest to rebuild the city of New Orleans and restoring the faith in everyone that once lived here.

I am blessed to have met y'all and hear your stories. Thank you for having me and I plan to be back soon to help y'all out. I believe that this is what I am supposed to do in life.

Katie Repine:
This trip has really opened my eyes to the terrible things that people had to go through after this disaster struck. I am truely glad that people did not give up all hope, and if they did, they gained it all back when st. bernard project came to help them. We have met a few families this trip and hearing their stories are truly inspiring, i am so glad that i came on this trip and got to have this experience. We worked on a women named Joan's house and i am so glad that i could just have helped her a little bit, seeing how thankful she was and also all how the work we accomplished was truely amazing to everyone. My favorite part about this trip was when we were laying the flooring down in Joan's home and we all signed the floor on the foam part before the floor was actually laid. We showed Joan and she really liked it and i thought it was cool that we were leaving our mark behind and that everytime she walks on the floor she will remember the people that care about her and helped her back into her home.
I enjoyed this trip in so many ways and really hope i get the opportunity to come back again and i would really persuade anyone to come down here to help these people it is a great experience

Lindsey Meyer:
This being my second trip to out here has been just as amazing as the first. It's so amazing seeing people coming from all over to help out. One lady was even talking about a man coming from China. If something so terrible happened to my community, I would want people to come down and help. Making a difference in these people's lives is so touching. I can't wait to come back!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tumwater Teens: Our Work Today in St. Bernard Parish

Today we finished most of the flooring! Only one room left to go.
Kaitlyn learned how to hang a door in Ms. Joan's house and we are going to hang more doors tomorrow.

We heard a lot of stories from the residents and made some friends. Ms. Joan talked to us at lunchtime about how she stayed during the hurricane, and was rescued and sent to the Houston Astrodome. She said things were really bad there, and she called some relatives in Tennessee who helped her stay there. She then went back home and had nothing left except a FEMA trailer to stay in. The FEMA trailer made her sick. She's very thankful that St. Bernard is helping her.

We had a visit from Les Scharfenstein, a friend Cindy, Lindsey, and Caitlin made in July when they came to visit the area. Les said things are steadily improving in the area. Les is a retired principal, who does part-time teaching and works for St. Bernard Project part-time, too. Les decided to help St. Bernard Project after they helped he and his wife rebuild their home. He helped us find the address of the Ansardi family, a friend of the Meyer family.

We went to visit William and Sharon Ansardi after we were done with work. St. Bernard Project rebuilt their home, and they moved in around Thanksgiving time. They had us sign their guest book because they said they want to remember all the angels (the volunteers) who come to St. Bernard Parish to help. They have a sign in front of their yard that used to say "You gotta have Faith" that survived Katrina. It's getting old, so now is says "You Faith", but William says he doesn't need a sign to remind him of the Faith he has and how all the volunteers come to help the people of da parish.

We wrote our names on the floor of Ms. Joan's living room today before we laid the laminate. Ms. Joan laughed and said most volunteers sign their names on the floors or the walls. She said even though she lives alone, she'll really be surrounded by the volunteers.

Here are some pictures from today:

Monday, April 6, 2009

Tumwater Teens: Our First Work Day in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana

Today we learned how to lay laminate flooring in Ms. Joan Dalon's house. We finished two rooms! We also talked to the homeowner, who has waited almost four years for a home. Then Fire Chief Thomas Stone came to talk to us. He told us stories of what happened during and after Katrina, and how the firefighters saved thousands of residents and kept them alive by finding water and food and medicine. Tomorrow we lay some more flooring, and might put in some doors.
Here are some pictures. Enjoy!

By Lindsay Swick, Katie Repine, Kaitlyn VanderVelde, Lindsey Meyer, Drew David and Mike Morrison

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tumwater Teens Arrive in New Orleans

After a full day of travel, the Tumwater Teens arrived in New Orleans around 10:30 last night.

Today, we'll be visiting the community of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, and touring New Orleans. Tomorrow - we're off to St. Bernard Project to help rebuild a home!

Stay tuned - we'll post pictures each day and update you on our adventure :>)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Watch our Video: A Non-Profit Development SBP Class Project

Non-Profit Development course - SBP work group participants:
Johnny Druelinger, Cindy Meyer, Shanda Luthy, Meghan Miller

During Winter Term at TESC, Cindy participated in a Non-Profit Development course. In addition to writing a non-profit development strategic plan for local efforts on behalf on St. Bernard Project, the SBP group developed a video presentation told by Cindy through the stories of the people she met during her travels to St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Olympia, Washington Helps SBP Rebuild One Home!

Great news!

The St. Bernard Project Benefit Auction held March 7, 2009, at St. Martin's University raised $12,000! That covers St. Bernard Project's rebuilding costs for one home.

And - the Tumwater Teens received such generous donations that they now have enough funds to pay for their volunteer work trip to New Orleans in April.

Thank you for your generous support!

Click here to watch Liz McCartney, Co-Founder of St. Bernard Project, speak at the auction:

Click here to watch Caitlin Meyer speak about the people of St. Bernard Parish:

Click here to watch Captain Keith Colburn of the Fishing Vessel Wizard as featured on Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch" talk about St. Bernard Project:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Look Who's Coming to Olympia!

Dinner Tickets are Sold Out, but $15 Auction Tickets are still available
at the door without an RSVP!
Please come meet Liz McCartney, Captain Keith Colburn, and hear about the amazing work of St. Bernard Project.
Liz McCartney, CNN Hero of the Year, is coming to Olympia!
Captain Keith Colburn of the Fishing Vessel Wizard as featured on Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch will be in attendance also!

Mark your calendars for this exciting fundraiser on March 7 for St. Bernard Project, a nationally-recognized non-profit rebuilding post-Katrina in the New Orleans area. We'd like a huge turn-out to honor this amazing organization. Please come to this exciting event and share the news with your friends and family!
Click here to download the invitation and RSVP form.

We're also in need of donated items for the auction. Many businesses donate items or gift certificates, crafters donate their woodwork or quilts, or you can put together a basket or items for a basket. If you know of friends who may have items, please pass the word.
Click here to download the donation letter and form.