Faith groups plan NO blitz rebuild

Disaster response organizations plan ecumenical four-week New Orleans neighborhood rebuilding effort.

BY STEPHANIE BACKUS | NEW ORLEANS | February 22, 2009



"It's an opportunity of all the partners coming together and working together in an effort and community (Little Woods) that has had little publicity."

—Bonnie Vollmering, Church World Service


It's been almost four years since Hurricane Katrina stormed into New Orleans and sent residents packing. Many communities along the Gulf Coast were devastated by the storm, but none as public as the devastation in New Orleans.

Residents have been rebuilding ever since and according to Ellenor Simmons of the Crescent Alliance Recovery Effort (CARE), much of the outside rebuilding effort has focused on the Lower 9th Ward.

This spring, volunteers related to many of the organizations that are members of Church World Service's Domestic Roundtable are headed to New Orleans to help rebuild in the Little Woods neighborhood in a partnership with CARE. Little Woods is an area that has seen little outside help to rebuild after Katrina.

"Unlike areas of the city that had specific neighborhood groups that supported rebuilding, Little Woods really didn't have a group that came together after the storm that was able to say, 'We're going to take charge of our own rebuilding activities,'" she said. "This really may be a spark that will help to bring that community together so they know that folks are there and willing to help them with their recovery."

The ecumenical work project, "Rebuilding Homes, Reclaiming Hope," will be held April 20 - May 15. Simmons helped the groups identify 12 families who were still in need of substantial help. Ten of the families are back in New Orleans while two have not returned to the state. Simmons said the families are excited to take part in this recovery effort.

"What they're excited about is to be able to have movement in where they were in their recovery. They're excited to move forward for their families and to be able pull it back together," she said. "For those two [who are not in New Orleans], we will be able to bring them back in. The reason they haven't been able to come back into the city is because the housing costs have been so high. It's been more affordable for them to be able to stay somewhere else."

According to Simmons, those two families come back into New Orleans periodically to work on their homes and see if there is progress that can be made.

"Unfortunately, it's something that a lot of people have had to do."

The project is not only exciting to the residents in the neighborhood, but the denominations working on the rebuild.

"I'm excited about this project," said Bonnie Vollmering, of the Emergency Response Program of Church World Service. "It's an opportunity of all the partners coming together and working together in an effort and community that has had little publicity."

Florence Coppola, of the United Church of Christ, also expressed excitement about the project.

"We have not had the opportunity before to work together in this fashion," Coppola said. "We're all contributing funds and volunteers. Habitat for Humanity is providing the sheet rock to us for free. It's a wonderful gift, otherwise we would have to use funding for that."

Coppola said there are local representatives of many of the 11 groups participating in the ecumenical build already in New Orleans. Those representatives will be working until April 20 to prepare the homes for the month-long effort.

She said there are other activities the organizations are working to plan around the building effort.

"We're trying to plan a community dinner each Wednesday evening while we're there," Coppola said. "There's a park nearby with a pavilion still standing and we are hopeful they will be able to have dinner there."

Coppola said when volunteer groups arrive, they may not be sent to a home as an entire group. She said each individual will be sent where they are needed. According to Coppola, that means there may be volunteers from several different denominations working at each individual home.

For Simmons, the build means bringing the neighborhood back, something very important in New Orleans.

"Neighborhoods are important to have in a city. It's an important part of New Orleans," she said. "This is something that can help bring that community back together and continue to give them hope that it can all come back and hopefully better than before."

For Simmons, a lifelong New Orleans resident who had to leave during Katrina like other residents, the build is personal.

"It's the spirit of cooperation. It's a wonderful thing to be able to see."

Groups participating in the four-week effort include: American Baptist Churches, Christian Church/Disciples of Christ, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Church of the Brethren, Lutheran Disaster Response, Mennonite Disaster Service, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Reformed Church of America, United Church of Christ and The United Methodist Committee on Relief.


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